Pioneers And G.A.A. Central To The Rostrevor Community

PIONEERS and the G.A.A were at the heart of the Rostrevor community during the last century, with many personalities often playing dual roles.

For example, the late George Tinnelly was chairman of the Down Co. G.A.A. Board, as well as long-time treasurer of Rostrevor Pioneer Council. And Peter McGrath was president of the council for 27 years, before embarking on a glorious career as county team-manager.

Monsignor Arthur Bradley, P.P., who is spiritual director of the Rostrevor P.T.A.A., played for the Mayobridge GFC squad, and was president of St John Bosco Youth Club for many years. His nephew, Peter Rooney, starred on the side in red and black, which brought the Sam Maguire Cup back to the Mournes in 1968. Indeed, nine of that side were guests-of honour at the Rostrevor Pioneers’ Annual Dinner Dance.

P.R.O. for the Pioneer Council, newsagent Kevin Hanna, played for St Bronagh’s GFC, and was a member of the club’s Ballad Group, which reached the All-Ireland Finals of the Scor competition. His father, the late Jack Hanna, had been a founder of the Rostrevor PTAA, and played for the Down G.A.A. squad.

When the Golden Jubilee of the local Pioneer Council was celebrated in 1995, it was pointed out that “the Association has played a key role in the social life of the village, and a major part in its history during the 20th century. Despite its image as an exclusive organisation, its strength lies in the community roots, as well as strong links with all aspects of local society. Preaching temperance, we practice enjoyment.

“The Pioneer Association has a history of honour and humour, of place and people. May the efforts of those Pioneers, over the past half-century, inspire a new generation to carry on the work for another 50 years of life in Rostrevor.”

Peter McGrath recalled how the Pioneer Council had been revived in 1976, after being dormant due to the “Troubles.” He spoke of “a great drive to get young people in particular interested in the proposition that a person might abstain from alcohol, without in any way diminishing his or her social life.”

Referring to his exploits with regard to the Sam Maguire Cup, as manager of the senior county squad, Peter described, in an article for my book, `Down’s Days of Glory,` how the success of the men in red and black, during the early 60’s, had “provided my inspiration and sustenance.

“Those All-Ireland victories were a major influence on any young boy, growing up in that period, who had an ambition to play Gaelic football at any level. And so it was for me. I was very young when the breakthrough was made in 1960, so the impact was marginal.

“But when the third title was captured in 1968, I was playing under-age for my club, Rostrevor, as well as for my college, St Colman’s. So I could understand the enormity of what had been achieved. And the fact that my brother, Hilary, was in that All-Ireland winning squad, gave me a personal connection, of which I was very proud.”

One of Peter McGrath’s heroes was Rostrevor-based Leo Murphy, teacher at the local primary school, and later principal at Killowen primary school. However, the strapping defender and Irish language enthusiast almost missed that historic All-Ireland Final of 1960, having sustained torn ligaments to his knee.

On that crucial day he faced a situation of dire peril, which could have left him crippled for life. 18 hours earlier, he had undergone surgery at Downpatrick Hospital. Injections were administered, which would deaden all feeling for 24 hours. But it also meant that young Murphy could have sustained serious injury during the match, and have played on, unaware of the danger.

“All the sweat and tears, the sacrifices and preparations had been geared to that day. The moment had arrived; there was a job to be done, and it took a man to do it,” he told me.

Lion-hearted Leo had already saved the Mourne-men’s bacon, in the All-Ireland semi-final against Offaly. In the dying minutes, with the game all-square, an opposing forward sliced through the Down defence and took aim for a winning point. Hushed in dismay, the Mourne fans watched in despair. Suddenly, Leo Murphy dashed to the rescue, scooping the ball from the forward’s toe and clearing upfield. The stadium erupted, - Down had lived to fight another day!

First recorded meeting of the Pioneer Association in Rostrevor was in 1893, with the official opening of the Fr Matthew Hall and Reading-room by Fr Hugh O’Reilly, a professor at St Colman’s College and later parish priest of Kilbroney. First president was John Owens, with Michael Morgan as his deputy; secretary was Peter Sloan and the treasurer was Peter Quinn. On the committee were James Caulfield, Henry Connolly, Arthur McAleenan, John Morgan, William Trainer and Pat Ward.

However, the two World Wars intervened, greatly curtailing all community activity. Then, in 1945, the blackouts ended, the street and home lights were switched on again, after several years. The American soldiers, with their brashness and apparently endless supply of money, departed. It also meant freedom for the German prisoners-of-war, who were camped near the gates of the Fairy Glen.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008