Overlooking Ardrum is Inniscarra Community Centre in Ballyanley. I've passed the complex several times in my travels and for me it is another active and modern bastion of community life within the Lee valley. At first investigation, I was impressed by its setup. Its multiple clubs and societies bring people together and create a strong sense of place and belonging for those involved. The centre's background is worth telling as it celebrates the long decades needed to establish a community centre in the area and the numerous people who brought their talents to bear on the development. The following was recounted to me by members of the community association. The need to make facilities available for the parish of Inniscarra was first mooted at a meeting of Berrings Macra na Feirme, a very vibrant club in the early seventies. As a result a meeting was called. It was held in the old Berrings Hall and a committee was elected. That was in February 1972. Eamonn Hegarty was elected Chairman and John Cronin was elected as secretary. Many meetings followed to see what a centre might offer to the community and to deal with issues of location and the formation of the centre as a co-operative or a limited company. At that time, local farmer Bill Ellis was willing to sell some land in a central location in the parish, namely Ballyanley. Approximately ten and half acres were bought at a cost of £13,000. To obtain ownership, deeds were required so it was decided to buy the land outright. Now all the working group needed was money. Numerous fundraising activities followed including door to door collections with people giving what they could afford. A life membership began at £1 and became £5 after some time. That gave the people of Inniscarra a sense of ownership over the project. Great credit is due to the many men and women who walked the roads to make the vision of a community centre a reality. Clubs supported the concept as they needed grounds for training and a hall for indoor activities. In 1974 when sufficient funds were raised, the contract was signed for the purchase of the land. Barretts of Ballintemple, Cork City, got the contract for the upgrading of the land on two pitches, to be known as number one and number two. The building of the centre began in February 1974 and was completed by July 1977. Michael O'Mahony, Berrings, was the contractor. During those years, the people of Inniscarra Community Centre became volunteer labourers as they picked stones and harrowed the ground. Volunteers also built the perimeter walls with Anco training centre providing local apprentices to plaster them. Equality was alive and well as there was also a female plasterer. John P. Hickey, one of the founder members said pressure was put on as to who would put up most blocks per day. By the late seventies clubs were developing around the centre. Inniscarra Badminton Club formed in 1977 and became one of the most successful in the country, providing officers at National level and competing at Division One Level. During the years of 1977 and 1978, pitches were provided for soccer enthusiasts in the Parish. Clubs such as Tower, Leemount, Dripsey and Strand United all trained and used facilities in Ballyanley. There was also the Cloghroe All-Stars. The 'Stars' played soccer and rugby and were established in Healy's Pub in Cloghroe. One night in 1978 a group of enthusiastic gentlemen were brought together by Donal Healy and Con O'Sullivan and Muskerry Rugby Club was founded. The Club had its base in Ballyanley, where it rented the grounds from the Inniscarra Community Centre until they bought their own grounds from Bill Ellis. In 2004-5, the Club came of age with the building of its own clubhouse within the complex. In the seventies in Ireland, festivals were a great social occasion and Inniscarra had its own version in the Lee festival. The initial festival was located on the banks of the River Lee behind inniscarra Cyle Rest in 1974. Unfortunately the marquee that was erected was flooded in one of the worst Septembers on record. The final events had to be completed on the new but as yet undeveloped land in Ballyanly. The festival in ensuing years moved location to Ballyanly and became one of the staple fund raisers for the centre over the years, as well as a great source of enjoyment every summer for young and old. In 1978, a weekend harvest festival was initiated in the Centre. It finished on Sunday night with well attended concerts. Macra na Feirme Clubs such as Berrings and Muskerry were instrumental in its success. As time progressed, it developed and moved towards an agricultural show and old time threshing, an event which became synonymous under the guidance of Joan O’Riordan, with Inniscarra Community Centre. The show still provides a great day out in late August, while keeping alive a tradition and providing funds for the centre at the same time. In the late 70s also, a loan was secured from AIB South Mall, of approximately £40,000 by Eamonn Ambrose, the treasurer, who was very active in securing funds. A second Parish collection brought in a further £10,000. The very first structure, a pump house erected by John P. Hickey, has since been knocked to make way for future buildings. The original hall measured 100 feet by 60 feet wide. That included two dressing rooms and a kitchen. It was a convenient build of its time built with blocks. However a new concept by Galway concrete was utilised in the trustees to support the span involved. By 1981, a new extension was required to accommodate the clubs and activities using the centre. Once again local voluntary work built the new meeting rooms, one of which was named the Ellis Room. Christy McCormack, a local builder, did the block work on the that phase. A £5 per month draw was well supported. About this time also dancing became very popular at the centre on Sunday nights. Top names such as Dermot O'Brien, the Swarbriggs, the Dixies' Joe Mac, Linda Martin and Foster and Allen. All entertained people. Inniscarra Community Centre became a popular destination for the dancing public as the years progressed.

