Askeaton is one of the oldest towns in County Limerick, located on the banks of the River Deel, just three kilometres upstream from the Shannon.
The town has richness in history and ancient archaeological remains with a castle on a tiny island in the centre of the town which dates back to 1199 and a Franciscan Friary from 1389 which was founded by the 4th Earl of Desmond. The Castle was once the home of the Earls of Desmond known as the Kings of Munster. It has a strong swimming history and a state -of- the- art leisure centre and pool was opened in the town in 2008. There is also a new children’s playground located in the green in the town, and none of this would be possible without the hard work and determination of the people of the town. This year, the local Community Council is preparing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its local community hall. In a strong community, it has proven to be a hub for many of the social activities of the locality. The celebration is well deserved when one looks at the history behind the building of the Hall itself, and the remarkable achievement made by a community in poorer times. Noelle Dalton, who sat on the committee for over fifty years before retiring last year, told me “We have had great Festivals Dramas, Pantos, Concerts, etc over the 50 yrs. I was drafted in at 15 as both parents involved and in 1960, the 1st Youth club began hence my start. After the war years, communities were struggling with rationing, poverty, and unem-ployment etc. In Askeaton things were no different to any other area in the country and many people had no option but to emigrate. In Tipperary through the vision and enthusiasm of Rev Canon Hayes parish priest of Bansha, Muintir na Tire was born. This idea was soon taken up by many parishes particularly in rural areas, Askeaton / Ballysteen being one. This was an opportunity to develop social activities and opportunities for young and old. All dances, dramas, meetings etc were being held in the Library on the Quay and it also operated as a regular Library. It’s difficult to envisage this small place having space enough for a band or a crowd but at the time, it was all that was available then. So, the first item on Agenda of new Committee was to build a Community Centre. No small task with no funds but they had Community spirit, enthusiasm, and the need to help each other and provide this facility for future generations. They were lucky to be gifted a site by the Bishop of the time it had been acquired for the Curate’s House, but instead, was built near the Church”.
She also compiled an excellent account, in chronological order, of the establishment of the Hall and the Committee itself.
First committee set up with the main aim of building a Community Hall as all local activities such as dances, drama and card games were held in the Library which had limited space.
Hall opened with just four walls and a roof at a cost of £4,500.  Dances were held regularly to raise funds to furnish and complete the building.
400 seats, a cooker and sink were fitted so that card games could be held, and tea served.  The stage was also fitted out so that plays, and concerts could take place.  Over the next few years as money became available cloakrooms and dressing rooms were provided and electric heaters supplied.
From the beginning there was a huge voluntary input into the clearing of the site and building the structure.  It is important to note also the Diarmuid O’Riordan who had set up Southern Chemicals and later Aeroboard, was a huge driving force behind this project and also provided much of the materials on credit.  The acquisition of the site for free from the Diocese was also a huge help.
The first Youth Club was set up under the supervision of the Community Council and funds were made available to purchase games and record player etc.
As an example of many dances were held as a part of the fundraising effort in the first 20 years, in 1963 40 dances were held.  Some of these were organised by clubs and other parishes who rented the Hall.
A Credit Union was set up and for many years the volunteers who were mostly Community Council members collected the monies each Friday night at the Hall.
A very successful Regatta was held at the Gurt Quay and crowds from all over the country took part.
However, during the 70s the attendance at dances began to decrease as entertainment began to move to bars, hotels, and cabaret venues where alcohol was served.  By this time many clubs had been formed and used the Hall for their meetings and activities, such as I.C.A., Senior Citizens, Girl Guides, Brownies, Cubs and Scouts.  The Swim-ming Club used the Hall for many fund-raising dances and their annual Bazaar is still enjoyed by young and old.
It has hosted Feis’s, Community Games Competitions in talent, drafts, art and lessons have been provided in Irish Dancing, Line Dancing, Hip-Hop and Zumba, with Pilates and Aerobics also available.
Also, during the 1970s the Askeaton Musical Society presented may fine productions such as Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific and many more.  In more recent years the Variety Group have staged Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, Rock Nativity, Dick Whittington and many more.
Local Radio week with RTE was a great coming together of all the clubs and organisations and it was a very memorable time recorded for posterity.
The highlight of the summer used to be a very successful two-week Carnival with dances, amusements and GAA tournaments that involved neighbouring parishes.  This was discontinued in the late 1960s but was revived again in 1986.  It was a really fun weekend for many years until the lack of volunteers caused it to end.  It also included a competition for the “Lady of Desmond” and with a stage erected in East Square and was a time when the town came alive with entertainment for all.
Tidy Towns has always been on the agenda and the town has been entered since the mid 1950s.  Thankfully with the help of Community Employ-ment Schemes a lot of improvements have been done and over the years our marks have improved.
County Council:  The committee also liaised with Limerick Co. Council regarding housing, public lighting, footpaths, and the environment in general.  Through the Village Renewal Scheme, East Square, The Quay, and the entrance to the Hall have all been developed.
In 1990 the Green finally blossomed into the Town Park.  Here again a lot of the work was done by volunteers and the workers with the Community Employment Scheme.
A Tourist Office opened in the foyer of the Hall and continued there until the Civic Trust acquired the present building in the Square.
Heritage:  Our Town is steeped in history, being the second oldest town in Ireland.  The Castle and Abbey have been well preserved over the gene-rations.  A commerative Mass was held in the Abbey in September 1992 when two Franciscan Martyrs were beatified in Rome and were both brought from Killmallock to be buried in the Abbey in 1579 after they had been hanged.
In the new millennium many improvements were needed in the Hall, windows and doors needed replacing and new seating was purchased and the heating system was updated.  Two extensions were added over the years with a large room at the rear to provide for monthly court sessions.  This is now also used as a dressing room and also as an extra meeting room.
An extension to the west side comprising a state-of-the-art kitchen and dining/meeting areas was added.
A visit to the town in February 2005 of the then President Mary McAleese was a very proud if somewhat poignant occasion.  She unveiled a Town Map which now stands in the Square.  Although it was a short visit much organisation and precision planning together with the pastoral Council was required.
Health and Safety requirements placed a large financial burden on the committee and between 2003 – 2006 over €100,000 was spent, thankfully a grant of €55,000 was received which helped to ease the burden somewhat.
Twinning:   A visit to Montbron in France over St Patrick’s weekend in 2007 and again in 2009 with the French visiting here in 2008 helped forge links between the two towns.  It is hoped that students from Coláiste Mhuire will continue this link in the future
Energy Saving:  With the emphasis on the environment and saving energy a major insulation project was completed in December with a grant from SEAI.
The main fundraiser in recent years has been the weekly lottery draw which has paid for the huge running costs of the Hall.  Thanks to those who support it and run it each week.  We can boast one of the finest Halls in the country.

This synopsis of Askeaton/Ballysteen Community Council over the past 65 years complied by Noelle Dalton.

Even though she has retired, Noelle still keeps an eye on local events, and has a voice in organising special events. We look forward to reading plans for this wonderful celebration.