Community news: Castleisland

A farewell to the force night is being organised for Castleisland-based, Ballyduff native Sergeant John O'Mahony at the River Island Hotel on Friday night, February 22, at 8.30pm.

As he clears out his personal belongings in preparation for his imminent retirement, he reflected on four decades in uniform since he stepped out of Templemore.

It's a career John O'Mahony never even contemplated as a youngster.

His athleticism and height - the latter was once a vital prerequisite for 'The Guards' - didn't go unnoticed by an eagle-eyed member of the force in the north Kerry village of Ballyduff.

The old sergeant and Mrs O'Mahony conspired to get her son into the guards as he had a notion of going to England to work on building sites over there.

"Nearly everyone my age was going away in the mid- to late-1970s, and I would have had plenty of contacts in England with lads who left Ballyduff around that time," John recalled.

After spells of duty in Dublin and around the border with Northern Ireland, he then moved down to west Cork and back to Dublin, and all was going as well as any member of the force was entitled to expect.

All that would change in early-January, 1990. Detective Sergeant John O'Mahony and his colleagues fulfilled a long-overdue appointment with a notorious criminal gang of Dublin-based bank robbers known as The Athy Gang.

Bank of Ireland branches in rural towns around the midlands, in particular, were being targeted by the robbers, who were amassing huge sums of money from their unchallenged forays into the countryside.

In 1989 alone, they robbed over £300,000 in just over 30 raids.

In spite of having a man inside the gang, last-minute changes of plan often postponed that inevitable clash between the lawmen and the lawless.

When it did come on January 12, 1990, it was brutal, and the resulting shoot-out left John O'Mahony with a gunshot wound to his left thigh and losing blood and consciousness on the street.

On his way to hospital in the back on an ambulance, he looked across to see the attendants working in vain on one his fellow wounded.

I was one the gang members, and his hour had come.

Knowing that he was losing blood and wondering if he'd make it, Sgt O'Mahony eventually woke up in hospital and was told that he missed certain death by millimetres.

After almost two years in recuperation, he returned to duty, and Moyross in Limerick beckoned.

It "was an interesting experience", he recalls.

However, the Shannon-side experience didn't prepare him for his move to Castleisland in 2003.

"My first day on the street here, I met a man who shook hands with me and welcomed me to town; it was John Shanahan - the publican. I had to adjust my way of thinking, and I knew then this is the place I wanted to be," Sgt O'Mahony said.

"The next man I met here was Georgie O'Callaghan, and he shook my hand also after attempting to convert me from my GAA leanings and towards soccer.

"I met Georgie after making enquiries from Vincent Murphy about who to contact about getting a soccer town league started here. We were solid friends from then until the day he died.

"Georgie took me to my first cross-channel soccer game to Old Trafford, and he had the tickets arranged so that the whole squad sat together for the game.

"I saw him working at close range over all those years, and I've never seen his likes anywhere. Nothing was any bother to him, and his attention to detail and his dedication to his teams was unequalled."

On the day of Georgie's funeral in Castleisland, Sgt O'Mahony was on duty and he saluted the passing cortège.

I hadn't seen any member of the force here doing that before, and I asked him about the gesture of respect afterwards: "You'd do it for a sound man," he replied.

Ever since he founded it in 2003, the Garda Soccer Town League is one of the most highly anticipated events of the year for young and aspiring soccer players.

From the start, Sgt O'Mahony's town league initiative caught on because he consulted with the youth of the area.

Over all those years, himself and Georgie were in the thick of it all from start to finish, aided and abetted by the various KDYS officers.

Sgt O'Mahony and the KDYS made a joint presentation to Georgie for his unfailing support for the August league.

In turn, Sgt O'Mahony was presented with a very fitting statuette as last year's event was being poignantly wrapped up.

"I enjoyed my time here. The people of Castleisland are decent and hard-working, and I found it a pleasure to work here. A walk up and down the streets here could take you hours as you'd meet so many people to chat with. I'll miss that - but life moves on, I suppose," said Sgt O'Mahony.


Castleisland races invites charities’ submissions

The annual general meeting of Castleisland Race Committee was held last week.

The following officers were elected:

Presidents: Vincent Murphy, Jim Lordon and Jimmy Kearney; Chairman: Charlie Farrelly; Vice-chairman: Ted Kenny; Secretary: Kay Reidy; Assistant Secretary: Martina O'Mahony; Public Relations Officer: Pat Hartnett; Treasurers: Ronan Burke and John Ryan.

Executive committee members elected were: James Maher, Tom O'Sullivan. Margaret O'Sullivan, Willie Reidy, Bill Reidy, Lacey Reidy Kerins and Jerimah McAuliffe.

The Castleisland Races are provisionally fixed for June 16.

So far the committee has raised and presented €141,555 to local charities and causes as a result of the races.

The club is inviting all charitable organisations to apply, by letter only, to club secretary Kay Reidy Dulage, Castleisland.

Applicants should state the reasons why they should be considered as this year's beneficiary.

The closing date for all applications is March 1.

The club is also delighted with the news that its main sponsor - Mortimer Reidy of ROL construction of London, and formerly from Knockachur, Knocknagoshel - is to continue in the role of main sponsor for the races.


Presentation hosts launch of STEM initiative

Staff members and management from local schools gathered on Monday at Presentation Secondary School, Castleisland, to launch the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics 'STEM' initiative - a digital excellence cluster programme. Presentation Castleisland; Muire Gan Smál, Castleisland; Scoil Íde, Curranes and Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn, Tralee, were involved.

Presentation Castleisland Principal Katherina Broderick and teacher Dayna Hurley welcomed: Máire Lynch, principal, Muire gan Smál; Elizabeth Sweeney, teacher, Scoil Íde; Olive Sharp, teacher, Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn and Claire O'Riordan from Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) for a STEM Digital Excellence cluster training day.

