Celebrating Centenary Of Sporting Glory
(Part 2)

It ceased to exist in 1949, but was re-formed in the 60’s, with Fr Davies as chairman, Richard Crinion as secretary, Mary McCoy as treasurer, and a committee consisting of Mary McKeown, Pat Courtney, Bernadette Blair and Michael Brown. Phil Woodgate and Michael Brown trained the senior, intermediate and minor teams.

Meanwhile, the Down Junior side, captained by Mary Caldwell, won the All-Ireland Championship for the first time at Croke Park in 1968, defeating a strong Cork team. The Mourne squad was powered by the Glenn quartet of the Sands and Turley sisters. Earlier, they had defeated Wexford in the semi-final.

But the 60’s and early 70’s belonged to the Sacred Heart team, being the first Ulster college to win an All-Ireland Final. They collected an Ulster title for the first time in 1962, the cup being presented to captain Anne McCartan, while the other stars were Judy Mone, Eucharia Turley and Briege Murphy. And it became a double in ‘63, when Bernadette McDonald and Judy Mone, along with the Turleys took the limelight.

Then followed a lull, until a resurgence came in 1970 with the appointment of past pupil, Nuala Fitzsimmons as trainer. The senior side won the Ulster title for the first time, then defeated Galway at Rostrevor by 5-0 to 1-1. And Newry’s St Clare’s became the first Ulster college to compete in an All-Ireland Senior Final, but fell to Kilkenny at Croke Park.

The red-letter day in the history of the school arrived next year, when the Newry side contested the All-Ireland Senior Colleges Final against Presentation College, Mountmellick. There was no doubt about the superiority of St Clare’s, being fitter and more determined, with Anne Rooney opening the score with a point. Though a goal put their opponents into the lead, Bernadette Burke put her side back into a lead, which they never lost.

In the champions’ squad were Helen Lambe, Lucia O’Rourke, Marion Courtney, Mary McParland, Anne McGuinness, Victorine Cummins, Kathleen McAnulty, Bernadette Burke, Sheila Byrne, Anne Rooney, Mary McCoy and Cecilia McConville. The manager was Fr Anthony Davies, and the trainer, Sister Mark.

Townspeople gave the all-conquering heroines a magnificent reception on return home. A band led the parade through the streets to the Sacred Heart school, where delighted nuns embraced their victorious pupils. The achievement was a great shot in the arm for camogie, not just at the school, in the town and country, but also for the province.

A major development occurred in 1975, when St Brigid’s camogie club joined Newry Shamrocks GAC to form the Shamrocks Naoimh Brigid club. This provided the girls with training facilities in winter as well as summer. One of those closely involved was Belle O’Loughlin, later President of the All-Ireland Camogie Association from 1994 to ’97.

Belle’s interest in the sport stemmed from the enthusiasm instilled at the Sacred Heart school by Sister De Sales. Later, she joined the St Brigid’s Club, which had been re-formed in 1963. And she was one of the stars of the Down side in the 1968 Junior Championship Final. She also won many trophies at tennis.

Member of the sporting Bannon family from Home Avenue in Newry, three of her brothers, Jim, John and Michael were founders of the Newry Mitchels GFC. Indeed, Jim recently received a “Sports Personality of the Year” Award. Her uncle, the legendary Jack Bannon, was a pioneer of bus transport in the region.

Moving to Warrenpoint on marriage to Arthur McLoughlin, Belle helped to revive the local camogie club, with Anne Rooney, - brother of Peter, from the 1968 Sam Maguire Cup winning squad, - Roisin Daly, Noreen and Pauline O’Hagan, along with the four McCabe sisters. The other clubs at that time were Newry, Burren, Rostrevor, Clonduff, Glenn, Mayobridge, Kilkeel, Annalong and Longstone.

Involved in administration for 40 years, she has held most top posts at county and provincial level. Also regarded as a top “whistle-blower” Belle has refereed many Ulster Finals at college and county level, as wells three All-Ireland Finals.

The year 1985 may have been the highpoint for camogie in Down, with 27 club competing in seven leagues, playing a total of 421 games. The county minor side, managed by Eileen Hamill, won the Ulster Minor Championship, defeating the champions, Antrim. However, the fairytale ended when defeated by a strong Galway side in the All-Ireland semi-final.

And in 1988, a new competition for the Michael Brown trophy, involving under-18’s, donated by Mrs Brigid McGinn, sparked off a great spirit of comradeship and widespread interest, as well as unity and co-operation among the clubs and players.

In recent years, the Sacred Heart school has not figured prominently on the camogie scene, which may reflect some of the problems encountered by teachers and sports staff, facing the pressures of present-day life and the modern educational system.

But maybe the past centenary celebrations renewed interest and support for this uniquely Irish sport, which has established such a proud tradition, bringing so much success and enjoyment to local communities, being a cause of pride and also a sense of achievement.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008