A Wexford organisation belonging to another era which nurtured generations of sporting, business and civic leaders, has been wound up after 163 years in existence due to a decline in membership.
The Catholic Young Men's Society, established in the town in 1855 to promote the intellectual, moral and physical advancement of young men, has divided its remaining funds among four charities and is donating a former snooker hall building in Charlotte Street to the Wexford branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
'Everything has changed. It's all different now. There were very few people left in the end', said the society's last secretary/treasurer Sean Rattigan who took over the role from long-serving secretary, the late Dick Murphy. The remaining life members decided unanimously at an annual general meeting to liquidate the assets of the society which included a financial investment with the Charities Institute of Ireland and the premises in Charlotte Street (opposite the Centenary Stores and former home to the Corish Wallace School of Speech and Drama) .
Established in 1855, the Catholic society was once a thriving organisation which had many famous members including internatonal bridge players, all-Ireland hurlers and footballers, table tennis champions, national cyclists and champion billiard players.
Some of the most influential Wexford men were members of the society during its history, including merchant and philanthropist Richard J Devereux, the former Tanaiste Brendan Corish, 19 Mayors of Wexford and numerous councillors. Four members were conferred with the Freedom of the Borough while two members- Richard Deversux and James J Stafford- received the Knighthood of St. Gregory.
Among the notable sportsmen who came through the CYMS were the legendary Jem Roche, the world heavyweight boxing contender of the early 1900's and more recently, Rodney Goggins who won the world amateur Under 21 title in 1999, Larry Codd, the Irish amateur snooker champion and Robert Brady, the world pool champion of 2006.
The illustrious history of the CYMS in Wexford is documented in two books published by former member Michael O' Rourke of Bulgan, Glynn.
The society was dedicated to fostering an interest in wholesome pursuits among the men of Wexford and promoted card drives, plays variety concerts, dances, cycle races, boxing tournaments, table tennis, billiards and snooker, and was the first organisation to invite professional billiards champions to Wexford.
In the mid-1850's it held study groups, language classes and debates and brought the 'Magic Lantern Exhibition' and the 'Talking Machine' (phonograph) to town. Its reading rooms had the largest stock of periodicals and newspapers anywhere in County Wexford in 1895 and its library boasted 1,100 books. In those early days, the club organised excursions by steamer, horse-drawn coaches, bicycle and eventually by bus.
The Wexford branch started off in a premises in a lane off Bride Street, before moving to Common Quay Street and later to the Charlotte Street building which is being handed over free gratis to the St. Vincent de Paul Society to use as it wishes. Wexford Meals on Wheels, the Franciscan Friary, Wexford parish and the National Executive of CYMS have each received a quarter of the remaining funds.
'The winding up has been going on for nearly five years. It's a complicated legal process and requires the approval of the Revenue Commissioners', said Sean. Recalling the ethos of the organisation, he said there was a strong religious aspect to it and in order to join you had to be a member of the Confraternity and show that you were a person of good character.
It catered for young men from the age of 16 upwards. Sean said the society's membership began to decline in the 1960's as lifestyles changed and people became more mobile and the arrival of television was also big factor.