WE ARE GRATEFUL TO TONI BRADLEY FOR THIS ELOQUENT CONTRIBUTION.
A lament for the passing of the Kilrea Bridge Club. ♥ ♠ ♦ ♣
After the last hand is played and the bidding boxes packed away all that’s left are the shared memories. So what do we recall about those sixty or seventy odd years when playing a game of bridge lightened the load of the working week? When Owen McWilliams would forget the road home in his distraction over a diamond not finessed or a slam missed by his partner Phil McCotter. When Patsy Mc Nicholl, whilst working to keep the streets of the town spotless, would take his bridge book to read and, maybe, call in with Teresa Dempsey to discuss the advantages of opening the weak two. These folk have long passed into legend — bridge legend. ♥ ♠ ♦ ♣
As has the story, that after the second world war a group of American Airmen —in no hurry to go home — first introduced the game to the town’s folk. Certainly, by the 1960’s, a small group of locals were gathering in each other’s houses to play their favourite game; Phil, Patsy, Owen, Theresa Dr. Mc Gurk, Eddie McIntyre to name but a few. It soon gained traction and by the 1970’s these early pioneers began to recruit and train other eager novices. It was their generosity and patience that saw the founding of the Kilrea Bridge Club in Karina Lodge in the late 1970’s. ♥ ♠ ♦ ♣
When I consider the many years of the club’s existence and all the different venues, of one thing I’m certain: we never made any money for our hosts and relied on their support and good will to allow us to continue in their premises. The New Point, the Mercer’s Arms, the Manor Hotel and latterly for many years the Marian Hall in Kilrea all stepped up to support us. They made us welcome, warmed the rooms, opened the bar and on some unforgettable occasions hosted our Christmas parties, events where bridge —for once— wasn’t uppermost on our minds. ♥ ♠ ♦ ♣
The club went from strength to strength and at its height regularly attracted a full twelve tables. Ballerin, Upperlands, Swatragh, Dungiven, Maghera, Bellaghy, Ballymena all the local areas supported our club. Remember the years when the Rainey sisters Annie and Mary, Kitty Kennedy, Kathleen McEldowney, Lawrence Callan, Tommy McKendry, Michael Mc Kiernan and many more filled the smoke-filled rooms? I still see them all solemnly holding their cards to their chests whilst praying for that inspiring lead. When another beloved member, John Eddie Mullan died, an annual competition was held in his memory and his family donated a cup. ♥ ♠ ♦ ♣
Eddie Mc Intyre ran the club for very many years but, as his health deteriorated, James McAllister, helped by his wife Kathleen, took over all aspects of its management and organisation. Bridge has traditionally been seen as a placid game for the elderly and that reputation has been hard to shake off. We players know it to be a merciless game, the killing strategies and deadly finesses at the table leave many a one vulnerable and shaking. No quarter is given either to the beginners or the Masters. ♥ ♠ ♦ ♣
It was James who ran a series of beginner’s classes in the Marian Hall. Although they were well attended and received the best of support it proved difficult to sustain the requisite numbers to maintain a vibrant thriving club. Things were bad — then Covid struck. Now that the club has taken the decision to close, this elegy is a thank you for all the joy it has given us and a deep sorrow at its passing. ♥ ♠ ♦ ♣