Community is about creating a bond and many of the events that supported the Inniscarra Community centre down the years have created a great bond amongst the people. Events such as fun days, discos, road races, bonfire nights, card drivers, Santa, concerts, musicals, American tea parties and fashion shows have all contributed greatly to the life of the community centre. This week, the column continues to look at the history of the site. Perhaps what is striking about the following is how the community centre grew in strength over time due to volunteerism and how the members worked together of groups to make things happen and to make one of the leading community centres in not only the valley but the country. Between 1982 and 1983, two tarmacadam tennis courts were provided inside the main gate of the community centre. The cost was a mere €4,000, a very modest sum due once again to the voluntary labour supplied. While those enterprises was underway, a souterain was discovered. It was a significant find and UCC were engaged to examine it. Initially a corpse was found. The “corpse” took the corpse away and later informed the centre it was 2,000 years old. By 1985, the officers of the centre approached Bill Ellis once again for additional land to provide another pitch. The GAA was developing its own identity within the complex and required road frontage. Inniscarra Community Centre therefore swapped land with the GAA and so began the GAA pitch per se. The possibility of a pitch and putt course was now on the agenda. The existing grounds as well as an extra strip of land bought subsequently made this dream a reality. The greens were laid down in 1987 and the club founded in 1988. This club too grew. By 1991 a clubhouse was built for the members by completely voluntary labour. The building cost approximately €7,500 and a race night, run as a fund raiser brought in €8,500. By 1989, €200,000 had been spent on the development of Inniscarra Community Centre as it provided sporting and recreational amenities for the Parish of Inniscarra and its hinterland. Demand was growing for an all weather facility at the centre. At an estimated cost of €84,000, this was a project of greater stature vis-a-vis finance and an ambitious undertaking. The centre personnel were not daunted and with a considerable bank loan and lotto funding, they undertook the project. A synthetic grass carpet with sand infill was laid down. Shortly after the pitch opened in 1996 and the GAA Club opened its own clubhouse within the complex.


By the mid 1990s, the complex had a number of sports that called Ballyanley their home. Sports such as karate and athletics were gaining a very high profile as well. By 1995, €300,000 approximately had been raised and spent on the purchase of around 20 acres of land, building of a hall, extensions and the development of same. E.g. tennis courts, the 18 hole pitch and putt course and drainage of soccer pitches. However, in the pre-Celtic Tiger era of the nineties, costs were rising, volunteerism was declining, workers were tiring and money was scarce. While some clubs were gaining independence from the centre (e.g. GAA, Rugby, pitch and putt) with consequent fundraising needs of their own, other clubs were finding the going tough (e.g. badminton, tennis). Income to the centre was declining as a result. By 1998, the debt on the centre was over €100,000. Activity on the scale witnessed heretofore was no longer sustainable. At this time of financial crisis, several individuals and businesses within the parish responded magnificently when confidently approached for a interest-free five year loan of €500. Much of the money was later paid back, while more was written-off by members for which the centre was very grateful. As the centre entered the 21st century, despite costs involved, committees felt that upgrading of meeting rooms, showers was essential to encourage the use of the facilities and attendance at meetings. Approximately E20,000 was spent in this upgrade. The Ellis Room was completely refurbished. What must be remembered is that a community centre too has day to day running costs. With little or no income to offset them, e.g. insurance, heating, lighting etc. At that time (c.the year 2000), the running costs ran at E40,000 per annum. Between 2003 and 2004, a series of meetings was held to put a strategy in place to offset the debt and move forward. A massive draw brought in a total of E80,000. Throats were not safe either as the next major fund raiser was novel pub song contest entitled the "The Voice of Inniscarra", which brought in €15,000. Celebrity status was attached to the singer from the various centres and the contest drew great support from the public as they cheered on their representative. In 2001, Inniscarra Camogie Club, founded in 1967 and based on rented grounds in Ballyanley decided to look into the purchasing of adjacent land to the centre to develop into a full-sized playing pitch. Land was purchased from Pat Cronin and with the dedicated work of a strong field and finance committee, the Inniscarra Camogie Club became the first Club in County Cork to own its own grounds under the umbrella of Inniscarra Community Centre. Pairc Mháire Uí Cheallachain was opened in the summer of 2004. The Rugby Club too had enhanced their grounds and built their clubhouse. So by now, the complex was extended to 45 acres of land. In 2005, work in refurbishment took on a new impetus. Both the community and soccer pitches were re-drained. Re-sanding of the all-weather pitch followed. New goal post and ball-stopping nets were erected. Whilst spear-heading these improvements, Con O'Leary, suggested the possibility of tarmacing the entire complex. The 'Great Tarmac Project' began. Once again, the voluntary work that was undertaken to make the tarmac a reality was fantastic. Pathways, pedestrian crossings, lining and signage followed. The complex was now very much special needs friendly due to the perseverance of Pat Burton, who also founded a branch of the Special Olympics in the parish at this time. The principal sources of sources of funding for the works carries out at this time, included the parish draw (€80,000) grants and lottery monies, club contributions (E78,000), a golf classic, the voice of Inniscarra Song Contest and the Threshing/ agricultural show. In May 2008, a new lobby was created, a new stairway installed and a new lift fitted to accommodate people with special needs and the elderly. The state of the art toilet facilities were put in place. The cost of the 2008 project was E160,000. This was grant aided to the amount of E40,000. A small number of people took to the roads again to fundraise and within a few short weeks E38,000 was collected in the December fundraisers. In the words of one-great community activist Dinny Buckley, the committee put "its shoulder to the wheel and drove on".