Greatest Court Activity
The easing of the Covid 19 to Phase 2 has to be welcomed and a return to normality will hopefully soon be enjoyed by all. Our members are encouraged to play singles matches only and organised club events are still cancelled. It is very noticeable, from the booking sheet, posted outside the clubhouse that last week we witnessed the greatest activity on all four courts since the lock down began.
Membership forms for existing new members can be downloaded from our web site athlonetennisclub.com with bank details included. Arrangement about providing fobs will follow for new members soon afterwards. Current members should remember that their fobs will be deactivated
During Phase 1 of the current restrictions club nights are suspended. Members are free to book the courts and play singles matches instead. A lot of members are anticipating a return to club nights where there will be organised competitive action.
This year is the Golden Anniversary of our club and these series of articles are being written to celebrate that fact. This week’s article is about our involvement with Athlone Regional Sports Centre in the nineties.
History of Athlone Tennis Club re Athlone Regional Sports Centre
Westmeath County Secretary, Ciaran Mc Grath, in a letter to Luke Walsh dated 25th July 1991, states, “I wish to refer to our meeting of the 23rd inst. in the Town Hall, Athlone, in relation to the above and enclose, as promised, copy of map showing land in the ownership of Westmeath County Council, (shaded) to the north of the Relief Road.” This is the first reference to land at the Regional Sports Centre and almost thirty years later the same site is very much being discussed.
In a letter from John Walsh, Town Clerk, dated, 5th October 1993, to club secretary Eugene Dooley, ten items are listed for consideration by the tennis committee. The five most pertinent were:
A development plan proposed by John Walsh, Town Clerk, was received by the club in April 1996. It proposed a possible two phased development at the Regional Sports Centre. “It is proposed that the tennis Club will take possession of a site at The Regional Centre Complex at Ballymahon Rd. The overall development will encompass a swimming pool complex, sports fields and a tennis complex.” Among the Project Summary were:
Phase 2 of the document states, “Planning permission has been obtained for eight tennis courts on The Tennis Complex site. This phase will take place as demand for facilities expands and funding becomes available to the Tennis Club. It is also planned that a clubhouse will be part of Phase 2.”
It is important to stress that discussions were also held simultaneously with Athlone GAA committee members. In fact a motion, proposed by Cathy Walsh, at the 1994 AGM, was passed. “This motion to extend, resurface and light court 3 was passed.” According to Mary O’ Neill’s annual report, at the 1995 AGM, the club had received planning permission to do just that.
At a tennis club executive meeting dated 24th January 1995, Chairperson, Thomas Murphy outlined options for discussion. The first was to continue at our present site and enter discussions with Athlone GAA to upgrade and floodlight courts 3 and 4 at an approximate cost of £12,000. Courts 1 and 2 could be resurfaced at a cost of £4,000.
The second was the proposed four court development at the Regional Sports Centre which according to the minutes “was due for completion by July 1996 to coincide with the town’s hosting the festival of Europe. Its viability however depended, to a large extent, on whether we could separately apply for Lottery funding or share in some of the overall grant available.” The majority felt that the Sports Centre option was the more attractive in the long term. Luke Walsh agreed to reply to John Walsh’s letter “expressing our intention to be part of the Sports Centre Project but seeking clarification on costs and plans.”
Chairperson Thomas Murphy presented a drawing of the Regional Sports Centre Project at the May 2nd 1995 executive meeting and at a further meeting two weeks later Thomas “Informed the committee of a possible shortage in funding of 1.8 million.”
A formal meeting would be requested with the clerk John Walsh, to discuss the future plans for the Regional Sports Centre. Patricia Smith, Martin Reidy, Luke Walsh and Joe Price agreed to attend according to the minute book dated 20th January 1996.
Item 3 from the 2nd April 1996 minutes state “The Development Plan prepared by Joe Price was then presented to the committee. However it was decided to postpone sending it out to members until definite word in the Sports Centre Complex was forthcoming.”
At the 1996 AGM, Chairperson, Thomas Murphy was very positive in his address “he felt that to be part of the new Regional Sports Centre, at Cloghanboy, was a very viable and attractive option.” Under AOB, Jarlath Keaney questioned the fairness of the UDC, in demanding that the club finance the building of the courts at the Regional Sports Centre.
At the February committee meeting Patricia Smith and Mary Jo O’ Farrell, were delegated to meet with GAA officials to discuss the lease and access arrangements for the tennis club and report back at the next committee meeting.
The minutes of a committee meeting from October 14th 1996 contain the following “It was suggested that Patricia Smith attend the next meeting with the UDC regarding the Sports Centre. This would be our last meeting prior to our EGM and clarification would be sought on a number of issues.”
At a committee meeting on 11th February 1997 Patricia Smith gave an account on her recent meetings with town clerk, John Walsh and with officials from AIB and BOI bank. No details of the meetings are recorded. However Patricia and Mary Jo O’ Farrell were delegated to meet with GAA officials to discuss the lease and access arrangements for the tennis club and report back at the next committee meeting.
The next meeting dated March 4th contains Patricia’s report with the GAA. She stated that they were willing to grant a ten year lease to the tennis club but she intimated that they were seeking a twenty five lease before proceeding with any development.
Better Financial Deal
At Athlone Tennis Club October 1997 AGM, Chairperson Patricia Smith gave an account of her recent meeting with Athlone UDC and the bank officials. She stated “that a better financial deal needed to be negotiated with the UDC if the club was to consider the Regional Sports Centre a viable option. The option to remain at the GAA and develop the facilities there also needed closer examination and consideration in the months ahead.”
Mary O Neill’s Secretary’s Report dated October 1997, states “However, after several meetings, with them, (Athlone UDC), and with the banks, we felt that the Regional Sports Centre wasn’t a viable option due to the considerable cost involved, (£22,000 quoted for one court), and the slow progress of the overall project to date. The GAA was once again approached and in June last they stated that they were agreeable to the extension, resurfacing and lighting of courts 3 and 4 subject to an agreement drawn up by their solicitors.”
That’s the last reference to the Regional Sports Centre in the minutes for the twentieth century. The tennis club signed a twenty five year lease with Athlone GAA in 1999 and steady progress was made in expanding and developing the tennis facilities at Páirc Chiaráin. Athlone Regional Sports Centre became news once again, for the Tennis Club, in 2015. Next I will record the history of Athlone GAA Tennis Club, then Athlone Tennis Club and how it won out over the other five options.