Thursday 22 February 2018

Treasured sporting memories in Jim's unique paper trail

History in the making. It comes in all shapes and sizes. Universities devote whole departments to it. Vast libraries are stocked with the raw material from which we attempt to make sense of our past.

Look closely at the monuments in our graveyards to find history. Watch television to witness hordes cheer as the statues of deposed dictators are tumbled to the ground to feel part of history as it happens. Read the learned texts of the historians in their academic journals.

Or drop into a bungalow in Drinagh to find the past being sieved and sorted on a smaller scale.

The home of Jim Parle is repository to evidence charting decades of human endeavour.

However, his is not the history of unbending regimes and barren battlefields. He has more particular concerns – for Jim is a collector.

Making coherent sense of the material in the Drinagh archive is difficult.

The overview is lost in the blizzard of detail which emerges from his scores of scrapbooks and box-loads of old programmes. There is always something particular or peculiar to distract from the general in the collector's treasured trove.

The scope of Jim Parle's interest is bewildering, ranging from the impact of black runner Jesse Owens on the Berlin Olympics, Hitler's showcase Games of 1936, to the ballad sessions of South Wexford.

While athletics and mumming are his specialities, there is always room in his collection for other items of interest.

Born 80 years ago, he is happy to state that he has never been one to venture far from his native Drinagh, though he has ventured as far as England or Scotland a couple of times. Rather than viewing the world through the window of an aeroplane, he has watched events unfold through the pages of his daily newspaper.

He learned to read while a very young pupil at Piercestown national school. By the time he gained a scholarship to St. Peter's College he was addicted to the 'Irish Press'. While many others of his generation were autograph hunters, he preferred to amass press cuttings.

The adolescent Jim Parle – Leinster boys' shot putt champion in his day – did not have television to fire his sporting imagination and create a pantheon of sporting heroes.

So instead he squirreled away articles from the papers, illustrated with photographs of Scottish high jump stars in action or close finishes to sprints at College Park and Blackrock College in Dublin.

His early compilations are still to hand, if required, the pieces of paper still miraculously in place thanks to the enduring adhesive qualities of the mucilage gum he used liberally to stick them one by one in old exercise copy books.

He graduated from school in 1947 to find work in soil analysis at the agricultural institute in Johnstown for almost half a century up to retirement in 1996.

For much of that time, he continued to take sporting cuttings, moving on from copy books to the bigger pages of formal scrapbooks to store the gleanings.

As a member of the DMP athletics club, track and field was his first love but a riffle through the pages shows that Wexford's high flying hurlers of the 1950s and '60s also merited his attention.

There was room too for the exploits of Limerick jockey Martin Moloney, the Ruby Walsh of his day.

And all the time, the collector was stockpiling programmes from now long forgotten athletics meetings in venues such as Ballymitty, Killegney, Barrett Park in New Ross, the beach at Duncannon or Ballylucas in Ballymurn. No wonder he needs a room in the bungalow devoted to storing all this meticulously assembled material where his wife Bessie will not be tripping over it.

'I have an awful lot of old stuff,' he admits cheerfully. Not only are the fruits of his own excavations from the papers on tap.

He was also passed the collection of a fellow horder who used to cut out the 'times past' sections from the 'People' or the 'Free Press'.

Nothing would do Jim but to sort these carefully into order, sellotaped year by year into another set of scrapbooks with details of events back ass far as 1896.

The Drinagh man is the proud author of two books.

'Our Sporting Past' with details of Wexford athletics, cycling and tug 'o war was issued in 2012. It drew on his existing personal archive but also required the importation of further reams of material from the newspaper vaults of the public library service.

The other book on his CV to date was his labour of love 'Mummers of Wexford' (2002), preparation of which prompted the assembly of yet another small mountain of paperwork.

Jim's late father Nick Parle was King of the Mummers and the author's boyhood memories from the 1930s include recollections of Airideachtaí – outdoor rural feiseanna which drew competitors to venues such as Rathangan, The Ballagh, Kiltealy, Curracloe and Newbawn.

The collection fever has abated lately, but it has not been extinguished entirely. Jim Parle is working on a local history project. Stand by for further developments.

Wexford People

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