How the Showgrounds was secured by Sligo Rovers
In April 1968 John Fallon (Then Mayor of Sligo and Chairman of Sligo Rovers), led a small delegation to Kilkenny. Accompanying him were Jimmy Gilmartin, Club Secretary; Brendan Byrne, Secretary of the Supporters Club; and Ray Gallagher, who added the land/agricultural expertise.
The reason they were travelling to Kilkenny was to meet with Solicitors James, Poe, Kiely, who represented Ms. Kathleen Chadwick, sole beneficiary of the six-acre Fowler Estate in the Showgrounds. The Fowler Estate included the area of the playing pitch, the remainder of the ground (on the Jinks Avenue side) formed part of the Campbell Estate.
The Kilkenny meeting was crucial in term of securing ownership of the ground. While John Fallon passed away in 1980, I talked to Brendan (who passed away in 2016), Jimmy and Ray about the trip to Kilkenny and the background to it. I also spoke to Albert Higgins, who had a crucial role to play in the aftermath of the visit, as he was both a member of the Show Society and Sligo Rovers Management Committee. The following is their recollection about how the Showgrounds was secured by Sligo Rovers.
In the summer of 1966 Albert Higgins approached Ray Gallagher about joining the new Sligo Rovers Supporters Club. Ray agreed, and the new club was formed with the help of Willie Bradley and Paddy Morahan. Later that year a contact in a local solicitor’s office discreetly advised Ray that documentation he had come across showed that the lease on the Fowler Estate in the Showgrounds was due to expire in two years. Neither Sligo Rovers or the Show Society had been alerted to the imminent expiry of the lease.
The Fowler estate interest was held by a Ms. Kathleen Chadwick who lived in Surrey. Sligo Rovers had a lease since the 1920s and had a sub-lease to the Show Society. Ms. Chadwick was represented by James, Poe, Kiely Solicitors. With the lease due to expire in September 1968, a number of attempts were made to arrange a meeting with the Kilkenny Solicitors, without success. The matter was too important to let drift any further, so it was decided to make the trip to Kilkenny ‘on spec’ to see if they would be given a hearing.
In April 1968 John Fallon, Brendan Byrne, Ray Gallagher and Jimmy Gilmartin travelled to Kilkenny to meet Ms. Chadwick’s Solicitors. The Rovers Management Committee had agreed a budget of £4,000 to buy the interest.
The delegation had their homework done; Ray had checked with local auctioneers and was familiar with the going rate for land anywhere within a 5-mile radius of the Showgrounds. Brendan was knowledgeable on the zoning issues; Sligo County Council having completed its first County Development Plan in 1967.
For this research, Ray set out the sequence of events from the time they arrived in Kilkenny.
“We arrived unannounced at the Solicitors’ offices around 10.30am. John Fallon was an experienced operator, and I think the fact that he was Mayor was crucial in prompting old Kiely to meet us – when he eventually decided to come out to see what this mysterious group were about.
He brought us into his office, and John Fallon made a very persuasive case on the importance of Sligo Rovers to the local community. Mr Kiely continued to listen intently as Brendan (mostly) set out our case. The main points Brendan made were:
- The Showgrounds was zoned as a ‘Green Area’ and could not be developed for housing. Brendan backed this up with a document on the local zoning regulations, which he was very familiar with through his work in the Council.
- Ray gave Kiely a report on prices paid in recent times for agricultural land in five-mile radius around Sligo, which showed an average purchase price of £200 an acre.
- The group also gave an undertaking that the requirements of the Show Society would be accommodated in any purchase agreement.
While the meeting took place in a cordial atmosphere, Kiely questioned us in great detail. He then asked bluntly what we were offering. Ray pointed out from the sales information he had provided, and the zoning restriction which reduced its value, that the six acres in the estate could reasonably be valued at £200 an acre, or £1200 for the estate. However, while the club was not blessed with funds, the purchase was important to the Club, and they were prepared to offer £2,500 for it.
Mr Kiely told the delegation he believed they were honourable men, (not honourable enough to tell him their budget was £4,000). He said he would arrange lunch for us in the Imperial Hotel (at his expense) which would give him and his staff time to study their proposal. He asked us to return to his office at 2.30pm.
When we returned Mr Kiely informed us that he had fully considered our presentation and was prepared to pass it on to his client, Ms Chadwick, with his personal recommendation that she should accept it. He undertook to relay her decision in a few weeks.
The mood on the way home was like returning home from a winning Cup Final. We took the decision to tell no-one about the detail of the meeting until Mr Kiely came back to us. None of us breached that agreement, and this must have been particularly difficult for John Fallon, who as Chairman of the Club, was being criticised by the Committee for the ‘foolhardy’ nature of the trip”.
It seems the Show Society had also been aware of the imminent expiry of the lease but had met the same rebuff when trying to arrange a meeting with the Kilkenny Solicitors through official channels. The Society’s Solicitor Mr McGarry wrote to Mr Kiely, prompting a complaint from Mr Kiely to Sligo Rovers that he had been misled, that his client Miss Chadwick had a great interest in horses and equestrianism and that she would advocate keeping the ground as a centre for horses.
