Celebrating Centenary Of Sporting Glory

CELEBRATIONS to mark the centenary of camogie were being planned by every club, county and province, following the launch at Croke Park in 2003, attended by 15 star camogs.

And no place has more cause for rejoicing than the Newry region, where the sport has been fostered and promoted, since the birth of the national organisation in 1904. In fact, it is claimed that one of the first camogie clubs was formed in the frontier town, one year earlier, and that the Rule Book was drawn up at Newry in 1904.

The official camogie journal has reported that a Newry club, Faugh A Bealach, involved with hurling and football, also had a camogie team in 1907. Another local club, Clan Uladh, also formed a camogie side, with the assistance of the Gaelic League, playing against Camlough Shane O’Neills. “Ladies hurling matches” were also contested at Clonduff and Carlingford.

Over the past century, the sport has flourished in the South Armagh and South Down area. A major factor has been the Sacred Heart school in Newry, known as St Clare’s, which became the first Ulster squad to win the All-Ireland Senior Colleges Championship. This was achieved at Croke Park in 1971.

From Attical to Crossmaglen, - which has special reason to celebrate following its triumph in the All-Ireland Club Championship, - past pupils of the Newry school ensured that the game has flourished, providing a valuable focus for girls in the local communities.

An enormous achievement was gained by one past pupil, Belle O’Loughlin (nee Bannon), member of a well-known Newry sporting family, who was elected President of the All-Ireland Camogie Association in 1994. Having held many of the top posts at county and provincial level, Belle was manager of the county junior squad, and a top-rated referee.

A founder member of the Newry and Mourne district Sports Development Committee and chairperson for 10 years, she has resided at Warrenpoint for over 20 years, and has been deeply involved with the local camogie club. But more on that subject anon.

Another outstanding personality has been Fr Anthony Davies, now Dean of Dromore Diocese. He and Tom McKay revived camogie, 40 years ago, entering a golden era, during which Down won the All-Ireland Junior Championship in 1968. And the Sacred Heart team, of which Fr Davies was manager, collected the All-Ireland senior title Down PRO for over 25 years. The Clonduff P.P. is President of Down Camogie Board.

The sudden death in 1986 of Michael Brown caused widespread shock in the region. A native of Wexford, aged 46, he was associated with various clubs, including St Brigid’s in Newry, as coach or team-manager. And the late Cllr Nan Sands, whose daughters starred for St Clare’s, Glenn and Down, performed trojan work for the sport, as did Pat Courtney from Doran’s Hill in Newry, whose daughters played for Armagh. Meanwhile, Helen Lambe, member of the St Clare’s team which won the All-Ireland title, is Chairman of the Ulster Council.

Few records exist of camogie’s early days in the Newry area, except for photographic evidence of a team known as Cumann na mBan, - the women’s section of Sinn Fein, which operated in 1919. The players, attired in a quaint outfit, were Alice O’Hagan, Jenny Duffy, Anne Magennis, Maggie O’Hanlon, Susan and Lizzie Lavery, Minnie O’Hagan, Annie Fox, Teresa Gartland, Alice McAteer, Kathleen Annett, Kathleen Collins, Susan and Minnie Fullerton.

We move on to 1928, when a camogie club known as `Black Eagles` played friendly games, since there were no leagues. The cailini would accompany the hurlers to a venue, taking part in challenge games before their male club-mates played a league match. There would be great craic on the side-cars, hired from McAnally’s of Soho Place in Newry.

From that era came Ellen Delaney, Molly and Winifred Healey, Nora Mulligan, Annie Murphy, Molly McCamley and Ellie McVerry. Games were played at McCourt’s field on the Dublin Road. Two other local teams were Star of the Sea and Red Branch.

The Clanrye club appeared on the scene in 1940, Danny O’Hare training the squad. A Newry and district league was formed, also including Carrickcruppen, Warrenpoint (Betsy Grey’s), Corrinshegoe, Camlough, Mayobridge, Hilltown, Meigh, Killeavy, Jonesboro, Newtownhamilton and Ballyvarley. An early Clanrye side included Anna Hollywood, Nancie Murphy, Bridget and Molly Keeley, Louise Sloan, Mary Mathers, Maura Turley, Molly and Mary Fitzpatrick.

Winning eight league and two championship titles, the Newry Clanrye side supplied a number of players to the Down side, which were beaten by Dublin in an All-Ireland Semi-final. The 1953 squad, captained by Evelyn McLaughlin, included her sister Norah, Pat Treanor, Bridie McClelland, Bernadette Doyle, Sadie Campbell, Madge Rocks, Aileen Henry, Nan Mulholland, Kathy O’Keefe, Bridie Doyle, Molly Gribben and Nancy Price. Four of the captain’s daughters, Deborah, Elaine, Evelyn and Lorna, have also played camogie.

The late Fr John Lynch, - after whom the Ballyholland GFC grounds are named, - was chairman of the Newry and district league, while Canon Hugh Esler (Pairc Esler), presented a cup and medals for competition. He also erected a set of goalposts, along with Paddy Gribben.

In 1939, another club had been formed in the frontier town, called St Bridget’s, attached to the Irish National Foresters Girls’ Club. Bridie McCourt was captain, with such players as Briege and Eileen Savage, Molly McCaul, Kathleen McCormack and Philomena Loughran.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008