The Story of Ballinclea Hostels
On 7th May, 1931 a group of enthusiastic walkers gathered in Newman House located on St. Stephens Green, Dublin with the intention of founding an association to encourage walking and hiking in Ireland.
Several of the original members had been to Germany on walking holidays during the 1920’s and had experienced Hostels first hand and were very impressed with the low cost of good accommodation suitable for outdoor walking activities. At the meeting thirty seven attendees were noted and so began An Óige.
A committee formed and the work began to encourage others to get involved. The aim of An Óige was to encourage young people to get out into the countryside and appreciate its beauty and available pursuits. It worked by encouraging people to sign up as members for a small fee, the first subscription was 5 shillings per year.
Over 2,000 members
The first hostel to open was located by Loch Dan, near Roundwood in Co. Wicklow, but was short lived. Meanwhile other hostel locations were coming available and by 1939 there were seven hostels in Wicklow with over 2,000 members paying a subscription.
No such accommodation was available in Ireland at this time.
Hostels were houses and cottages that had come to the market for lease or long term rent. The members became the workforce, repairing and mending the properties and bringing them up to standard for members to stay in while travelling the country either by foot or by bicycle. The annual subscriptions paid for beds, bed linen, kitchen ware and building materials.
The caretaker was known as a warden or house-parent. In 1934 the first warden in Ballinclea hostel was a woman by the name of Nannie Kinsella (nee Keogh) and she lived in her own cottage across the road. Other listed Wardens were: Jack and Sheila O’Neill, John and Mai Hunt, James and Mrs. B O’Toole, Bill and Theresa Cribbin, Bridie and Sonnie Conron, Billy and Anne Carpenter, Lorraine and Des Mann, Catherine and John Fenton, Johnny and Gina Carroll.
a shop call ‘The soda loaf’
Ballinclea hostel opened in 1934 and originally consisted of 2 two-roomed cottages, one for men and one for women housing eight people per cottage. The men’s cottage was also occupied by a Mr. Rice who repaired watches and clocks. At one time the women’s cottage had been a shop call ‘The soda loaf’.
Ballinclea hostel has always been known as a walkers hostel, due to its closeness to Lugnaquilla, the highest mountain in Wicklow.
Jennie Wyse Power
An interesting fact is that one of the first patrons of An Oige was Senator Mrs. Jennie Wyse Power, a Baltinglass woman, who was a member of the first Seanad.
During the 1940’s a walker hoping to overnight in Ballinclea could only get to Poulaphouca by public transport. In later years a bus came to the village of Donard, which proved to be a huge success.
Owner of the cottages, Mr. Fenton
During the 1940s both cottages were in very bad repair, being full of damp with leaking roofs and very poor facilities. In 1943 the women’s hostel had to be closed due to mould and rotting bed clothes and by 1951 the men’s hostel was also falling into bad repair. An Óige entered into talks with the owner of the cottages, Mr. Fenton. When it came time to renew the lease on both cottages an agreement had to be reached with the then owner regarding the repair work to be carried out on the premises. Talks were lengthy and the improvements were carried out with the help of free labour by An Óige members. By 1953 all the work had been completed and the hostels were ready to be re-opened.
The hostels now changed usage and the old women’s hostel became the new men’s hostel and likewise with the men’s hostel.
In 1960s An Óige considered moving the hostel to a new location at Snugborough, Donard and a 1/2 acre site was purchased. The plan failed as the new site was historically too important, being occupied with ring forts.
was reported internationally
In 1963 the International Youth Hostel Federation Annual Conference was held in Ireland with over 600 hostellers from 40 countries in attendance. They camped at Coolmoney Army facility. They climbed Keadeen and Brusselstown hill and partook in outdoor activities for the duration of the event. It was reported internationally as being a huge success.
In 1970s the women’s hostel joined the men’s hostel and the two became one, a newly renovated unisex hostel. This was celebrated by 500 members climbing Lugnaquilla on a sponsored walk.
One of the ways of fundraising was to organise excursions and a particular favourite was a day trip to the Isle of Man. This proved to be a great success and continued for several years.
In 1954 the women’s hostel was extended and improvements made to the facilities and in 1976 the hostel became unisex.
At the closure of the hostel in 2005, it had been the oldest and longest running of all the An Óige hostels in Ireland.
An Illustrated Survey of An Óige’s Youth Hostels by John Martin
Fifty Years Young, The story of An Óige by Terry Trench