The future of athletics in Ardee is in jeopardy with Ardee & District Athletic Club facing the prospect of having to leave the Boys School Field in the town, their home of almost 70 years.
An issue relating to how the club mark the lanes and distances on the field has opened up the possibility that the club may have to leave the field. However, with no other location options available to the club, members fear the viability of the club is in serious doubt.
The club have called the field adjacent to the Monastery Boys National School their home since the first incarnation of the club – Ferdia A.C – was established in the mid-1950s.
It hosts twice-weekly training sessions between March and September, as well as relays, the club’s annual Sports Day and the Community Games – one of the biggest days in the athletics calendar not just locally, but nationally.
The athletic club share the field with Square United Football Club and the two volunteer-led clubs share the maintenance duties and upkeep costs of the field.
“The viability of the club is in jeopardy,” Ardee & District Athletic club chairman Peter Carolan told LouthNow.ie.
The athletic club have been told by the school’s Board of Management that they can no longer use any form of weed killer to delineate the tracks. The club have used weed killer to mark the tracks for years. It represents a permanent, low-cost solution to marking out the lanes and distances.
There is an eight lane track around the field and a 10 lane track in centre of field. A number of distances are also marked out on the field.
LouthNow.ie understands the decision has been taken now on the back of a risk assessment carried out on behalf of the school. The athletic club does have permission to use the field until the September but do not know where they stand for the Spring of next year.
“The field is an irregular shape. It is very difficult to set it out. We can’t physically mark it out,” Carolan explains. “We maintain the field. We pay the costs of cutting the grass. The Board of Management has no financial outlay.”
The Board of Management, for whom school Principal Jim McGee is the athletic club’s direct contact in relation to this issue, now insist the field can only be marked using a spray. The club say there is 4km of track on the field, as well as other lines, and they do not have the financial means or manpower resources to line the track in this way.
“We’ve looked at all the alternatives,” Carolan told LouthNow.ie. “Athletics is the poor relation of other sports in the area. We don’t have the financial means we need.
The subsequent impasse is leaving Ardee & District Athletic Club staring down the barrel of having to leave their home of almost 70 years – with no other permanent home available to them. There is a sense of frustration among the club committee and members as they seek a solution.
“The longevity of the club is in jeopardy. We haven’t got any land. We’d be willing to talk to Square United if we went with a multi-pronged approach. There was talk about land being available at the waterworks [in the centre of town]. That is aspirational. These things take time.”
The club believe that the new conditions being put on their usage of the Boys School Field make it impossible for the small club to use it for the purpose of track and field events, which remains unchanged.
“We can’t do relays, we can’t do the annual Sports Day, we can’t hold the Community Games. We host the Community Games every year. You don’t have to be a club athlete to participate. It’s for anybody and it’s very all inclusive. We would have young people starting with the Community Games and then going on to join the club.”
The club apply to the Monastery Boys NS every year for continued use. “We are at the mercy of the Board of Management,” Carolan continued. “It’s Boys School or nothing.”
Ardee & District Athletic Club are eligible for Sports Capital Grant funding from central government, but due to them not owning their own land or facilities, that funding can only over equipment and does not provide any financial support towards facilities.
The club say they have previously offered to build toilet facilities on site at the Boys School Field – which would be made available for use by the school – but were denied permission by the school’s Board of Management.
The chairman told LouthNow.ie that with no toilet facilities available to the club at the field, coaches often have to accompany children as young as five to the nearby Malone’s Topaz petrol station to go to the toilet.
Due to Covid-19, the club have missed out on the entire Track and Field season in 2020. On average, the club have approximately 200 adult and juvenile members on their books each year. On any given Tuesday and Thursday nights, around 25 adults and 80 children attend training at the Boys School Field.
From September to March, the club moves to Ardee St Marys facilities at Pairc Muire where floodlights are available to allow for training and events during the winter months. “The Marys are always very obliging,” Mr Carolan told us. “Last year, we also had to go to the Fair Green park. We needed extra coaches to stand by the entrances. Safety of the kids was an issue.”
While the Marys club have been accommodating by allowing use of their facilities, availability may be an issue now and going forward. The pandemic has thrown the GAA schedules into disarray and club competition may extend into the winter, meaning there is no guarantee of space for the athletic club at the ground on the Drogheda Road.
LouthNow.ie have reached out to the Board of Management for comment on this story. At the time of publication on Friday afternoon (September 11), no reply had been received.
The first athletic club in Ardee was established in the mid ‘50s, called Ferdia A.C. That incarnation of the club ceased to exist in the early ‘60s before athletics was revived in the town in 1971 when the De La Salle Brothers helped to reform the club – calling it Ardee De La Salle A.C.
That was disbanded in 1986 and six years later, the club was re-established for a second time, once again going by Ferdia A.C. In 2000, it changed its name to Ardee & District Athletic Club.
On the first Saturday in September every year, the club hold the Seamie Weldon Memorial 5K, in memory of the former club runner, coach and committee member who was a driving force behind the club in it’s third incarnation in the last 30 years. He had been involved with the club for 50 years until his death in 2014.
Sadly, this year’s event was cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions. It will return in 2021. The event raises money for local causes including Ardee Hospice Homecare.