A Branch of the Gaelic League was formed in Ballinaclough in 1954 by the late Padraig O’Coileain. Padraig, or Pat, as he was known locally was a primary school teacher and had a great interest in all things Irish.
The branch began its activities in Hughie Droney’s hall, with Irish language classes and Ceili dancing, both taught by Pat. In the early days, the music was played by Mick Whelan and a little later by Matt Maher from Knigh. Matt cycled to the hall every week with his button accordion carefully wrapped and strapped to the carrier of his bicycle. In later years, Sean Moran of Ballinaclough played for the Ceili practices and in the final few years, the music was provided by Margaret Walsh and Rita Gleeson of the “The Firesiders”.A new school was built in Ballinaclough in 1956, and some time later the Gaelic League branch moved from Hughie’s Hall to the old school house. This building was in bad repair and Pat Collins spearheaded a group of volunteers who worked hard to transform the old school hall into a comfortable Community Hall.
Mick Droney, a local carpenter, helped by son Michael, built the stage for this hall. Each section of the stage was marked so that when extra space was needed for dancing it could be dismantled and more easily re-erected when needed.
With a great stage in place, Pat Collins decided to start teaching drama in his group.
The first play he chose to put on was “An Uacht” (The Will). This was a one act play in the Irish language and as most of the audience were not native speakers, Pat would come to the front of the curtain before the play started and explain the story of the play in English, so that the people would understand what was going on. The late Rody Clifford was the person making the will and the others cast members were TomSherlock, Breda and Donie Lynch, John Droney, Ann Hayes and Alice Ryan.
Pat decided to enter this play in a Drama Competition in the Mansion House in Dublin. Tomas Mac Anna, who was giving a course on drama production in Dun Mhuire in Nenagh, came out to see the Ballinaclough group and greatly approved of their performance. Tomas Mac Anna was the producer in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin for many years. Performing their play in Dublin was a wonderful experience for such a young group. Their performance was “Highly Commended”. This was no mean achievement when one thinks of the competition. The group travelled to Dublin in Hughie Droney’s bus and when the competition had finished, they danced the night away at the Ceili Mor in the Mansion House. On their return journey on Sunday morning they got 6 am Mass in the monastery in Roscrea. Breda can still remember the cold of the monastery that morning.
The next play was “An Gra agus An Garda” (“Love and The Guard”). The cast comprised May Sherlock, John Droney, John Boland and Timmy Collins. After many local performances this group travelled to Ring in Co. Waterford to compete in a drama competition. They returned to Ballinaclough, a very excited group as they had won the silver cup for their production.
“Na Cruiteachainn” agus “Caitlin Ni h-Uallachain” were also performed, and there were some funny sketches too such as “The Bell of Knockalton”, “The Silvermines Fair”, “An Madarin Rua” and “St Patrick’s Day Collection”.
Ceili dancing continued to be a very important part of the social scene in Ballinaclough. Pat always encouraged his dancers to achieve a very high standard and as a result, they were in much demand for local concerts and dancing displays.
This group often performed at the North Tipperary Show, at Nenagh Town Hall and at the Military Barracks. Among the dancers in the early days were Micheal and Benny Hogan, Mary and John Droney, Alice and Jackie Ryan, Joan and Sean Clifford, Jimmy Harrington, Teresa, Carmel and Alice Boland and Chrissie and Carmel Hayes, as well as some members of the drama group.
The huge interest in dancing created a great need for music and Buion Ceol Baile na Cloiche was formed in 1960 to fulfil this need. Matt Maher on the accordion, John Droney on the accordion, and Tom Gleeson on the drums, augmented at times by Mary Droney playing Hughie Droney’s piano. They were in much demand for Ceilithe
Móra in many local halls. Each branch of the Gaelic League would support their neighbouring branches for a Ceili Mor. Cycling from Ballinaclough to Portroe or Kilruane or other local halls was not unusual as there were very few cars in those days.
In the early 1960’s, Pat Collins decided to bring a step-dancing teacher to the hall to give the young people of Ballinaclough and surrounding areas a chance to develop a love for step-dancing as well as ceili dancing. Mrs Daly from Limerick was chosen as our teacher and she travelled to Nenagh by train every Saturday, where Pat collected her and brought her to the hall. Two or three hours later, when the class had finished he would bring her back to the railway station where she would get a train back to Limerick.