Historic Shamrocks Club Celebrates Proud Jubilee

Since its foundation at a meeting in Newry I.N.F. Hall in 1943, the Newry Shamrocks have played a significant role in the G.A.A., at local, county and national level. The late T.P. Murphy was long-time County Secretary and President of the Down G.A.A., while Shamrocks players were involved in bringing the Sam Maguire Cup to the Mourne county, five times.

But the most prominent monument to the members initiative and commitment has been the development of Pairc an Iuir, re-named Pairc Esler in honour of a dynamic and dedicated Gael, Fr. Hugh Esler. He re-awakened and energised Gaelic games in the soccer-mad frontier town.

A century ago, three or four G.A.A. teams played in a Newry League, most successful being Faugh A Ballagh, which won the Senior Football and Hurling Championships. However, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the years of conflict which followed Partition, meant that football took a back seat until the late 30’s.

But, with the arrival in the frontier town of Fr. Esler, everything changed utterly on the G.A.A. front. The meeting in the Foresters’ Hall was attended by T.P. Murphy, Tommy McKay, Larry Beattie, Paddy Gribben, Sean Southwell, Alfie Matthews, Bobby Langan, Mick Murphy, Joe and Barney Lambe, Petey Curran, Tim McCoy, Cllr Johnney Brown, Bill O’Keefe, Eddie Kearns and Fr. Esler.

T.P. Murphy had been born into a soccer household, his father being Secretary/Manager of Newry Town F.C., and a prominent referee. The Murphy Cup was a prestigious trophy for competition in the local soccer league. While a pupil at the Abbey C.B.S., T. P. was converted to Gaelic football through the influence of the legendary Bro Newell. Later, Fr Esler also had a profound effect on the young sportsman.

A member of the Shamrocks squad, which won the County Senior Championship, he became County Secretary, helping to master-mind the Mourne county’s success in 1960/61, served on several national bodies, and was made President of Down G.A.A. “Tipsy” also presided over the launch of my book, “Down’s Day of Glory” in the Shamrocks Social Club.

Incidentally, when the Social Club Committee had applied for a liquor licence, this was challenged in court by long-time Shamrocks member, the late Sean McAteer, father of former Down P.R.O., Sean Og McAteer. The licence was granted, and Sean resigned from Shamrocks, joining Newry Mitchels G.F.C.

Among the founder members at the launch of the club in 1943 were Tommy McKay, father of Tom, Benny and Anthony; two teachers at the Abbey C.B.S, - Petey Curran and Bill O’Keefe; Larry Beattie, who had a shoe-shop beside the Cathedral; and Paddy Gribben, a former soccer fan, who was closely involved in the development of Pairc an Iuir.

Also present was the legendary Bobby Langan, - general factotum to club and county squads from the 40’s to the 70’s. Active in Newry Shamrocks Athletic, football and hurling clubs, as well as Newry Wheelers Cycling Club. Fear a Tighe at ceili dances in the Town Hall, he was involved in organising Easter Commemoration Parades.

When the All-Ireland champions from Down arrived with the Sam Maguire Cup at the RTE Studios, on the morning after the 1968 Final, to view a film of the match along with the Kerry squad, famous commentator Micheal O’Hare stepped forward, ignored the famous footballers and top G.A.A. officials, calling out: “How are you, Bobby?” directed at the diminutive Newry Gael.

Three years after the Newry club was formed, they won the County Senior Championship and league. Captained by Gerry Brown, the squad consisted of Willie Quinn, Turlough and Patsy Murray, Mick Murphy, Anthony Fitzpatrick, Mickey Small, (a county player, who later joined the R.U.C.), Hughie Hollywood, Fr Jackie and Malachy Short, Tim McCoy, Brian McGovern, Billy Campbell, Barney Lambe and T.P. Murphy.

Gerry Brown, a P.T. Instructor in the Irish Army, had been appointed Warden at the St John Bosco Club, and later Sports Master at the Abbey C.B.S. producing Corn na n-Og, Rannafast and MacRory Cup winning sides. Having joined the Shamrocks Club after a spell with Bessbrook Geraldines, he captained the Newry side once more to victory in the 1951 County Senior Championship.

But Gerry then formed the Newry Bosco GFC, which became Newry Mitchels in 1955/56. Their squad included Kevin O’Neill, Raymond Hollywood, Arthur Ruddy, Willie McGivern, Brian Savage, Pa Hollywood, Shamie Crawley, Paddy Lambe, Seanie O’Hanlon, “Bubbles” Loughran and the Bannon brothers. Finally, Gerry was manager of the Down side, which regained the Sam Maguire Cup in 1968.

Incidentally, when Shamrocks won the County Minor Championship and South Down League in 1948, the side consisted of Raymond McCourt, Seanie O’Hanlon, Kevin Mussen, Vincent Rennick, Bill O’Hagan, John Treanor, Bobby Loughran, Eddie Campbell, Frank Bradley, Raymond Murtagh, Colman Cushenan, John Sheridan, Noel Carr and Frank Lennon. A boarder at St Colman’s College, Kevin Mussen from Hilltown later led the Down side to victory in the 1960 All-Ireland Final.

After a lapse of five years, the senior league and championship came back to Newry in 1951, when Kilkeel were the opposition for the senior crown. And, despite the so-called split in the Newry G.A.A., - the title of Newry Shamrocks having been officially adopted in 1953, - the boys in green went on to capture the premier county trophy in 1956, captained by Tony Hadden.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008