Wooden Rugby Ball
St Muredach's Cathedral is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Killala in Ireland. It is located on the bank of the River Moy in Ballina, County Mayo. It is also the parish church of the parish of Kilmoremoy.
It is a detached six-bay double-height building on a cruciform plan comprising four-bay double-height nave which opens into single-bay double-height transepts all centred on single-bay double-height chancel.
The cathedral's construction was initiated by Bishop John MacHale (1791-1881) who served as the Bishop of Killala from 1825-1834 and the completion of the cathedral in 1834, coincided with his translation to the Archdiocese of Tuam.
The spire was completed in 1855 to the designs of the celebrated architect James Joseph McCarthy and further embellishment continued throughout the nineteenth century.
The ornate ceiling was put in place some fifteen years after the cathedral was built in 1829. It rests on columns inserted into the cathedral walls. It is independent of and is about eight feet lower than the cathedral roof itself. With the passing of time and given the direction of the prevailing wind, dampness has penetrated the external walls and caused the timber supports for the ceiling to rot. In 2014 a restoration project was commenced and it was estimated the final bill would be in excess of 2 million euros.
With this in mind a local man John Mc Cormack came up with the idea of the wooden rugby ball which is made from salvaged roof timbers and signed by over 50 International and provencial rugby players.
I was asked by John McCormack to make this Rugby Ball as part of ongoing fundraising towards the restoration and renovation of St. Muredachs Cathedral in Ballina.
A rugby Ball was chosen in light of Ireland’s team success in this sport and the involvement of the the four provinces.
I always had an interest in the Cathedral, particularly the Gothic ceiling.
In 1975 I completed my carpentry training and since then turned my hand to woodturning which I really enjoy. When work began on the restoration and renovation work I found myself as part of the team O’Malley and Sons who were contracted to do the work.
While working there we salvaged some old timber beams from the roof area, one end of which was badly damaged due to the condition of the roof.
This wood originally came from the Baltic States (Baltic Pine) and is more than 200 years old. The stand is made from Baltic Pine and also another timber, Sapele Mahogany, which comes from Africa with these trees reaching 150ft and the trunk commonly 5ft in width.
I wish to thank John for inviting me to make this unique piece and I hope it will be of benefit to the Fundraising Committee in their work and I wish them every success.
The Cathedral Rugby Ball.
This Project had its origins during a period before The Rugby World Cup in England in 2015.
St.Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina was in dire need of extensive and expensive remedial work to be carried out on it’s internal roof, pointing of all outer stonework including the steeple, repairing Cross on steeple, internal wiring, new sound system and fire alarms. The stained glass windows were also in need of serious attention and of course the painting of the Cathedral but these jobs were being left to the end.
The projected cost of this was in the order of 3 million euros at that time and the funding of this was requiring serious effort and thought by the parishioners near and far. Various funding projects were initiated and indeed they continue on but it is a steep hill that has to be overcome and so it goes on.
Presently, I understand there is in excess of one million euros owed on the loan and that figure does not include time consuming and expensive specialised attention required for those priceless stained glass windows or indeed the painting of the Cathedral which I understand will be done last.
The contract for this work was awarded to O’Malley and Sons,(Ballina )Ltd, a local contractor with much experience on Church work and they set about their work in a professional manner.
One of their employees was one Willie Creighton, a carpenter with many years experience in his trade. Willie is also a master craftsman in the business of woodturning and he gives classes in Aghamore where he lives. He also does exhibitions and gives seminars Nationwide.
I attended one of Willies classes and was astonished at what could be done using a lathe and the many chisels. It occurred to me that it should be possible to construct “turn” a wooden rugby ball from old timber beams retrieved from the roof of the Cathedral that had not been damaged.
This timber is of course over 200 years old and was shipped to Ballina from The Baltic States
(Baltic Pine) in the early 1800’s. I asked Willie would he “turn” a rugby ball for me as I had a plan in mind that hopefully would eventually lead to it being put on the market to raise funds to aid the Cathedral Fundraising effort. Willie readily agreed to help and offered advice.
