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A Little Bit Of History

There is no doubt that Gaelic Games play a major part in the life of our community at present and the success enjoyed by our county and indeed by the Wolfe Tones Club has led to great interest in our games locally.

However if we go back 100 years there is evidence to suggest that football was been played in many fields throughout the parish and this in a time when the GAA in Tyrone was only in its infancy.

A Little Bit Of History

The first record of a football match that can be found was played on a June Sunday in 1904 in Gortreagh when a game was arranged to coincide with the formation of a Gaelic Football team there. P.T. Devlin (grandfather of our present Treasurer Paddy) told of his memories of that day in a letter to “The Dungannon Observer” dated 8th May 1954.

“The first football to be played here in Kildress was in the summer of 1904. The playing field was on a farm belonging to John Campbell. The secretary of the Cookstown Brian Ogs Mr Thomas O’Neill attended to preside over the election of officers for the new club which resulted in the following officers being elected, Captain Eamon Toner, Treasurer Patrick Kerr, and Secretary Patrick T. Devlin.”

The others including players who attended the meeting were listed as John and Joseph McClean, John McManus, Charles Corr, Peter Devlin, Patrick McDonald, Vincent McGurk, Mick McNamee, Thos and Wm. Forde, John McCallion, Dan McNally, Patrick MaAleer and John Devlin. The first rule book of the GAA had just been printed and a copy was given to the new secretary. Mr Devlin also recalled how in 1905 a game was arranged between Gortreagh and Gortacladdy in McNally’s meadow (later known as Susan Denny’s Meadow) at  Gortacladdy crossroads. Mr Devlin continues..

“As Gortacladdy did not have a copy of the rule book there was much fouling and Mr John Grimes, the referee had much trouble controlling the game which ended in a draw” He goes on to say that “with the emigration of many of the principal players from both these teams the clubs collapsed but a few years later a very fine team was formed in Dunamore.”

The comment about the Dunamore GAA club is borne out by a report in “The Mid Ulster Mail” of July 1911

The story which has the heading” Gaelic Sports at Dunamore” states that “large crowds from Tyrone and Derry met at Dunamore on Sunday for the G.A.A. sports organised by the Football Club. The arrangements were perfect, and reflected much credit on the secretary Mr P.J.Monaghan and the stewards Messrs Charles Conway, E.Monaghan, M.McElwee, C.McGurk, P.C.Monaghan, J McElwee, M.Conway, J.Conway, P.Conway, F.E.McGurk, J.Mooney, M.J. Gillespie, M.J.Monaghan and M.O’Neill.” There are a number of athletic events listed from 100 yards through to Half Mile with High Jump, Hop Step and Jump, Long Jump and Throwing the Weight (14lb). There was also a three mile bicycle race. A number of the  winners were listed as being from Omagh and Cookstown so it is obvious there was widespread support for the sports. A schoolboy race for locals was won by J. Sharkey with J. McGurk listed as runner up. The article goes on to say “Prior to the events being started a football match was played between teams representing Lissan and Dunamore resulting in a win for Dunamore by 13 points to one point.”

The article concludes with the following information; “The local Hibernian Band under the leadership of Messers John P. Loughran and Michael Monaghan played many stirring tunes and added much to the pleasure of the evening. The judges were Messrs James Mullan Cookstown, M.M.Quinn Cookstown, L.Dargan Cookstown, M.Monaghan Teebane, J.Quinn Beaghmore and J. McDermott Dunamore”.

We do know that this team was known as Dunamore Red Hand and that according to P.T.Devlin’s letter of 1954 one of the founders of the club was Dunamore Curate Fr. Soraghan. . According to the report in “The Mid Ulster Mail”
the secretary was P.J.Monaghan and we can assume that a number of the people mentioned in the article would have played on the Dunamore team at that time.
Fr Thomas Soraghan arrived in Dunamore in 1910 and stayed until 1917 and was obviously involved in the organisation of Gaelic Games at that time.

According to Joseph Martin’s book “The GAA in Tyrone” it would appear that while football was being played in various parts of Tyrone in the early years of the last century there was little organisation at County level. Around 1904-05 there were a number of new clubs formed one of which was Cookstown Brian Ogs and their secretary was Thomas J O’Neill. A number of these clubs did not survive very long, all of which bears out P.T.Devlin’s account.

With regard to the Dunamore team Joseph Martin records a league table for 1911 which includes Dunamore Red Hand, Lissan Rory Og, Cookstown Brian og and Coalisland Fianna. Given that that Joseph Martin’s book is considered the official history of the GAA in Tyrone then the first club from Kildress to affiliate with the association was Dunamore Red Hand. The GAA went into decline during the period 1913 to 1916 with political events of the period taking their toll. The book goes on to describe the “Resurgence of the GAA in 1916-17” The formation of a new County Board took place on Sunday 17 September 1916 in the Town Hall Pomeroy. The minutes of that meeting records that “Despite the dreadful weather conditions – there was a continual downpour all day- delegates from six areas: Fintona, Sixmilecross, Dunamore, Pomeroy, Mullinahoe (Ardboe) and Stewartstown braved the elements. Michael Martin Quinn a Cookstown Solicitor was appointed Chairman” This was the same MM Quinn who had been named as a judge at the Dunamore Gaelic Sports in 1911.

This little trip back in time gives us an interesting insight into how things were in Kildress a 100 years ago in so far as Gaelic culture and pastimes were concerned. We have learned that the first rule book on Gaelic Football was given to the secretary of the Gortreagh club in 1904 and that the first club to be fully affiliated to the GAA in Tyrone was Dunamore Red Hand in 1911.
In conclusion it would be interesting to hear from any of the descendants of the people mentioned in this article as it may be that some information has been handed down which would help to give a clearer picture of the events of that period.


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