‘The people of the town supported the show from the beginning’

Founder member John’s memories

John O’Beirne was there at the beginning, and while he retired from active ‘show duty’ about eight years ago, he’ll be there again on August 20th, ready to engage with the public and share in Roscommon Show’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

The show has been a big part of his life. A native of Kilconnell, Co. Galway, he was a founder member of Roscommon Show in 1970. Over the decades he has served in numerous capacities – including as a judge, and as Chief Steward.

Resident of Convent Road, Roscommon, John is married to Frances, and the couple have four grown-up children. The retired equine specialist advisor recently called into the Roscommon People office to share his memories of the show over the decades.

“It started in 1970, and the two key people were Paddy Walsh, who was a building contractor, and Phil Fullard, who owned a garage. Both had an interest in horses, so that’s what prompted it. Another key person was Jim White, he had been a member of the previous Roscommon Show, which ceased in 1953”.

John had been involved in shows in Tuam and Clifden, so he was an ideal person to join the new initiative. After an initial meeting, financial support was sought – and offered – from local businesses.

The first show was held at St Coman’s Park in July of 1970. Horses featured, as did other classes. John recalls showjumping being a feature of the show in the early years.

“The people of the town supported it from the beginning and the show was an immediate success. Paddy Walsh was the first chairman. He was a good organiser and had lots of contacts. A show dance was held in the Royal Hotel in those early years”.

As the show became an integral part of farming and wider community life in Roscommon, its popularity grew. In addition to the animal classes, there were classes for farm produce, as well as events such as Bonny Baby, Best Dressed Lady, Most Appropriately Dressed Gent, Glamorous Granny, etc.

John recalls: “In the early days we had sheaf throwing, butter-making classes, we used to have tug o’war too. Over the years there have been all sorts of classes, many of which have grown. For example, the dog section has grown from four (classes) to 25! There were no pony riding classes in the beginning, it’s up to eight now”.

Asked about memorable incidents over the years, he recalls a few episodes that were perhaps reflective of a different era.

“I remember one man taking part in the driving classes. This man had too much to drink! At one point, he turned so sharply, the horse fell. I was nearby…I jumped on the horse to disconnect the trap from the animal”.

Thankfully there were no injuries, except to the man’s ego. He was gently escorted from the venue!

On another occasion recalled by John, a lady who also had too much to drink was taking part in the same event. Again, the horse fell suddenly, due to some overzealous driving. The woman fell between the trap and the horse.

John: “When the woman slipped between the trap and horse, it could have been serious, but luckily it was a quiet horse and we were able to come to her rescue”.

John served as Chief Steward, while in his judging capacity he judged farm produce mostly. On occasions, if a judge didn’t turn up, he stepped into their shoes (including to judge the Bonny Baby competition, Glamorous Granny, and others).

He recalls ‘Beanie’ McDonald, a real character from Mullingar, who was regularly a cattle judge at Roscommon Show. He had long, blonde hair, liked to have a drink or two before judging, and was liked by all.

“There were so many great local people involved. James Gavigan was Show President in the early days. Jimmy McDermott always had a very interesting exhibit in our float for the Easter Parade. The late Willie Stroker was another character, but there were so many I could mention, people like Joe Kelly, Paddy Beirne, Padraig Nolan and PJ Naughton, who contributed so much over the years. Maura Quigley was great, she was one of the show’s longest serving secretaries”.

John is looking forward to the 50th annual show, 52 years on from that debut of 1970 (two shows didn’t go ahead due to Covid-19). He won’t be judging, but he will be there, sharing his memories and knowledge of the show with spectators in a special area where memorabilia will be on display.

Hopefully the sun will shine on August 20th next, but if there happens to be a drop or two of rain, it will remind John of another memory from the past.

“I remember a Lady Mahon, of the family at Strokestown House, she attended a show to judge the dogs” John recalls with a smile. “I lent her an umbrella, but I didn’t get it back!”