Ballina in the early 20th century

Lewis' Topographical Survey 1837
Irish Free State Army Private Richard Joseph Hearns
From a historical point of view, the Ballina of Dick Hearns' youth was utterly changed while he was still a teenager. In 1907 when Dick was born, Ireland had the highest death-rate from TB in the world. The disease, also known as The White Plague, led to the setting up of the Women's National Health Orgazization by Lady Aberdeen in that year. "Noreen Bawn" was a song composed in 1910 to discourage people from emigrating where they could likely fall victim of this incurable fatal disease or another called scarlet fever. Just like Covid-19 of 2020, TB was highly contagious and could be transmitted in the same way through coughing, sneezing or singing. TB made no distinction between young and old, male and female. The Old Age Pension for people who could prove they had lived beyond their 70th year, only became an entitlement from January 1909. Fortunately, anybody who had some way to show they were born on or before the Night of the Big Wind on 6th January 1839, had a valid claim. For many households this Friday payment of 5-shillings was their only source of income. There were 20-shillings or 240-pennies in a pound at that time, and the pound as currency continued in usage until it ceased to be legal tender in February 2002 when it was replaced by the Euro. The currency had changed to decimal prior to joining the EEC in January 1973, and there were just one hundren pence in a pound from then until 2002. The daily diet in the early part of the century was comprised of natural foods such as bread, meat, fish, potatoes and vegetables, with salted fish harvested and stored in times of plenty. The River Moy, on Dick's home doorstep in Mill Street, abounded with salmon and eel, but not many local people could avail of this bounty since fishing rights were severely restricted. Anybody caught poaching salmon from the river to feed the family was summoned to court and fined heavily. People were generally self-sufficient and traded their labour for the essentials. Fairs for farm animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs were held on set dates during the year.  There was a goat fair in nearby Foxford each year, and kid goats were a very rare delicacy. The general population of Ballina at that time could purchase wild rabbit, chicken, geese, duck, eggs and turkeys as well as mackerel and herring on weekly market days in the town. The ruling class in those years held banquets with exotic food such as venison, pheasant and the finest cuts of beef, kid goat, pork and lamb as well as fillets of wild salmon and imported fish. Ballina Gas Company supplied gas for lighting and cooking, and the power of the River Moy was harnessed to power the mills and to produce electricity. Oil lamps were in use in most of the homes and the advent of the Tilly Lamp made the homes much brighter at night. State employment was scarce and transport was mainly by horse and carriage, and history tells us the first bus service in Ireland was between Enniscrone and Ballina in 1901. The planned canal from Ballina to Galway had not materialized and it was on this stretch of the River Moy known to this day as The Canal that Dick and his siblings learned to swim during the long hot summer days. Today, there is a beautiful walk along the river bank at this point opposite Dick's old home, and Canalside Park is a mecca for youngsters with all its colourful playground equipment for children. Swimming is not encouraged and few salmon may be seen breaking the surface of the river anymore.
Steam-powered trains had been serving Ballina since 1870 and horse-drawn dreys were used to take goods from the railway station to the wholesalers and retailers. An extension of the rail line to Killala passed through a tunnel under present-day Convent Hill but the rail service ended in July 1934. The town had a thriving port through which timber, coal, corn and other goods entered and left the county. The town had a Bond Store where excise duty on spirits, wine and tobacco were collected, and there were coastguard stations along the coast close to the entrance of the River Moy estuary. 
A daily mail-coach service ran between Sligo and Castlebar throughout the 19th century, taking in Ballina on the way: the coming of the railway signalled the end of the service. The post boxes in Ireland at the time were painted red and in Ballina were emblazoned with either VR or ERVII, in memory of Queen Victoria (Victoria Regina) and her son Edward the seventh (Edward VII Rex) who succeeded her in 1901. Ireland had to show allegience to the British monarch, and those unwilling to do so were hunted down and punished severely. 
Mayo had lost many emigrants when the Titanic sank in 1912 and there was further loss of life in 1915 when the Lusitania went down. These disasters would have weighed heavily on all Mayo people. Sir Roger Casement was convicted of high treason in 1916 and executed under the law, and the event received much media attention worldwide at the time: Ballina's John St. was many years later changed to Casement St. to his memory. Many more Irish patriots have streets and lanes in the town dedicated to their memory (listed here ) though most were not natives of Ballina. The newspapers at the time brought news of a World War fought overseas which involved many Ballina men who had enlisted in the British Army out of necessity. This war brought food-rationing, reports of loss of the lives of loved ones and this was followed at home by the War of Independence. Irish women got the right to vote and to stand for election to government for the first time in 1918.
The sound of gunfire was a regular occurance in the town during Dick's teenage years and able-bodied single young men were treated with suspicion by the RIC, who were often described as "the eyes and ears of Dublin Castle". Spies were another curse ordinary native Irish people had to deal with at the time and there had been cases where innocent individuals were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, with deadly consequences as a result of "information" presented by such despicable characters. The military barracks had a central position in Ballina at the time and in the lives of the people, and men such as Michael Tolan, who fell out of favour with the RIC at the time, simply "disappeared". The death of Terence McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, on October 1920 on the 74th day of his hunger-strike in Brixton prison, England, caught the attention of people all over the world. The might of the British Empire was seen for what it was: a tyrannical power. One of the saddest chapters in the dark age known as The Troubles, was the murder of 14 civilians in Croke Park on November 20th 1920, in what was named Bloody Sunday. What happened in Ballina and much of Ireland during the subsequent Civil War, when family members ended up on opposite sides and with brutal consequences, would have had a lasting effect on a youth at the time.  Patriotism comes in many guises, and one does not necessarily have to die for one's country to force humanitarian political change. To lead by honest example and with respect for others is also serving one's country. Another Ballinaman from Mill Street where Dick grew up was a courageous lad called Pat Mangan (born in 1898) who enlisted as a soldier in the British Army at the age of fourteen years. Sometimes these people and the challenges they faced are forgotten, and that is a great pity because their brave, selfless actions forced changes to create better lives for very many others who came afterwards. Neither should we forget that history has a habit of repeating itself.
The arrival of the Black and Tans to Ballina in 1920 -- when Dick was an impressionable youth in his 13th year -- signalled a drastic change for the worst in the lives of the ordinary natives who were striving daily as best they could to make ends meet. It was very clear to Dick that there were two distinct levels of existance in the community and that the natives often fell foul of the laws of the land often through necessity or ignorance rather than through deliberate intent on their own part, and justice was not always seen to be done on the streets or in the courts. It was also clear that it did not have to be like that. Things had to change and it would be up to the young men to force this change. The Free-state army beckoned and Dick willingly signed up for service in Athlone, "prepared to die for Ireland" as he said himself. As Dick was reaching his prime, it became very clear that he could hold his own on the canvas apron with the best in the army and against the well-trained members of the constabulary under the Queensberry Rules of Boxing, yet was powerless to stand up to the abuse of power at the hands of those patrolling the streets in uniform often witnesssed first hand by himself in his native town. While on leave from the army, Dick seized an opportunity to train and serve as a member of An Garda Síochána -- a role to which he was ideally suited both physically and mentally. Dick would never be called a quitter and this honourable Mayo trait was evident throughout his whole life and passed on to, and nurturd in, his own family with the full blessing of their mother Clare.

