Longford Tennis Club History
It is believed that Longford Tennis Club was formed in the later part of the nineteenth century on grounds provided by Lord Longford under lease. These playing grounds included five grass tennis court and a hockey/cricket pitch at the rear. The grounds were situated at the Demesne Lane, Longford. By the 1920’s, the Open Week held at the tennis club had achieved a good reputation around the country and this was enhanced in 1921 and 1922 when Lord Longford and Lady Granard donated superb silver cups for the men’s and the ladies singles championships respectively. Throughout the 1920’s, 40’s and 50’s, the Open Tennis Week was successfully run at the cub and at the same time cricket and hockey was played at the rear of the club.
This cricket pitch is now occupied by Longford Rugby Club. In 2954, the cricket team won the All-Ireland Junior Cricket Championship and among its team members were Mel Airely, Jimmy Molloy and Harold Turner.
The Tennis open week continued to be played into the 1960s and on the five grass courts which were considered to be among the best grass courts in the country. Playing members at this time included Mary Gamelan, Ceiline Nally, Maura Gearty, Willie Browne, Kit Baxter, Tommy Fields, Hope Furney, Rev. Charles Roberts, Hubert Wilson, Syl Higgins, John Dorris, the Anderson family of Cavan and the Moran, Brown and Plunkett families from Longford. The caretaker of the club in the 1960s was Joe Coffey from Teffia Park.
Unfortunately, Open Week in the later part of the 19600s was discontinued and the courts fell into some disrepair. At this time, the club’s lease was due to expire, and the rugby club also needed a pitch. This is when the Longford tennis club and Longford Rugby club came together to acquire the Free Hold title to the entire cricket and tennis playing areas. The rugby club put up the money, £2000 and in return the tennis club allowed the rugby club to retain the Free Hold interest in the tennis courts.
In this way, this part of Longford Town was secured for all time as a playing area and the rugby club acquired its first pitch.
In 1973, Paddy Quinn, Frank Connellan and Betty Barrett along with the other committee members including Ann Butler and Mary Harkin undertook the development of two hard courts at the club and this revived in tennis in the area. An open week was recommenced in 1975 and soon was attracting large number of visiting players from all around the country. With the added impetus that the two new courts provided, the club was able to undertake the development of three further courts under a committee involving Denis Keogh, Seamus Butler, Niall Higgins and Deirdre Gearty.
The trustees of the tennis club; Peter Kelly, Warren Turner and Padraic Gearty provided advice and guidance at all times to the committee during this period.
By 1980, the club had secured 5 hard courts and the open week continued to be a success. Joe Maguire by now was the caretaker of the club and in addition to open week the club achieved modest success in the Leinster Provincial Town league and cup competitions. Finance continued to be difficult t the club but under the expert guidance of Lorna Groarke and Trish Donlon with the assistance of Finbarr Murphy and John Barry and many others, the finances of the club were turned around from a loss-making situation to a heathy profitable one by 1990 and this paved the way for further development.
By the early 90s, it was clear the old wooden club house was grossly outdated. This much-loved ancient structure had reached the end of its life. It was structurally unsound, unhygienic and effectively inhabitable. The committee launched a huge fundraising drive to try and upgrade the facilities – a new clubhouse, flood lighting and newly laid tarmac tennis courts. Members of the local community with varying specialised talents readily came forward to assist the project. Pat Groarke, David Sheene, Maura Kelly, Roger Timlin and Carmel Connellan covered financial and building details.
Frank Gearty and John Barry continued to oversee much of the tennis playing activity in the club. Gary Cahill from nearby Mullingar provided the club coaching programme with distinction and has since become Irish National Tennis Coach.
Local dances and even stunning casino nights were run and much funding achieved. A successful application was prepared and presented to the Department of Education and Science who actively engaged in the project and encouraged the proper attention to details. Generous funding from the National Lottery funds were awarded courtesy of the discussions with the sports section of the Department of Education.
The building proceeded. The clubhouse, designed free gratis by Roger Timlin, was constructed and is a model of efficiency of design to this day and requires no improvement so good is its functioning. Following the introduction of state-of-the-art floodlighting, numbers and visitors to the club increased some three or four-fold. The then new hard courts were effective and popular. Long-time member of the club, an Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, formally opened the club premises in July 1993 and promptly ducked behind the new club premises and engaged with Channel 4 news on important issues that had arisen that day in the peace process.
The new club was introduced to the public of Longford. The assistance of the National Lottery, Department of Education and local community was fully acknowledged, and the benefits flowed. Hundreds of youngsters joined the club’s supervised coaching programme run by Gary Cahill and latterly Richard Turner (with Bernice Gorman, Carmel Gearty, Mary McDermott and others). The children in St. Christopher’s Special Needs School enjoyed the club’s excellent facilities free of charge for years and junior membership was and continues to be pegged back to €25 per annum.
This is a club which intends to remain inclusive.