Ace in the pack... 2024 will see the 30th anniversary of the 3x25 card Leauge in Rathkenny.

Barney Allen... ‘You can only play the cards you are dealt’

A FORMER Meath county board chairman who set up a traditional Irish card game league in Rathkenny says it has played a vital role in his recovery after he suffered a devastating stroke in 2017.

Barney Allen says he thought he would never play again after a bleed on the brain left him temporarily paralysed on one side of his body but support of club members spurred him on to continue doing the hobby he loved.

Barney will not only be celebrating his 80th birthday this year but will also be celebrating 30 years of the Rathkenny 3x25 League Committee.

No stranger to community initiatives, the Rathkenny club man gave 35 years unbroken service as a Meath County Board official during which he was assistant-secretary, secretary and chairman of the board. Barney was a recipient of the Meath GAA Hall of the Fame Award in 2019 after a lifetime of service to the GAA in the county, both for his club Rathkenny GFC and at county board level.

These days, the beautiful game of football has been replaced by the old Irish games of cards.

“After my stroke I was going to give up the cards, I was in bad form mentally because I thought I was really finished,” said Barney. “I thought I wasn't fit to follow the play around and I was making mistakes but the card players wouldn't let me give it up, they said no, we want you there and I kept it on,” he added.

“It has kept my mind active and kept it right.”

Barney says he owes his life to his faithful dog who came to his rescue at home on the farm the day of the life changing health event.

“I have a collie dog who used to come out with me every morning to bring in the cows and the morning I fell in the yard, he was gone ahead of me and by god, he came back and I was lying on the yard and he barked and he barked, here just outside the back door and he wouldn't leave me until my wife, Elizabeth heard him bark and wondered what was up and she came down and found me,” said Barney.

“I was in the Lourdes Hospital within an hour and it saved my life,” he added.

The former county board chairman spent a number of weeks in hospital in Drogheda where he underwent rehabilitation treatment but puts down clean living as to why he made such a good recovery.

“I lost the power in my left side,” said Barney.

“I never smoked and I never drank and that stood to me because I made a great recovery,” he added.

“When I was doing the physio and walking on the line, I recovered great, I got the power back and I kept exercising myself

“I was always very fit and played a lot of football.

“I more or less have the all clear, I don't have to go back for another six months.”

The game of 25 is an old traditional Irish game and has played a vital role in the fabric of rural Ireland over the last century. Homes would play host by inviting neighbours to come along where yarns were exchanged, local news shared and local bereavements announced whilst the Bean An Ti provided tea and homemade apple tart and sponges to the eager players.

The Rathkenny 3x25 League not only offers an outlet for people in rural areas but also keeps the old Irish game alive according to Barney.

“All of us can remember those who taught us around an open fire, turf range or solid fuel cooker,” he said.

“We used to play games here in the house over the years and we played house games locally.

“Grandparents and parents were fond of ensuring that their children and grandchildren knew how to play so they could pass it down to the next generation.

“The first game I played was in a local pub with my father and I won a turkey for Christmas, I was only 17. In those times if you played the wrong card, by god, they'd give out to you and I was afraid of my life that I wasn't up to standard but I came home with the turkey!

The keen card player says that the culturally significant game continues to be passed down through the generations in his family.

“I have three grandchildren Leah, Tara and Roisin and they are qualified card players and are well able to play below with the tables in Rathkenny,” said Barney.” It's important to keep it going down through the generations. Leah helps me run it now.”

Barney started the league in the hope or reigniting the interest in the 3x25 game but says he could never have imagined it would such an important feature of the community all these decades later.

“The first year of our league started in Rathkenny’s clubhouse in October 1995 and ended in March 1996,” he said.

“We moved from the football clubhouse over to the community centre in 2006. The league is played over 20 Thursday nights, ten nights before Christmas and ten after. It is run on a point system per games won and also bonus points.

“I thought if I got three or four years out of it that would be it. I never thought it would last this long and I never thought it would be such a success. Some of the players come from a good distance, we have someone from Kiltale and another from Athboy and they wouldn't miss it.”

“The game of 25, it's not like poker, poker is a greedy game, it's not a fair game, you can bluff your way and you don't have to depend on the cards that you have in your hand to win but you do with the 25. You can only play the cards you are dealt.”

For a number of years a charity game of 3x25 was held to raise money for local causes but in 2011 things were ramped up with a 24-hour non-stop card game marathon that raised over €25,000 over the seven years it was held.

“Most players thought it was a great idea but we did all wonder if we were mad or were we able for it,” remembers Barney.

“It was a grueling experience for all players,” he added.

“It was touch and go at times if we would complete the course but luckily we did have a sub on standby.

“Even one night, the electricity went out but we searched for candles and continued playing!

Barney proudly recalls the glory of the Meath GAA golden days during the late 1980s and 1990s.

“I was shocking lucky that I was on the county board when Meath had a good team and Sean Boylan was manager and we had great success,” said Barney.

“It was a great era, we were looking forward to every day. Sean Boylan got four All Irelands and sure wasn't it great, it gave the whole county a lift. It gave the clubs a lift and Meath supporters too.”

The father of three's passion for GAA started early.

“I played with Rathkenny underage and then I won a minor championship medal with Castletown. I always loved the GAA and always had a good interest in it.

“Later on in my time on the board I was very good with the rules of the GAA and the implementation of them and interpretation of them, I could win appeals for people and things like that.”

Barney who still works on the home farm along with managing the card committee says he does it to keep his mind active.

“They give out to me here saying I should be resting myself and getting better and I'd say to them, do you want me to sit in the house in the afternoon looking at Judge Judy, I don't think so!