(Records show that another group keeping a watchful eye on the expiry of the lease were the local greyhound owners).
This presented a major difficulty. I was assigned the job of writing to Mr Kiely. At this time, I was working as an Agricultural Adviser with the Sligo Committee of Agriculture. I wrote on their headed paper pointing out that the information he had received was incorrect. I made the point that we were an integral part of Sligo society and the Showgrounds, home of Sligo soccer, was central to this. Sligo Rovers also had a large rural following, and of course the county’s farming community had a keen interest in the Show. I alleged that to say ‘we were not interested in the Show’ was amazing as I myself worked with the Sligo Committee of Agriculture who are the Show’s main sponsor and that I was also a member of its panel of judges.
I enclosed with my letter a report which highlighted the Show Committee’s gratitude to the Committee of Agriculture for its support, without which there would not be a Show. I posed the question to Mr Kiely. could I be part of a delegation to evict the Show Society when I was as committed to it as much as Sligo Rovers? I stated that we would meet the Committee of the Show Society and get a legal agreement drawn up outlining that if we secured the ground, they would have the full rights they now enjoyed each year for a nominal agreed fee.
At that time the Show Society were still using the ground. The Annual Show was in August, and with Rovers season already underway at that time, it did cut up the pitch. A stone wall in the centre of the field was a particular problem, the area around it used to cut up fairly badly. However, the standard of pitches was fairly poor around the country at that time, so no great fuss made over the damage caused by the Show. (At a subsequent meeting of the Show Society, Albert Higgins pointed out that the Society could incur substantial cost in restoring the Showgrounds pitch, prompting their move to the grounds of St. Columba’s Hospital).
The meeting with the Show Society was, in its own way, as significant as the meeting in Kilkenny, for if some form agreement wasn’t reached, Mr Kiely would not be persuaded to conclude the deal. In the days leading up to the meeting, myself and Albert met with Joe Rice and Michael Gilligan, two members of the Show Society we regarded as fair and reasonable, and their contribution at the meeting bore this out. At that time it was rumoured there were proposals to build an indoor riding complex for the Show Society in the Showgrounds; and as the location of the building was the main pitch, this would have meant Sligo Rovers vacating the ground.
The meeting took place in the office of Mrs Headon, Secretary of the Show Society, in Market Street, (above Williams’ old garage), with the issue of the lease the only item on the agenda.
The full Show Committee was in attendance. The Sligo Rovers delegation at the meeting consisted of myself, Brendan Byrne, Paddy Gilmartin, and I think Jimmy Gilmartin, Chairman of the Show Society Jim McGarry, Solicitor, chaired the meeting – the welcome for our group was cold, and during the discussions I recall being constantly being put down with the remark ‘Well, are you a Solicitor?’ implying I was out of my depth.
Joe Rice and Michael Gilligan insisted on us being afforded the courtesy of a fair hearing, and I re-iterated our simple message was that we would undertake to secure the Show Society’s rights for the future. It was stated by one of the Show Society that security was exactly what they were looking for. The Society then agreed with Michael Gilligan’s proposal that we proceed on the terms set out by Sligo Rovers, the ‘nominal rent’ was agreed at £50.This agreement was confirmed with Mr Kiely and the deal was finalised”.
Reflecting on the episode 46 years later, a few thoughts occur.
- The visit to Kilkenny was highly unprofessional, without either an appointment or legal direction. Yet without it, Sligo Rovers would not have the Showgrounds and the ground could well have housed an indoor equine arena.
- The persistence of the Sligo Rovers Supporters Club in pursuing this was a major factor, at a time when it was not regarded as a priority by the Management Committee.
- The objectivity and fairness of some members of the Show Society certainly helped get the deal agreed.
- The fact that Mr Kiely, who had not engaged to any extent with our Solicitor, was so well disposed to us at our meeting in Kilkenny was hugely significant.
- The right of the Show Society to a lease is an honour-bound agreement, and hopefully a legal one as well.’
Whoever owned the Fowler Estate was in pole position to purchase the Campbell Estate, which at that time was leased for short-term grazing to John Conlon. The deal for the Campbell Estate was made with Solicitor Charlie Brown. The Campbell who founded the Campbell Estate was none other than the grandfather of the First President of Sligo Chamber, Harper Campbell Perry. It was also acquired for £2,500, but without the drama and intrigue surrounding the purchase of the Fowler Estate.
Researched and written by Kevin Colreavy
Sligo Rovers Heritage Group
Supported by the Sligo Chamber Centenary Committee:
- Catherine Maguire – Admin & Photographic Research
- Geraldine Courtenay – Creative Direction
- Aidan Doyle – Review & Publication
The next Article in the series commemorating The Centenary of Sligo Chamber and entitled
“The Emergency” will be released on the 9th of October 2023.
#Sligo Chamber Centenary