Many great Irish athletes, coaches and  promoters of sporting opportunities for others are, sadly, forgotten soon after they leave the stage. Some international legends such as Steve Casey from Sneem, Co. Kerry are remembered through life-size figures erected in their native towns. The name of the great Martin Sheridan of Bohola is on a bronze bust in his native town, and it is a most fitting tribute to such a great athlete who had emigrated to America as a young man of eighteen years to seek his fortune like so many more before him. The Martin Sheridan Bursary for young aspiring athletes is organized annually by Mayo County Council. Ireland's had a tradition for writing ballads/songs commemorating sporting heroes such as that giant of Gaelic Football, Mayo's Tom Langan who has also a Gaelic games park named in his honour.
Competition promoters such as Mayoman Seán Ó'Duffy are remembered each year when the O'Duffy Cup is presented to the captain of the winning team in the All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship. The hallowed grounds of Croke Park, Dublin, are named after one of the first patrons of the GAA, Archbishop Thomas William Croke of Cashel, Co. Tipperary, and this national treasure has a stand dedicated to the memory of Mayoman Patrick Nally from Balla. The Eucharistic Congress of 1932 was a major event which took place in Dublin to coincide with the anniversary of the arrival of Ireland's patron saint in 432 AD. Patrick's mission in Ireland had awakened a massive spiritual response from the Irish people, and they subsequently dedicated wells, shrines and churches to the saint's memory nationally, and locally in Ballina and Killala. Croagh Patrick in the south west of the county has been an international place of pilgrimage for many years. Dick Hearns was in his prime at the time of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress and every young lad of his time knew of Ballina's association with St. Patrick. It is certain that he drew strength from seeing the massive gathering and public display of Irish unity, spirituality and acknowledgement of heritage shown openly before the world in Dublin's mid-summer of 1932.

To mark the centenary of the IABA,  and to honour the town's own Superman Dick Hearns, Ballina Boxing Club gym relocated to leased refurbished premises, which became known as the Dick Hearns Gym.  The Hearns family members were very supportive of the measure from the beginning and in 2014, the club was offered a site for a more permanent home for the club, this to be called the Dick Hearns Centre. The new sporting arena currently being constructed on the site will be a living and fitting tribute to a truly great son of Ballina, and will be for many years to come
an inspiration for athletes of all disciplines to follow the path to achieve their potential. The age-old motto will be over the door: Training breeds Fitness. Fitness breeds Confidence. Confidence breeds Success!