Newry Shamrocks Hall, - Mecca For Sport, Music And Craic

“NEWRY people should be very proud that the Shamrocks Club has given a lead, not only to the town but to the whole country as well. This magnificent structure gives some idea of the new spirit which is alive, not just in the Newry area, but also in the Association.”

President of the GAA, Seamus O’Riain, speaking at the official opening of the new Shamrocks Hall at Boat Street in 1968. stated: “Down County Board must be very proud that one of their clubs should be behind this wonderful project.

“It has been said that the GAA has been living in the past, but the new hall is a sign that it is active and looking to the future. The Shamrocks Club has availed of the opportunity to build a new Ireland and a new world, which would see the fulfilment of their dreams.”

Pointing out that the new hall would be “of enormous benefit, particularly to the younger generation,” the GAA chief added: “It gives me a lot of worry to see young people wandering about without leadership, travelling whichever way the wind blows. Here in this club, they will find what is needed for physical, mental and moral development.”

After blessing the new building, Fr John Lynch, Adm, expressed the hope that the hall would be “the centre of Gaelic activities in the parish, acting as a support to the great Gaelic revival of the games, language and Irish dancing. There should also be a range of activities, which would enable boys and girls to look upon it as a home from home.”

Chairman of South Down GAA Board, Fr Anthony Davies stated that “in Down as well as the wider area, the Shamrocks Club has set a good example. The people of Newry are very proud to have such a club. The sign of the Shamrock at the entrance signified the three leaves of faith, hope and charity. And while they have faith and hope in all their work, they need charity to pay off the remaining debt!”

Club chairman Ray Campbell recalled that, 10 years previously, the committee had set a target of 20,000 half-crowns over a period of five years. But they had reached that figure in four years. Also on stage at the official opening were club secretary Bobby Fegan, and treasurer Larry Beattie.

Larry, a shoe merchant on Hill Street, treasurer of the club, was described as the `driving force` behind the project. In charge of the biggest bingo sessions in the frontier town, Larry was engaged in banter with a bevy of characters, including Patsy Bannon, Alice Woods, May Lundy, Mary Dean and Eileen Mulholland, according to Bobby Fegan, formerly with Norbrook.

Noel Keenan, past chairman and Abbey teacher, recalled how the massive march after `Bloody Sunday` had been master-minded at a meeting in the Shamrocks Hall, which was “Sean Hollywood’s finest hour.” The amiable actor-producer devised a strategy, which would avert a repeat of the bloodshed in Derry.

While the consumption of alcohol was officially forbidden on the premises, there was an informal arrangement with the nearby Independent Club, facilitated by doorman Paddy 'Dollar' Duffy, as well as a publican at Church Street, by which the licence would be temporarily transferred! Later, a lounge was installed.

Half of the takings at the hall were directed to the provision of Pairc an Iuir. And Bobby Fegan related how Fr Esler would recruit dockers from the Albert Basin to remove some of the stones from the future GAA Park. Crates of Guinness would be laid on.

Incidentally, the Shamrocks Hall was extensively damaged by fire in 1976, and was closed for a time. Finally it was decided to transfer the club’s headquarters to the new premises on the Warrenpoint Road. The hall was purchased on behalf of the parish, 15 years ago, and became the present St Mary’s Youth Club.

Kate Cahill (nee Heaney), now supervisor of the Youth Club, recalled how she, along with Cathy Keenan (nee McLaughlin), Margaret Rafferty (Mrs Worsford), Philomena Kelly and Geraldine McKeown (nee Cahill), - first used the hall in 1970, as teenagers, playing on netball teams., and were still playing in the early 90’s.

“I remember on my honeymoon, sending Cathy McLaughlin a postcard, reminding her that we had a match on the day I would get home, and to get the players together. We received a silver tray from the Shamrocks Club on our wedding.

“We would attend the club’s annual dinners, and travel in support of the men’s teams. Sometimes Eamonn Brady would give me the keys in order to lock up, but I would open on a Sunday evening, and we would have a record player, dancing away with the front gate locked. Eamonn would collect the keys next day.

“Also we would help Larry Beattie with the Bingo, either `doing the shop` or checking the cards. There was great craic at the ceilis, with buses coming from Belfast and the South, dancing to the Flying Column, Crubeen and so on.”

And Kate Cahill declared: “It is hard to believe that, 20 years later, I would be in the same hall, now known as St Mary’s. We still have netball, - now I’m coaching instead of playing. But I still get a buzz, watching young people enjoying their games.” She referred to social functions such as Guest Teas, as well as a senior citizens group known as the Falcon Club, which still operates every Wednesday, with lunches and outings to various places.

Indeed, the club, which has 250 members and operates three or four nights per week, has been very successful. They have won the title of `Top Club’ title five times, as well as `South Down Club of the Year` for no less than six years. Activities include netball, football, table-tennis, pool and dancing, while a junior disco is held, along with regular outings.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008