Presentation Secondary School, Castleisland, has been chosen as a beacon school to demonstrate the innovative use of digital technologies in teaching, learning and assessment through clusters of schools collaborating on a specific STEM project.

Significant investment and resources have been deployed to support the purchase of this technology by the Department of Education as a part of the Digital School Excellence Fund.

Students of Presentation Castleisland will be trained to become STEM role models for younger female students in primary schools.

Presentation students will run workshops with primary-school students over three years in all areas of STEM.

It is hoped, by engaging in this programme, that students of Presentation Castleisland will aspire to eventually pursuing STEM-related careers.

The programme will provide the opportunity to engage with third-level academic centres of excellence such as IT Tralee and UCC.

The Department of Education received a large volume of applications; however, Presentation Castleisland has been chosen as the only secondary school in Kerry to participate in the Digital School Excellence programme.

When launching the Digital School Excellence Fund in December 2017, then-Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton said that the School Excellence Fund is designed to ensure that innovation in schools is supported and rewarded.

"School Excellence Fund - Digital will support clusters of schools to collaborate and work together in really exciting ways on projects related to teaching and learning using digital. Truly transformative change does not come from the centre but from the ground up, schools and teachers working together and sharing good practice," said Minister Bruton.

The funding recognises excellence and allows the cluster schools to promote areas of STEM among female students.

The project aims to develop a more positive attitude to STEM subjects in general amongst females within the cluster at primary and secondary level; to enhance students' digital literacy skills, particularly in the area of Maths and Science; to increase the uptake of Chemistry and Physics at senior level in second level; to improve students research, numeracy, problem-solving and teamwork skills; Increase the number of female entrants into STEM courses at third level and to increase the competence and proficiency of teachers in the use of digital technology in their subject areas.

Commenting on the initiative, Presentation Castleisland Principal Katherina Broderick said that the Digital School Excellence programme promises to be a very exciting initiative.

"It will allow our schools and teachers the opportunity to work together, share good practice while focusing on developing the important skills our students will need to thrive in the future," Ms Broderick added.


A night to remember at talent show

On Thursday night last, the students of St Patrick's Secondary School and Presentation Secondary School entertained a packed St John's Hall for almost three hours with music, song, dance and comedy.

All present praised the wonderful talent in both schools and the excellent night's entertainment that was provided.

"It gives us great pleasure to see our students on stage and enjoying themselves and having fun," said St Patrick's Principal Denis O'Donovan. "The stage is a wonderful classroom where confidence and belief can be cultivated and nurtured and where imagination and creativity can be expressed.

"It is very important that we keep alive the traditions of music, song, dance and drama, traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation.

"Being part of this production has been a wonderful experience for all the students, one which will contribute greatly to positive character formation, and it has been an opportunity to develop friendships and make new friends."

The students promised variety in abundance and they didn't disappoint. There were stellar performances from solo singers Micheal Nix, Tony Horgan, April O'Connor, Alannah O'Leary, Siobhan Brosnan and Sarah Keating.

The first-year girls even performed a very charming French song, 'Tous les Garcons', and the first-year boys followed on with a powerful recitation of Roald Dahl's popular poem The Television Set.

Kelly Ann Nix and Caitlin Curtin recited the hilarious tales of The Blacksmith and Peg the Damsel, and students from both schools filled the hall further with laughter as they performed many comical sketches, featuring moments of Marty Morrissey; the O'Donovan brothers; The Young Offenders and even an appearance from Fr Ted.

The show came to a close with all students returning to the stage to sing out Coldplay's 'Head up High'.

Principals Katherina Broderick and Denis O'Donovan thanked all the students and teachers involved for making the sell-out show a resounding success.


Garda Youth Achievement Awards for Community College

Five students from Castleisland Community College were honoured at the annual Garda Youth Achievement Awards in the Ballyroe Heights Hotel on Friday night.

Ava Fitzmaurice received an award for her contributions to her local community.

She is involved in her late father's memorial charity event, 'The Paudie Fitzmaurice Tractor Run', which raises vital money for local causes.

Ava excels at sport and has received many awards at local, national and international level.

Basketball, athletics, boxing and Gaelic football are her sports, and she has won All-Ireland medals for basketball, athletics and boxing.

Ava represented Ireland in boxing and won European gold medals in Italy, June 2018.

Nathan Egan is another student who received an award for his engagement with his community.

Nathan has been involved with St Mary's Basketball Club.

He has trained as a referee and has volunteered as a referee for the county league.

He also trains the under-5 to under-8 basketball players every Thursday.

Agricultural Science students Kevin Lenihan, Eamon Nolan and James McDonnell were conscious of the many dangers present on farms.

When they heard about the tragic news of Nevin Spence, an Ulster rugby player who tragically died from a slurry-related incident, they said that they would get involved to try and help develop an idea around slurry safety.

They won the overall safety award, and progress to the Lee Strand Regional Garda Youth Achievement Awards to be held in May.

The three students came up with two safety alarm ideas.Firstly, an alarm containing sensors that identify high levels of methane and hydrogen sulphide gases.

This will be connected to an alarm which can be put in the farmer's house.

The alarm will ring when high levels of toxic gases are detected outside the slurry pit.

This will, in turn, alert the farmer, letting them know that no adults, children or animals should be near the area in which agitation is occurring.

Secondly, they are promoting the use of a motion sensor alarm at the gate into the slurry pit, so if any object or person passes through it, the alarm in the house will sound.

Finally, they also have come up with the idea to paint the area around the slurry pit opening in red. This would act as a visual sign for danger, for younger kids especially.

They have presented their project to students in their school; visited farms to discuss their idea with farmers; and promoted their project on the school's Facebook page.