Not much has happened in Shanagolden over the past 80 years that Tom Madigan hasn’t played some part in.
He remembers laying the first blocks for the parish hall back in 1950. He remembers being there when Brendan Bowyer and The Royal Showband packed the place out in 1969. And he remembers the day last August when he turned the sod on the project that would transform the field that bears his uncle’s name - Captain Tim Madigan Park.
“It was a very proud moment – it really was,” he says of that day.
Now he watches with pride as the finishing touches are being put on that project which is the culmination of much hard work and a sustained fundraising drive by the local community council, of which he is honorary president.
Standing in the reception area of the newly built sports centre, Eamonn Mullane, current community council chairman, is another proud man, surveying what they have achieved since the project was first conceived.
“We have a meeting area here, as well as home and away dressing rooms and a referee’s area,” he says.
This building of the sports centre is the second stage of an ambitious plan by the community council to develop the local sports field – named in honour of a Shanagolden man who lost his life in the War of Independence.
The first phase saw a walking path built around the pitch – a facility which has proved very popular with walkers and runners since it opened last year. The entire project cost in the region of €270,000 of which €195,000 was provided in grant aid from West Limerick Resources. The remainder must be met by the local community – and they are already well on track to hit their target.
“We have a goal set that by this time next year we will have paid off 95% of the money we owe on the project and that we will have paid back to the community council all the money they have given for the project,” says Eamonn.
The development of the park has not only produced a facility that the community can be proud of – it has also acted as a focal point around which the local people have rallied, all eager to do their bit to help out. “We had 20 people here at our last community council meeting. There was a time when we would only have three or four,” says Eamonn.
So far, the community has raised almost €40,000 through a series of fundraising drives, including a buy-a-block campaign, monster bingo nights, card games and concerts. Over the past year, the parish hall played host to two concerts that recalled the glory days of the 1950s and 1960s when the Showband Show brought many of the stars of that era back to the Shanagolden for the first time in decades. The Celtic Tenors also performed a sell-out show in the hall before Christmas.
In addition to the weekly bingo which takes place every Tuesday in the hall, the Community Council also runs a monthly €5000 monster bingo night on the first Tuesday of every month.
And in a novel initiative to encourage people to shop locally, while also raising the profile of the bingo nights, they have launched a scheme whereby when someone spends over €30 in a local business in Shanagolden, Foynes or Creeves, they will get a €2 voucher for the bingo.
“We approached the local businesses and asked them would they like to do it and we got a brilliant response,” says Eamonn.
Local sporting organisation have also responded very positively to the development of the park.
It is a hive of activity throughout the week, playing host to the young rugby players of Estuary RFC, the soccer stars of Shannonside FC, St Senan’s Community Games and St Senan’s GAA Bord na nOg – all of whom have made their own contributions to the fundraising efforts.
As well as making individual donations, the clubs also organised various fundraising events. Last summer saw the staging of the first ever Shanagolden Summer Festival organised by the community council in conjunction with Estuary RFC. Run over a weekend in August, it featured family events, concerts, sports events and a host of other activities, and proved to be a real success. Work is now underway on organising this year’s festival which will take place over the August bank holiday weekend and the organiser say it will be even bigger and better.
In the meantime, with weekly bingo nights and card games, not to mention Comhaltas workshops on Thursday nights and even a regular knitting circle every Monday in the old library, there’s plenty to keep the people of Shanagolden busy as the bright summer days return.