The Lakeside Centre in Ballyshannon was officially opened on the 4th June 1993 by Taoiseach Albert Reynolds amongst major fanfare. The idea for the centre came about in 1990 following a donation of land by the ESB to the people of Ballyshannon.
As a result the project to construct the Centre was managed by a local voluntary committee which was formed for that particular purpose. As in all community projects the challenge of raising the necessary finances was the daunting task facing the committee. Funding of over €1 million had to be secured and approaches were made to several agencies including the ESB, Bord Failte, The International Fund for Ireland and Donegal County Council amongst others.
Quickly the local committee realised that in order to attract grants from these sources they would have to provide match funding themselves. They would have to raise substantial funds in order to secure these grants and were told in late August 1991 that they would have to raise €40,000 in order to make an impression with one of the Grant Agencies.
This was a massive amount of money at the time and local committee members Philip Mulligan, Brendan Gallagher and Paul McLoone were scratching their heads when they bumped into Philip McGlynn from the Great Northern Hotel who suggested a fundraising gala dinner in the hotel at €1,000 per table. The guys were bemused at the suggestion and how could they pull this off and who could be the star attraction for such an event. McGlynn suggested Jack Charlton and low behold after a few phone calls with intermediaries big Jack said he would do it but was only available in early October two weeks before Irelands next Euro Qualifier against Poland
“As we only had a few weeks to pull it off most people thought we were mad in the head as selling tables in Donegal in the early 90s at €1000 a pop seemed impossible. But when we got stuck into it, we realised that the name Jack Charlton was a big selling point and after some blood sweat and tears for a couple of weeks we sold out the event with just days to spare. Although myself Paul and Brendan travelled to nearly all Ireland matches both home and away we had never met the great man himself,” said Philip Mulligan, one of the event organisers.
“So, on the evening of the event we got a phone call from Philip McGlynn that Jack was in the hotel and wanted to meet us. So out we went and Jack’s first words to us were ‘well lads you have me for 24 hours so whatever you want I am available’. We had put a quick itinerary together including a visit to the ESB Station and the site for the Lakeside Centre”.
Paul McLoone was MC for the Gala Dinner in the Great Northern Hotel. “The event itself was a huge success with all tables sold out and this together with additional sponsorship, auctions and a raffle meant we achieved our aim of raising over thirty five thousand Irish pounds.
“Jack was very much at ease as a public speaker, he could relate to his audience and after he delivered his speech you almost felt you knew him as a personal friend. He used humour a lot during his speech, the timing of his punch lines was impeccable and he had the audience eating out of his hands within minutes of taking to the podium. He spent 45 minutes afterwards signing individual menus and had a personal word of friendship with everyone who approached him that evening. He truly was a man of the people and whether you supported Irish soccer or not you felt that evening you were truly in the presence of a living legend”.
The evening went into the wee small hours of the morning but Jack and his wife Pat, who also attended the event, had time for everyone and made themselves available for photo shoots and casual conversation with all of the locals.
The following morning Jack made his way to the ESB station in Ballyshannon where a large crowd had gathered. Brendan Gallagher, who worked in the ESB at the time, brought Jack on a tour of the Station, The Fish Farm and the Erne Hatchery.
“He was just fascinated to know more about the fish farm and engaged with the staff from the get go in a very knowledgeable manner. The general comment from the staff afterwards was ‘what a nice man, so easy to talk to and genuinely interested in what you had to say’. He visited the site of the Lakeside Centre and was very impressed with the scale of the project. Indeed, as he learned it was a community project he more of less forfeited his fee and we only had to cover his expenses. Jack was a generous man and is fondly remembered by all ESB staff who met him that day.”
He concluded his visit with a ramble up the town of Ballyshannon and called into Sean Og’s Bar in Market St for a well deserved pint.
“It was about 12 noon,” recalls Sean Og, proprietor of the pub. “We were having a normal quiet morning but after Jack arrived the place was packed. Jack came in behind the bar and poured himself a pint of Smithwicks. He entertained the clientele with stories about his football days and had us all in stitches as he was a great entertainer. He took time to shake everyone’s hand and spoke to us all like a long-lost friend.
“He certainly had the knack of relating to people and is remembered very fondly in the town of Ballyshannon. He had time for everybody and treated each individual with respect. There was no airs and graces about Jack, he was a sound man as they say here around town. Indeed, he spent so much time talking to fellow customers that he ended up only drinking half the pint. The photo of Jack in the pub hung behind the bar for many years and there was instant recognition of the Great Man from visitors and tourists who frequented the pub.”
Compiled by Paul McLoone and Philip Mulligan
Facebook and Instagram lit up around South Donegal over the weekend as people shared their treasured photographs of Jack’s visit to the area in 1991.
He made a huge impression on the people during his short visit as he blended in seamlessly like one of their own. He truly was a man of the people and as one local described it the official opening by Albert Reynolds in ’93 looked like a low key event compared to the excitement generated by the visit of Big Jack.