In 1886 the “Limerick Chronicle” of the day tell us that the Irish Cycling Association and the Gaelic Athletic Association paid £8 per day for the use of the Markets Field. They were the first organisations to use the Markets field as a sporting venue and their activities in those far off days heralded the beginnings of a ground that has since assumed a very special place in the hearts of all Limerick sports lovers.
The following Article from the “Limerick Chronicle” of 1886 gives us some history of the venue
The Markets Field was leased to a number of the citizens in the 1880′s for the purposes of building Artisan Dwellings. They in turn re-let the ground to an employee of the trustees. The city branch of the Irish National League protested vigorously against public property of this description being devoted to the private interest and profit, accordingly steps were taken by the Market Trustees to know what was being done to have the houses erected.
The prospective builders formed a company and applied to the Board of Works to sanction a loan but the board decided after investigating title that the Market Trustees had no power to make a lease. Accordingly the building programme was abandoned.
The GAA And Irish Cycling Association
In 1886 the organisers of the GAA and ICA sports paid £8 a day for the use of the field.
So with what appears to have been an exceptionally heavy daily tariff of £8 per day for the use of the field sporting proceedings got underway at the Markets Field. The first Gaelic Sports held under the rules of the GAA and the ICA in Limerick commenced there on Sunday September 19th 1886. The sports were continued on Sunday September 26th and concluded on October 2nd with the first great Band Contest ever held in the city. The events attracted Ireland’s cream of Athletic Talent including such sporting giants as Mitchell of Emly and the great RIC cyclist Lowry.
Many records were broken at the sports and the city was thronged with visitors from points as distant as Waterford and Tuam. The third class return fare to Waterford was 3/-and the trip took just 3 and a half hours.
Sometime earlier a dispute had existed between the GAA and ICA but this through the medium of Charles Gubbins, W.L.Stokes, A.W. Shaw and other personalities was settled with the result that the men of both societies were enabled to compete in each other’s sports.
So the Markets field got off to the most propitious start possible and for close on 40 years remained one of the most popular athletic venues in Ireland. On July 24th 1908 PJ Leahy of Co. Limerick leapt 6feet 5 and a half inches, a world record that for some strange reason he never claimed… In 1898 there was a fantastic entry of 350 athletes for a meet that produced a number of records and in 1920 one of Limerick’s most famous sons Jack O’ Grady whose exploits are now remembered by the monument at the top of Mulgrave Street excelled himself there. The Garda Sports at the markets Field were for many years very popular.
In earlier years the GAA played their more important fixtures at the Grocers Field (now Lansdowne Park) and also at Corcanree but on November 22nd 1896 the Limerick County Hurling Championship was played at the Markets Field for the First Time. The contestants were Caherline and Ballingarry and the County Final continued in the Markets Field until 1916for one year to Pallaskenry before returning (with the exception of 1919) to the Markets Field. In the late 20′s the move to the Gaelic Grounds was made although tournament games continued in the Markets Field up to about 1932.
The Markets Field was a famous inter-county venue. The then record figure of £1321 was paid by a tremendous crowd at the Cork-Tipperary Munster Senior Hurling Final of 1926. The controversial final replay of 1922 2involving Limerick and Tipperary in which there were many rows was also played at the Markets Field along with many other Munster Championship Contests.
Young Ireland trained and played their matches there alongside Garryowen Rugby Club.
Which brings us to the oval ball game which enjoyed a longer and closer association with the venue than any other up to the 1980’s. Rugby began there in 1886 and stretched up until 1957 when Garryowen sold out their rights and moved to Dooradoyle. The Munster Cup Final was played there in 1888 when Queens College (UCC) beat Garryowen by a try to nil. The following year to be precise March 24th 1889 The Markets field was once again the Cup Final venue when Garryowen beat Limerick County by two drop goals and one try to nil to win the trophy for the first time. That was of course the first of innumerable Garryowen triumphs at The Markets Field but as Young Munster and Bohemians came into existence in the 1920′s so too did they have their hour of glory at the venue. The tales of the exploits of these three and of the Cork teams UCC and Constitution and the throngs they brought with them are legion.
It was in the 20′s and 30′s however that a major change gradually began to evolve at the Markets Field. The ground that had housed Limerick’s top GAA and Rugby matches had been the centre for carnivals, circuses, and even wrestling matches and which had seen some of the world’s best athletes was beginning to outlive its usefulness.
The GAA at the time were in the process of moving to the Gaelic Grounds, the Rugby Union had purchased Thomond Park. The Markets Field for all its availability had neither player nor Spectator Comforts sufficient to meet the needs of at least two sporting organisations who, in any case wanted to be masters of their own domains.
But as Hurling, Football and to a lesser extent Rugby moved out, so too did Soccer and Greyhound Racing move in ensuring the continuation of The Markets Field as a leading Sporting Centre in Limerick.
Limerick AFC was formed in 1937 and straight away found the Markets Field to be a convenient and suitable home.
Greyhound Racing was inaugurated there in 1932 and with the advent of the Frost Family’s involvement this continued until its recent move to the Dock Road.
But for a whole generation of Limerick People the Markets Field will always be associated with the heady days of soccer in the 70′s and 80′s. Names like Finucane, Nolan, Fitzpartick, Kennedy, O’ Mahoney, Hand and even Ward still make the hair stand on end 30 years on. Memories of Ewan Fenton, Malcolm McDonald, Tim “Togsie” Cuneen, George Best, Billy Hayes, Andy McEvoy are all still current and then what of “ball hoppers corner” presided over by Mick Crowe?
The future of the grounds as a sporting facility for the city of Limerick was secured by the purchase of The Markets Field in 2011 with funds provided to LEDP by the JP McManus Charitable Foundation. LEDP has now pledged additional funds for application on the drainage, relaying and sodding of the pitch with the purpose of ensuring that the pitch will be playable for the FAI 2014 season. Further funding will however be required to complete the works which are the subject of an Application for Planning Permission submitted to Limerick City Council during early November 2013.
Once the current phase of the development of The Markets Field is completed the stadium should have a spectator capacity of the order of 3,000, including 1,500 spectators seated in covered stands. The Markets Field will also have the capacity to host other sports and is to operate on a self-funding basis. The pitch can be adapted to accommodate a full size rugby pitch and may also host under age GAA games.
We are now entering into a new and exciting era for “The Markets Field.”