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O'Keeffe leaves huge legacy in road bowling

April 6th, 2023 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

O'Keeffe leaves huge legacy in road bowling Image
Liam O'Keeffe throws at Cloghroe in the senior championship final of 1954.

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BÓL Chumann and the road-bowling community have been left in shock with the passing of one  of the game’s iconic figures, Liam O’Keeffe.

Liam was association President, its longest-serving member and first senior champion. His passing last Thursday evoked memories of a man who holds a unique place in the annals of the sport. From Waterfall, Liam’s love for bowl-playing began when he was four years old as he watched his neighbours Tim and Dan O’Herlihy play before huge crowds. For the next nine decades, that abiding passion remained undiminished.

In the realms of bowling, Liam’s is an extraordinary story. His stature rose as he played and won local tournaments in the 1940s and he was one of eight chosen to participate in the first organised senior championship just as Ból Chumann was about to set up as an organisation to regulate the sport at regional and county level.

His place in history was secured when he won that championship and the Joe Waters Cup, defeating Ned Barry in an epic two-day final at Cloghroe.

Flor Crowley described Liam O’Keeffe’s bowling skills through that championship: ‘O’Keeffe is one of the fastest players on the road at present,’ he wrote.

‘His run-in is sprinter-like, his delivery is smooth and quick, his follow-through is balanced and nicely controlled, and his plays are light, spinning and very fast. He is rapid on his feet as a long-jump champion, and as nimble as a tap-dancer.

‘Speed is the essence of his bowling; speed and accuracy and a degree of stamina which is surprising in a man of his stature. He is cool and deliberate in everything he does, and these are valuable attributes in a bowl-player when there are thousands of spectators in attendance and probably thousands of pounds in wagers as well’.

Sportsmanship and the respect he held for opponents and officials were very much part of his character. 

A devoted husband and father and a valued employee with New Ireland Insurance, Liam – whose wife Anne pre-deceased him – balanced his busy family life with continuing participation in championships and tournaments.

Although further senior championship success eluded him, Liam remained in the top ranking and won the Murphy’s Stout Cup in 1957, defeating Tom Whelton at Ballinhassig. Another signature win came when he won outright the vintage (over-60s) championship in 1990, defeating Mick Doyle at Monkstown. He was back for another tilt in 1996 but lost out to Mick Barry.

He organised a hugely popular tournament on the Waterfall Road for the Dan O’Herlihy Cup. In this period too he was inducted into Ból Chumann’s Hall of Fame (1994). His administrative skills were soon to the fore and he became an effective honorary secretary for the City region. His tenure spanned over twenty years.

His sister May (Barry) was a leading light in the formation of Ból Chumann’s women’s committee and represented Ból Chumann at European Championships. It was a singular family honour when her daughter, Susan, became the association’s first female chairperson in 2001. Liam played a supportive role throughout Susan’s 19-year term, a calming background influence offering guidance as the game transitioned into the modern era.

It was no surprise when, on the death of Michael McSweeney in July 2009, Liam O’Keeffe was unanimously elected the fifth President of Ból Chumann na hÉireann. Right to the end, his commitment never flagged.

Liam attended and contributed to the association’s monthly executive meetings past his 90th birthday, always looking after the welfare of his beloved City region. 

The rank and file of bowling’s community attended in large numbers at Liam’s funeral services. Susan Greene spoke of his dignity and honesty and his dedication to doing what was right throughout his well-lived lifetime.

The organisation was truly the beneficiary of having within its membership a man of such principle. Liam was laid to rest at Ballinora Cemetery last Monday.

Ból Chumann Ard Mhacha were represented by chairperson Chris Mallon and secretary Pat O’Hagan. Ból Chumann chair Michael Brennan delivered the graveside eulogy. Deepest sympathies are extended to his sons, Willie, Michael, Kevin, Declan, Colm and Brendan, to Susan Green and extended O’Keeffe and Barry families. Rest in Peace.

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