A student bursary set up in 2005 was one of the results of new and ambitious plans for the Laois Association. President Sandy Metcalfe describes the bursary as “one of a range of challenges that became a reality”. Maybe the “Yes we can” phrase had its roots under the shadow of the Slieve Blooms rather than Moneygall.
A permanent home for the Association was found in Harcourt Street; more famous for housing the nightclub Copperface Jacks but it is in a quieter corner of The Jackson Court Hotel that the Laois folk now meet. The premises belong to one of their own and the hospitality by Cathal Jackson and his staff is second to none.
In 2009 the Association marked their 60th Anniversary. There could only be one place that would fittingly host such an occasion. So 60 years after the few exiles came up with an idea in a Moore Street pub, the fruit of their vision went back to GAA Headquarters for a lunch and presentation. Some 200 people were in attendance including survivors of the 1949 team.
Former Laois /Offaly TD and Leinster MEP Paddy Lalor, one of the men of ’49 addressed the gathering. Two RTE presenters from Laois Claire Byrne and Justin Tracey presented news and sport features dating back over the 60 years that had passed since Laois played a senior All Ireland Final in the same but much changed venue. This day would be a standout day in the history of the Association. A commemorative book edited by Colm Healion was launched on the day detailing the history of the Association across the six decades.
Something happened within two years that would have raised eyebrows within the Association and also within the home county. The 2011 census showed that Laois had the biggest percentage growth in population of the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland. Laois/Offaly TD Charlie Flanagan summed up the reaction that followed the release of census results when he said that he was aware there was a rise in the population of Laois but the 20% rise had taken him by surprise.
One factor in the population explosion in Laois was the trend of Dublin people leaving their home and settling down the country, boosting the populations of several other counties around the capital. Working in Dublin no longer means having to live in Dublin. Indeed the Irish Times depicted Laois as a commuter county.
That changed the dynamic completely - Laois people were commuting to work in Dublin. A glance at the train timetable tells you that there are seven trains that go through Portlaoise and Portarlington that can have you in Dublin in plenty of time for work. It is quicker to get from Portlaoise to Dublin City centre via train and Luas than to drive from some of the capital’s suburbs.
A multitude of regular buses also are on hand to ferry workers to Dublin. The commuter is a confident traveller, they know where they are going and the quickest way to get there, and they fit seamlessly into the hustle and bustle of early morning city life. A far cry from their predecessors who left home probably from and going to the very same train stations as today’s commuter. Back then it was a journey tinged with excitement and trepidation. Today it is a fact of working life, coffee to go and the free newspapers and home for dinner.
President Sandy Metcalfe recognises the challenges that the Association faces with these changes.
“Laois has become part of the commuter belt, which in turn has meant the number of new generation Laois people moving to Dublin, the main source of our new members, has diminished dramatically, There is a fall off in general of people joining membership organisations, this poses immediate challenges that have to be met and I am confident that as in the past they will be met,” he says.
The Association has an open door policy, new members are welcomed and encouraged. There is a friendly relaxed atmosphere. Old friendships have been renewed and new ones formed. People help each other out in very ordinary ways, as neighbours or work colleagues do.
The Association runs events throughout the year. There are two open meetings with guest speakers, one in March and one in September. The guest speaker generally has Laois connections. Recent speakers include GAA President Liam O’Neill, Laois legend Pat Critchley and Portlaoise poet Pat Boran. Speakers also come from within the Association and former Laois footballer Fint Walsh, Castletown man Billy Kelly and former international showjumper Ned Campion are among those who regaled the meetings with their stories.
The summer sees two outings, one in Dublin and one in Laois. The Dublin outing has produced enjoyable days in such places as Dalkey Castle, Leinster House and the Burlington Cabaret. The trip to Laois is a highlight, it takes it different places of interest in the home place, a meal or two and an evening of ceoil agus craic. The trip to Laois takes place in late May and to prove that God looks after his own the sun always shines. In 2012 a very enjoyable day was spent in Stradbally, touring the south county and finishing up in Behan’s of Tolorton. There is no shortage of musical talent and no shyness in displaying it in the Association. This makes the evening very enjoyable before the trip back to Dublin.
The main fundraiser is the annual table quiz. Generally held in October, it may be moving to April and more clement weather conditions this year. Other funds are raised through membership fees and through surplus money from other events.
The AGM is in November, preceded by an Ecumenical Service. Then the year is wrapped up with the annual Christmas Party with an evening of fesitve song, music and recitation.
The Association held its AGM in November in the Jackson Court Hotel. Sandy Metcalfe from Mountmellick was re-elected unopposed as President. The outgoing Chairman Mary Doyle stepped down after five years sterling service. She was replaced in the chair by myself, Gerry Thompson from Mountrath. Vincent Rafter from Ballacolla was re-elected as vice Chairman. Outgoing secretary Michael Butler from Abbyleix was re-elected as was Assistant Secretary Daphane Metcalfe. Tony Brophy was re-elected as Treasurer with Colm Healion re-elected as his assistant. Colm also continues in his roll as Membership Officer. Rathdowney man Rory Campion was re-elected as PRO.
Mary Doyle was proposed and seconded for the position of vice President which she accepted. Mary worked tirelessly as Chairman for five years and the Association is delighted to have Mary still involved in a prominent position. Ask Mary what part of Laois she hails from and she will proudly answer “The Rushes” The officers are well supported by a strong committee.
Myself as the incoming Chairman came on board at the time of the 60th Anniversary celebrations. I was flattered to be proposed for the position and it was an honour for me and his family when I was elected to the chair. My vision for the future of the Association is simple, we will keep doing things the way we have been doing them because they work for the membership, but that is not to say we have a closed mind to new ideas. The Association are always recruiting or trying to recruit new members.
The Association is an open friendly place where the welcome you would get would be similar to that you get visiting friends down home. There is a sense among the membership of being with ones own people, the bonds are strong and friendships cemented but there is always a place at the table for a newcomer. The old saying that there are no strangers just friends who have yet to meet could aptly apply.
The Mission Statement reads “The purpose of the Laois Association Dublin is to foster the origins and interests of Laois people of all traditions and all ages in Dublin through cultural, educational sporting and social contact, developing the traditions of the past while embracing and contributing to the Ireland of the New Millennium “
As the Association approaches retirement age it has no intention of settling for the pipe and slippers by the fireside. It intends to continue the work and vision of its founders. The pride of a group of people in their birthplace lead to the birth of the Association, it may have begun from an informal gathering of friends, but they had the vision and drive to form something that successive generations have passed on to today’s Association.
The Association must look forward, and embrace new ideas and new technology.
President Sandy Metcalfe thanks Laois County Council,, the Jackson Court Hotel and The Leinster Express for their support.
Chairman Gerry Thompson believes there is potential for new members in the capital.
“There are many Laois people living in Dublin who are not fully aware of the Association, I would invite those people to come along and have a look, the chances of meeting old friends is matched by the certainty of meeting new ones” As for the dream? Well maybe to welcome another Laois Senior Team to Dublin some September
Anyone interested in joining the Association or finding out more about it can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Or phone 087 954 7389