My plan was to obtain the signatures of the Irish Rugby Internationals heading over to England to compete in the 2015 World Cup.
I received the newly turned ball from Willie but too late to have my plan realised for The World Cup or indeed The Six nations. This project was turning out to be a slow burner indeed.
To obtain the required signatures I enlisted the help of one Adrian P Bourke, Ballina, a fellow member of Ballina Lions Club and whose family have been deeply involved in the world of rugby for a long time. Adrian was fully supportive of my plan and set about the business of obtaining the requird signatures with his many contacts both inside and outside the Country. I am aware of emails being sent near and far and soon thereafter I handed the ball over to Adrian.
Some time later I began to badger Adrian for updates and to get some peace of mind and know that the ball was in safe hands and not being damaged as was quite possible. I was assured all was well and matters were moving along nicely.
When I received the ball back from Adrian it had on it 36 signatures of current and former Irish Internationals. Hugely instrumental in obtaining these was a good friend of the Bourke family, one Ollie Campbell, himself a legendary Irish international and a man who has a love of all things Ballina.
Ollie Campbell is an absolute gent and was responsible through much effort in obtaining the initial signatures and for the last of the signatures, that of Willie John McBride. His signature was obtained on Thursday 7th March 2019 in the Old Belvedere in front of 170 Belvederians as they were present to enjoy “An Evening With Willie John McBride”.
Having obtained the signatures of 36 current and former Internationals I then went about the business of getting the signatures of other Internationals throughout the Provinces and also any other former Internationals I came across while doing so.
Sean Campion, a fellow Lions Club member here in Ballina put me in touch with his cousin Fergus McFadden in Leinster and he was helpful there.
Michael Moylett, also a Ballina Lions Club member and Irish International together with Ballina men Gavin Duffy and Dave Heffernan also Internationals looked after me in Connacht and all went well.
Next came Munster and Michael Moylett, who is a former player with Shannon and Munster enlisted help from former team mate and Munster player Niall O’Donovan. Niall is now Munster Team Manager and as with all members of the broad Rugby Family I met, a thorough gentleman and very helpful. The requested signatures were obtained from a sound bunch of lads.
The last Province to get into was Ulster and so I made contact with one Sarah Sherry, Team Administration Co-Ordinator, Ulster Rugby. This lady is a gem and she obtained those signatures of Internationals operating out of The Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
The only non Irish former player to sign the ball has a very Irish name and with good reason. Sean Fitzpatrick, New Zealand born and bred. Former All Black Captain and legendary hooker. He holds an Irish Passport. His grandfather Jimmy left Tipperary for Opotiki, a small town in the Bay Of Plenty. He is regarded as one of the finest players ever to wear the famous All Black gersey. He is pictured signing the Ball while attending a function in Ballina.
Regretably there are only three ladies signatures, Fiona Coghlan, Irish captain 2013 and 2014 who enjoyed much success and our own two Ballina Ladies who we are very proud of. Mairead and Kayleigh Hopkins, playing with Ballina, Connacht and Ireland. Both players have featured on the Irish Sevens and continue to ply their trade with great energy.
To obtain these signatures it was necessary for the Ball to go visiting the Provinces on more than one occasion but in the end it was worth it.
Lastly I wish to thank my Son in Law Ciaran McMahon, a fervent Leinster supporter. Ciaran completed research and player profiles on all eighty two (82) Internationals whose names are on the Ball. Invaluable help. Thank you Ciaran.
In finishing up, I wish to say a sincere thank you to all members of the broad Rugby Family in all four Provinces who showed themselves to be solid, down to earth individuals and to the Elder members, Coaches, and Managers of that same family whose co- operation was necessary to make this project a success.
With over 50 signatures on the ball the player list is the who’s who of Irish and provencial rugby over the last number of years with a few local heros thrown in!
A complete list is on the attachment below.
This wood originally came from the Baltic States (Baltic Pine) and is more than 200 years old. It was salvaged from some of the rotting roof timbers.