The Galway Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club was founded at a meeting in the Royal Hotel, Eyre Square, on May 19, 1900. Many of the founders were members of the British army, the landed gentry, and the professions such as doctors, solicitors, professors, etc. Membership was by invitation only so there was a certain elitism attached to the club in the early days.
By 1901, the club had found its home when William Persse agreed to lease a field in his property which had been selected by the ground sub-committee.
The rent was £15 per annum. The cost of laying out the grounds was very expensive, but by 1902 the process was sufficiently advanced that the club was able to organise six round robin tournaments. An important decision in planning the club’s calendar of events was made in 1904 when an open lawn tennis week was organised for the week after the Galway Races. Because of the decline in popularity of the game of croquet, it was decided that no open croquet tournament would be held after 1910.
In the early days they had trouble maintaining the club and grounds so they often leased out the complex for three days at a time. The British legion used to organise a special day out where people used to arrive on horses and in coaches. The Industrial School Band regularly played for the attendance.
Martin Fallon and his father before him were caretakers. The courts were rolled by a large roller which was pulled by a donkey who had to have special shoes fitted so that it did not destroy the court’s surface.
Many of the members had doublebarrelled names and military titles, which was probably why the club was attacked in 1920 by the Volunteers, who burned the pavilion to the ground and dug up the tennis courts, the croquet ground, and the clock golf pitch.
“Tennis nets and equipment, chairs, and wooden steps were piled on the flames and destroyed. It will take close on a thousand pounds to restore the pavilion, and hundreds of pounds have been spent from time to time on the courts, which are regarded by experts as amongst the finest in Ireland, being only surpassed by the famous ground at Wimbledon.”
The pavilion was rebuilt after the attack, but the club gradually went into decline. During the war no tennis balls were available and debts began to mount. A revival began, spearheaded by Terry McCarthy, Walter Walsh, and Pearl Walsh. Debts were cleared. The first real evidence of a change in the club’s fortunes was the extension built on to the clubhouse in 1949.
In the early 1980s, a new building programme was started and the club was transformed into the modern complex it is today under the guidance of Mickey Walsh and Donal Dempsey, Our photograph today dates from the late 1960s and shows a group of tennis players in front of the old clubhouse. Included are Olga Sandys, Martha Emerson, Jean Folan, Olwyn Ryder, Maeve Lydon, Bernie Kneafsey, Aileen Nally, and Ita Dempsey. In front are Deirdre Coates and Anne Folan.
Back row: James Roche, Peter Folan, Gary O’Lochlainn, Eugene Murphy, Dick O’Connor, Liam Geraghty, Des Kneafsey, Oliver Muldoon, Dave Ryan, Donal Dempsey, and Brendan Murphy.
The image is from the collection of Tess O’Connor and is one of the illustrations in Peadar O’Dowd’s book entitled The Galway Lawn Tennis Club, A History which was published by the club in 2005, a labour of love and a lot of research.