ON THIS DAY: 18th September 1905: THE FIRST GAA CLUB IN LETTERKENNY FORMED
On this All Ireland Football Final day, it is quite fitting that it was also on this day 111 years ago, 18th September 1905, that saw the establishment of the first GAA club in the town of Letterkenny.
As part of an overall late 19th century national Gaelic revival, the Gaelic Athletic Association was formed in Thurles in 1884, which set about codifying games that were played with different rules in various parts of the country. Although attempts were made to form clubs, it was a slow start for the new organization to penetrate into Donegal. It wasn’t until 23rd October 1905 that the Donegal GAA County Board was officially formed at a meeting in Mountcharles (although the first GAA club in the county, Burt Hibernians had been in existence since the 1890s and won the Aonach an Dún Festival at St. Eunan’s College in 1906). Canon Edward Maguire, the former President of the Old Seminary in Letterkenny, became the inaugural President of the County Board, with the Dr. Maguire Championship Cup still named after him to this day.
One month prior to the formation of the Board, on the 18th September 1905, a Gaelic club was established in Letterkenny for the first time following a meeting in the Literary Institute. Bishop O’Donnell was chosen as patron of the “Lámh Dearg” (Red Hand) club while Patrick Sweeney was made captain and James McMonagle vice-captain.
James Peoples who resided at the meeting stated:
“It was nearly time they should think of reviving the old Gaelic games, such as caman etc., games that their forefathers, the kernes and gallowglasses of the land of O’Donnell played before the Saxon invader made any inroads in historic Tyrconnellp. Now that they were revving with such enthusiasm the old language of the Gael throughout the length and breadth of the country, it was meet that the Gaelic games should go hand in hand with the language, and more especially in old Donegal” (loud cheers)
On 26th December 1905, the club competed in a game of camán (hurling) in the East Donegal division against St. Mura’s of Fahan. The match was played in Letterkenny on the grounds of the Asylum Hospital drawing a sizable crowd with Bishop O’Donnell in attendance. St. Mura’s won the game 2-3 to 3 points. The match report stated:
“Lamh Dearg did very well considering that they are practically a new team, and with practice should show much improvement. When it is considered that their opponents were such a superior lot it cannot be denied that they have made great progress indeed in hurling circles.”
The Lámh Dearg team on that momentous occasion of the first recorded Gaelic match in the town was: Patrick Sweeney, Edward Sweeney, Edward Coyle, Bernard Crampsie, James McMonagle, Lawrence Robbins, James Rodden, John Blake, Joseph Cullen, John Campbell, Joseph Harkin, E. McLaughlin, A. McClean, John McGinley, David Gallagher, James Gildea and James Peoples. From this we can see that the games of hurling and football were played as 13-a-side, and would remain so until the 1930s.
On 22nd April 1906 the Lámh Dearg football team (comprised mostly of the same players from the hurling team) were defeated by the Gweedore Celts in the Gaelic Football Championship with over 2,000 spectators present. In a strange game in Gweedore dictated by the weather conditions, the home team failed to score a single score in the first half and Lámh Dearg failed to score in the second. The final score was 1-08 to 1-06.
The GAA movement slipped into decline throughout Donegal after 1907. This was due to several factors such as the popularity of soccer, arranging transport to games and also organizational difficulties within the County Board. As a result, the Lámh Dearg faded away. The rise of teams over the subsequent century such as Faugh A Ballagh, Tirchonaill, The O’Donnells, The Geraldines, Letterkenny Rovers, St. Eunan’s. St. Pat’s, St. Columba’s and Letterkenny Gaels has been covered in a previous post.