Legendary Portarlington citizen Niall McElwaine passes away

Niall McElwaine was central to the success of Portarlington Leisure Centre

Leinster Express Reporter

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Leinster Express Reporter

Legendary Portarlington citizen Niall McElwaine passes away

Niall McElwaine. Picture: Michael Scully

The death has taken place of Niall McElwaine who was one of Portarlington's most respected citizens.

Mr McElwaine passed away on Tuesday, January 21 at his home on the Station Road where he lived with his wife Betty.

While sadly missed by his family, he will be best remembered and sorely missed for his work up to the present day for his work one of the Laois Offaly towns most popular amenities, the swimming pool, now called Portarlington Leisure Centre.

Niall was part of the original committee more 50 years ago who dreamed up the idea of an indoor swimming pool for Port. At 87, the Donegal native continue to serve as secretary of the facility which has been enjoyed by generations from the town and surrounds.

Niall spoke to the Leinster Express in 2012 after the Portarlington Swimming Pool Association paid a special tribute at their bingo night.

Niall, who was a former principal of Portarlington Technical School, recalled the difficulties they had persuading the county council to help them built an indoor heated swimming pool.

“The pool was built in 1974 but we had spent twelve years proving to the powers that be that it was a good idea. First it was ‘haven’t you got a river, and a canal?’. Then it was ‘you want it heated, and a roof?’,

“If somebody had given us £5,000 at the time, we would have built an outdoor one. But we got lucky. Bobby Molloy became Minister, he had been a champion swimmer. He set out new guidelines, exactly the things we had been looking for,” he explained.

Niall credited the other members of the committee throughout the years for their constant hard work such as Leo Dempsey. Paddy Burbage Martin Turley, Alo Donegan, Willie Murphy and others.

The committee raised enough money to buy a field for about £500, where Siac is now, in the 1960’s.

“With a bit of good luck, the planning officer who was a wise man, turned it down because he said it was too far out of the town, and it would be dangerous for children to be walking to it. Then we had another stroke of luck. Somebody had bought a field for a cattle mart. The residents objected and the site was lying idle so the council offered it to us. It didn’t look anything then, we had to climb over old walls through nettles and thistles to see it. We got it on a long term lease, about seven years into our fundraising,” Niall recalled.

The bingo began as a way to make use of a marquee set up for summer dances in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

“Someone suggested since it was lying idle a few days of the weeks to run bingo there. We got chairs from the convent and the tech and borrowed lights, and started it on a Tuesday. That was 42 years ago,” he said.

In 1974 the swimming pool finally opened at a cost of £62,000, £16,000 of which the committee had raised through the bingo, which still continues to be a great source of income to it, as well as a social institution in the town.

The pool quickly became part of life for the children of Portarlington and beyond.

“We had the most marvellous galas in the late 70’s and the 80’s, for groups from all over Ireland. I rememember 500 kids in the pool, they’d be there for five hours, great occasions. The community games were there too,” he said Niall.

It produced several gold medal winners in the National Swimming Championships in Mosney, but Niall felt the best contribution is in teaching a whole generation to swim.

“The pool is not like a beach, there’s no great fun without swimming. Now the parents who learnt to swim there are bringing their children too, as young as six months old,” Niall said.

He had plans to retire when the revamped pool was opened in 2008.

“When it was in the process of being built, and we were pestering the politicians, we said when we got there, as soon as the key turned, we would say day day. But the secretary resigned, and I was stuck. I’m still here, I’ve invested a lot of my life, so I will stay as long as I still have my health,” he said.

Willie Murphy soldiered on the swimming pool project from the start and was saddened to learn of Niall's passing. Willie served alongside Niall as vice chairman of the pool committee to this day.

"He was a great friend, a thorough gentleman, a man of the quill and a man of the quill," said Mr Murphy.

Apart from his work on the swimming pool dating back to the 1970s, Willie said Niall was a great community man who was also prepared to help people through personal difficulties.

Niall is deeply regretted by his loving wife Betty, family Niamh, Aidan and Emer, brothers Thomas, Manus and Aodh, son-in-law Patrick, daughter-in-law Anne, grandson Cillian, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, extended family, neighbours and friends.

His remains repose at his residence (eircode R32 NW62) on Thursday from 3pm with Rosary at 8pm. Removal on Friday at 11:10 am arriving St Michael's Church Portarlington for Requiem Mass at 12 noon. Funeral afterwards to St Michael's Cemetery Portarlington.

Family flowers only please. Donations if desired to Portarlington St Vincent's De Paul.