The seeds for Pride In The Parish were sown in 2004 when I became aware that my native club, namely, Renvyle GAA, was in its seventy fifth year of existence, a milestone that I felt should be marked in some manner or means. On a personal level, l had been deeply immersed in the affairs of the club throughout the preceding twenty years and had built up a treasure trove of nostalgic memories of a sporting, social and administrative nature, within the whole experience. My initial idea was to write a club history of Renvyle GAA in collaboration with a History Sub-Committee from within the club, but the latter didn’t materialise, so I took some more time to reflect a little longer on the idea.
It turned out to be time well spent in the sense that it culminated in a realisation and appreciation on my part, that the gaelic sporting experience encompassed many more elements, dimensions, organisations and ultimately sports, than I had originally given it credit for. With this in mind, I subsequently decided to refocus my energies, not just on a local club unit within the GAA but rather, on the collective gaelic sporting experience of the entire ecclesiastical jigsaw piece that is the catholic parish of Letterfrack-Ballinakill. This decision presented me with a far greater challenge than I had initially envisaged, but eight long and laborious years later, I am satisfied that I have chartered the right course, in terms of the final product.
Heritage conservation is at the heart of the project as I wanted the people of my native parish to become acquainted with, to appreciate, to take pride in and ultimately to feel a strong sense of ownership, of their own gaelic sporting legacy. I also wanted to dispel the myth that the latter is the sole preserve of men. Women and children may not have been at the coalface of the local gaelic sporting scene for the same duration of time as their adult male counterparts, but nevertheless, they have every entitlement to be equally proud of the immense contribution that they have made to the whole process within a shorter and more recent timeframe. The true embodiment of any parish lies in the intertwined lives of its people, be they indigenous natives or non indigenous persons who were destined to become permanent residents, and bearing this in mind, Pride in the Parish seeks to acknowledge and affirm equally, the contribution of all of the above, both at home and abroad, to the gaelic sporting heritage of Letterfrack-Ballinakill parish.
The Gaelic Athletic Association is the engine that has driven and continues to drive the two most popular gaelic sports within catholic parishes the length and breadth of the Emerald Isle, and in this regard, I felt it was incumbent on me at the outset, to give the reader some insight into the origons and evolution of the GAA at national and county level. The gaelic sporting club, which is determined by the parish boundaries, is the cornerstone of both the GAA and the LGFA, so it comes as no surprise that the club scene commands the greater portion of the subject matter in this book. The relative histories of Renvyle GAA, Letterfrack GAA, Lettergesh GAA, Tullycross GAA, Kilbride GAA, Inishbofin and Na hOileain GAA, Treaty Gaels GAA (London), John Mitchells GAA (London), Moindearg GAA (London), Connemara Gaels GAA (New York), Connemara Gaels GAA (Boston) and Grainne Mhaols LGFA are all chronicled, while the neighbouring clubs from within the West Connemara region, namely, Naomh Feichin GAA, Carna-Caiseal GAA, Na Piarsaigh GAA, Carna LGFA and Na Piarsaigh LGFA also feature intermittently throughout because their gaelic footballing experience was and is inextricably linked with all of the aforementioned clubs.
The club scene comes under the administrative remit of both county and regional boards, and in this regard, I chose to include a number a reports and articles relating to same. These serve to present the reader with an enhanced sociological understanding of the issues, problems and positives which prevailed during different eras within the whole gaelic sporting experience in County Galway and Connemara.
The gaelic football experience within the parish of Letterfrack- Ballinakill wasn’t and isn’t completely dependent on the local male and female club units however. Peil na bhFear and Peil na mBan constitute an important part of the primary, secondary and tertiary physical education processes and Pride in the Parish highlights this by focusing in on the footballing fortunes of Eagles Nest NS, Lettergesh NS, Tully NS, Letterfrack NS, Leenane NS, Kylemore Abbey Secondary School, Letterfrack CBS, Clifden Community School and GMIT Letterfrack . The experiences and achievements of local players in St Jarlaths College, Tuam, St Mary’s College, Galway and Mountbellew Agricultural College are also documented. The parish has also been blessed with a small number of male and female footballers who were destined to wear the maroon and white of their native county and their personal experience and achievements in this regard are recorded for posterity. The finer arts of refereeing, coaching, management and administration also had a number of worthy local exponents over the years, and their highly valued contributions are fully deserving of inclusion in this publication.
