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Remembering Liam O' Keeffe & Connie O' Callaghan

Ból Chumann and the road bowling community have been left in shock with the passing of two of the game’s iconic figures. Liam O’Keefe was Association President; it’s longest serving member and it first senior r champion. His passing on Thursday last evoked memories of a man who holds a unique place in the annals of the sport. From Waterfall, Liam’s love for bowl-playing began when he was four years old as he watched his neighbours Tim and Dan O’Herlihy, play before huge crowds. For the next nine decades that abiding passion remained undiminished. In the realms of bowling Liam’s is an extraordinary story. His stature rose as he played and won local tournaments in the forties, and he was one of eight chosen to participate in the first organised senior championship just as Ból Chumann was about to set up as an organisation to regulate the sport at regional and county level. His place in history was secured when he won that championship and the Joe Waters Cup defeating Ned Barry in an epic two-day final at Cloghroe. Flor Crowley describes Liam O’Keefe’s bowling skills through that championship; ‘O’Keefe is one of the fastest players on the road at present. His run-in is sprinter like, his delivery is smooth and quick, his follow-through is balanced and nicely controlled, and his plays are light, spinning and very fast. He is rapid on his feet as a long-jump champion, and as nimble as a tap-dancer. Speed is the essence of his bowling; speed and accuracy and a degree of stamina which is surprising in a man of his stature. He is cool and deliberate in everything he does, and these are valuable attributes in a bowl-player when there are thousands of spectators in attendance and probably thousand of pounds in wagers as well.

Sportsmanship and the respect he held for opponents and officials were very much part of his character. A devoted husband and father and a valued employee with New Ireland Insurance, Liam, whose wife Anne pre-deceased him, balanced his busy family life with continuing participation in championships and tournaments. Although further senior championship success eluded him, Liam’s remained in the top ranking and won the Murphy’s Stout Cup in 1957 defeating Tom Whelton at Ballinhassig. Another signature win came when he won outright the vintage (over 60’s) championship in 1990 defeating Mick Doyle at Monkstown. He was back for another tilt in 1996 but lost out to Mick Barry. He organised a hugely popular tournament on the Waterfall Road for the Dan O’Herlihy Cup. In this period too he was inducted into Ból Chumann’s Hall of Fame (1994). His administrative skills were soon to the fore and he became an effective Honorary Secretary for the City region. His tenure spanned over twenty years. His sister May (Barry) was a leading light in the formation of Ból Chumann’s women’s committee and represented Ból Chumann at European Championships. It was a singular family honour when her daughter, Susan, became, the Association’s first female chairperson in 2001. Liam played a supportive role throughout Susan’s nineteen-year term, a calming background influence offering guidance as the game transitioned into the modern era. It was no surprise when, on the death of Michael McSweeney in July 2009, Liam O’Keefe was unanimously elected the fifth President of Ból Chumann na hÉireann. Right to the end his commitment never flagged. Liam attended and contributed to the Association’s monthly executive meetings past his ninetieth birthday always looking after the welfare of his beloved City region. The rank and file of bowling’s community attended in large numbers at Liam’s funeral services. Susan Greene spoke of his dignity and honesty and his dedication to doing what was right throughout his well-lived lifetime. The organisation was truly the beneficiary of having within its membership a man of such principle. Liam was laid to rest at Ballinora Cemetery on Monday last. Ból Chumann Ard Mhaca were represented by Chairman, Chris Mallon and Secretary Pat O’Hagan and Ból Chumann chair, Michael Brennan delivered the graveside eulogy. Deepest sympathies are extended to his sons, Willie, Michael, Kevin, Declan, Colm and Brendan, to Susan Green and extended O’Keefe and Barry families. Rest in Peace.

Connie O’Callaghan was a man of many talents, well-known and respected within the business community of his adopted Boston where his steel fabrication company prospered, and yet it was the passion he held for the sport of bowl-playing and the energy he brought to his every involvement that made him a national and internationally recognised figure. From Coolavokig, Macroom, Con hailed from a family steeped in the game’s traditions. Bowling was a mainstay throughout his formative years and, possessed with a personality that was truly larger than life, he soon became one of its greatest advocates. If there is a positive dynamic in bowling Con possessed it. Enthusiastic, persuasive and leading from the front, Con, was the prime mover in establishing a flourishing bowling entity in North America, firstly in Boston and New York and then in West Virginia. David Powell wrote in tribute ‘Con showed our young men the serious competitive side of road bowling. He was our greatest teacher. His good works for the sport enabled it to grow and grow in WV more than he can ever know. God Bless Con and his family’. The setting up of the junior C and novice All-Ireland series in 1992 received an enormous boost when North America were granted regional status and began to travel in numbers in 1996. Con, Florry O’Mahony, the Fleming brothers and a host of others were to make the annual pilgrimage to wherever the finals were hosted, and they surely gained their measure of success also. Con was a bowler of substance, naturally confident and relishing the gamble, he possessed ability in abundance. These attributes came to the fore in two memorable All-Ireland novice 1 victories at Westport in 1999 and at Clogherhead, Co. Louth, in 2003. In both big-money deciders he defeated worthy Cork champions, Tony Morris of the City (’99) and Gerard Murray, Bauravilla (2003). They were celebrated with gusto. He was the go-to man when the championships were held the following year at Wompatu State Park, Boston, Massachusetts and again when they returned there in 2018.

Con’s dedication to bowling and it’s well-being remained undiminished. He won tournaments in Boston, increased its membership there by encouraging many on the periphery to participate and was also a pillar of support for the game here on his frequent visits. His informed interventions and helpful advice was often warmly appreciated by the sport’s governing body. On his passing Seamus O’Tuama acknowledged his contribution ‘Con was one of the great characters of the sport, mighty craic and a driving force in Boston and beyond’. He said it was ‘a very sad loss for the O’Callaghan family in a very short time. Connie and Brendan (who pre-deceased him in 2020) had bowling in their blood. They made the sport better for all of us who had the privilege to come in contact with them’. Sincere sympathies are extended to his sons Mark and Michael, their mother, Margaret, brothers Micheál (Bol Chumann Honorary Secretary); John, Paddy, sister, Catherine, to his nephews, nieces and extended O’Callaghan families. Connie’s funeral Mass was held in St. Mark’s Church, Dorchester Avenue, Dorchester on Monday March 27. Burial will take place in Ireland at a later date.

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