Former Mayor of Sligo, Thomas Healy, kindly shared with me his memory of President Michael D. Higgins visiting Ballisodare and being hosted in the handball alley…
As you probably know yourself, the handball alley, there’s a lot of history with it. W.B. Yeats was meant to have written one or two of his poems from there…Where I came in on it was there was a volunteer called Martin Savage who originated from Streamstown and as you know, Martin Savage was involved in the 1916 Rising in Dublin…I ran a campaign to see about getting the bridge there in Ballisodare called after volunteer Martin Savage for the reason that his last trip was across that bridge, when he got on the train to go to Dublin.
So how it came about was in 2016 I had the honour of being the Mayor of Sligo and Michael D. was down at the time, around the launch of the Fleadh…So we got talking about that, then he was telling me about himself and his father and the IRA and I said:
“Well I’ll tell ya what we’re trying to do now at the moment – ‘Martin Savage’”.
Well I just said ‘Martin Savage’ but he went into the history of Martin Savage and the whole lot. And I explained, well look we’re seeing if we can get the bridge named in the town and he said,
“Keep me informed on that” and he said “It’ll go through all the different groups but let me know.”
AND THEY DID LET HIM KNOW. AFTER GATHERING A PETITION OF OVER 500 SIGNATURES, GAINING SUPPORT OF LOCAL COUNCILLORS, APPLYING TO THE PLACE NAMES COMMITTEE – FINALLY, VIA SLIGO COUNTY COUNCIL…
…We invited him down. As I said we were blessed with the day we had, he came down and he met every different group in the village of Ballisodare. He was given a fish by the fishery board, the local soccer club made a presentation to him and I work with the office of public works so I got two stonemasons to cut a stone for him. The stone is cut as if it’s himself standing at the handball alley looking into the river and looking at the bridge.
And that’s where it was…The reason why we wanted to keep the site as the ball alley was that it’d be right next to the bridge and we had to think of security for the President. When you look back at it I mean there was only a handful of people that were behind it, but to turn it all about and to have had the reception that we had – I had the Child of Grace left out for a few days before so we’d get a good day!…It was in the handball alley – he was big into W.B. Yeats so we were able to tell him the whole reason of it. And from there then we walked across the bridge and we chatted. He was delighted with the success that it was and the amount of people and young people that were excited to meet him. And that was the president’s first time in Ballisodare…
…Back in the early I think it was 40’s or 50’s every town and village had a handball alley and it was a meeting spot for a lot of people and handball was a big thing at that time. And as I said, it was a center point and we didn’t want to go into a pub and we didn’t want to go into a hotel – we got a marquee…My wife is a baker and she made a cake for him on the day because his birthday was, I think it was 2 days before his birthday or 2 days after his birthday. So we had a big sing song for the president as well ‘Happy Birthday Mr Rresident!’
…It was in there in the handball alley…I was delighted with the way it turned out, it was young and old everyone came together. We were all there for the right reasons.
…As I said to the people at the time, it’s not every town or village that gets the President coming. And not every town or village that has the president come to honour one of their own…From here on in, down the line people will remember that the President of Ireland came to Ballisodare and that’ll live in the memory for a long time.