Pride in the Parish also endeavours to capture the essence of the parochial passion and spirit which universally characterises the gaelic sporting experience, and in order to help me realise the above objective, I have included a selection of miscellaneous articles and stories, none of which emanate from within the parish of Letterfrack-Ballinakill, but all of which could be representative of my native parish or any other parish for that matter. It is this magical ingredient which sets the gaelic sporting experience apart and gives it a uniqueness which, in this writer’s humble opinion, isn’t replicated in any other sporting sphere. If these volumes of work ultimately succeed in giving the reader a true sense and appreciation of the above, then perhaps, I will have succeeded in achieving the most important aspect of what I set out to do.
My earliest gaelic sporting memory goes back to the Renvyle AC Field Day on August 30th 1974 when I was seven years of age. The Benedictine Nuns granted permission to the local athletics club to run an open invitational sports meeting in a large meadow field on the Kylemore Estate. It was the perfect venue for the second annual “Connemara Highland Games’’. There was great excitement locally in the build up and I didn’t want to miss out. My father brought me over and I managed to win my first ever medal, which quickly became my most treasured possession. He wasn’t a member of the Renvyle AC Executive Committee, but he was heavily immersed in the Community Games movement throughout the seventies and early eighties. This organisation’s Local Area Qualifier was our gaelic sporting highlight of the year during that era.
Scores of boys and girls from all corners of the parish would converge on the community sportsfield in Tullycross to try their hand at the various gaelic sporting disciplines on offer, and I have many fond recollections of the carnival atmosphere that was created on these momentous occasions. I managed to qualify for Galway one year in the Under 14 Long Jump, but the initial sense of pride in the achievement was transformed into one of acute embarrassment, when it subsequently came to light that the winner of the corresponding girls’ event had outdone my best leap, by quite some considerable distance. Renvyle AC and Letterfrack-Ballinakill Community Games are no longer in existence but I am happy to report that the athletic flame has not yet been extinguished in my neck of the woods. The embers continue to burn, under various guises, all of which are documented, acknowledged and affirmed in Volume One of these publications.
Tug of War has never come under the remit of the GAA, but qualifies for inclusion in this heritage project because it has the gaelic sporting spirit and character written all over it. Local tug-o-war contests over the years were synonomous with athletic sports days and seven-a-side gaelic football tournaments. Indeed, many of the finer local exponents of the sport were also renowned athletes and gaelic footballers. Scór and hurling continue to form an integral part of the modern GAA. The same can also be said of handball which comes under the direct control of Comhairle Liathróid Láimhe na hÉireann. Camogie has its own national body, An Cumann Camógaíochta, to administer its affairs, and in 2004 the Camogie Association celebrated its centenary year. Cycling, like athletics, was very much part of the GAA in the early years, with Croke Park hosting annual Track and Field and Grass Track Cycling Championships. Oliver St John Gogarty, the one time proprietor of Renvyle House Hotel and renowned cyclist, was a regular participant in the latter. The establishment of the National Athletic and Cycling Association in 1924 however, heralded a new dawn of independence from Cumann Lúthcleas Gaeil, while the advent of the New Millennium has seen the emergence of new governing bodies, namely Athletics Ireland and Cycling Ireland.
Pride in the Parish seeks to record, appraise and celebrate, in a comprehensive manner, the history of all the aforementioned gaelic sports, as they pertained to my native parish. I have also endeavoured to give the reader a basic background knowledge and understanding of the origins and evolution of each, within the wider international, national and regional contexts, prior to zooming in on their impact at local level. The content is a mixed grill of my own ghost written stories, newspaper, magazine and community newsletter cuttings, personal accounts, journalistic reports, photographs, poems, scanned documents and my own comments and analysis. The achievements of men, women and children are recognised equally, as are the contributions of indigenous and non-indigenous parishioners. We are all custodians of this gaelic sporting legacy that has evolved and endured within our native or adopted parish. My role in all of this was merely to pull all the various strands and aspects together into one definitive body of work. I hope it will stand the test of time.
Paul Gannon 2012