A bird's eye view of Tir Chonaill Park in Donegal town
Donal Reid has been visiting different GAA clubs around the county. This week, it was the turn of Four Masters
“Pretty and compact, Donegal Town occupies a photogenic spot at the mouth of Donegal Bay. With a backdrop of the Blue Stack Mountains, a handsome and well-preserved castle and a good choice of places to eat and sleep, it makes an excellent base for exploring the popular coastline nearby. On the banks of the River Eske, Donegal town was a stamping ground of the O'Donnells, the great chieftains who ruled the northwest from the 15th to 17th centuries” (lonelyplanet.com).
My mother, Rose Ward came from Eglish, an outback in the foothills of the Bluestack Mountains. My father Frank Reid and my mum got married in Killymard old chapel on April 4th 1955.
Mammy’s sisters, aunty Brigid (Nolan) and aunty Gracie (Gallagher) lived their married lives in Donegal Town while Frank and Rose Reid moved to Killygordon. The Ward sisters, including aunty Mary (Brennan) in Ardara, were great fun when they were together, which was quite often when I was a child. Donegal Town was the meeting place.
Back then, life was very much family orientated. People didn’t have a lot – materially or financially. But still, those were the best of times.
Life was simple and surviving was tough. I remember mostly laughter though when uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents sat around telling stories and probably lies about past events. The Ward sisters were gentle women for the most part but I still wouldn’t have crossed them. Uncle Jimmy was the only boy in the family who lived in the homestead until his death. My aunts are all deceased too but the Ward name is still very much synonymous with Eglish.
Little has changed there. It’s still very wild but still very beautiful. The old national school in Ard Bane which the Ward family attended was about a four-mile walk from their home. That must have been tough back in the day especially in the middle of winter. It’s always useful to remember those times because it makes us appreciate what we have today. I wonder if we are any happier.
Four Masters celebrate after winning the Minor League Div 1 final in Burt last season Picture: Thomas Gallagher
Change is constant and Donegal Town’s GAA Club is certainly feeling the effects of change. When I called into the Four Masters grounds last weekend, there was refurbishing of the dressing rooms and the all-weather pitch taking place. The main pitch and the training ground looked spectacular. New seats have been added in the stand and I must say that this is one of the finest facilities in the county. I often wondered why Four Masters doesn’t get any neutral games. It is the perfect location with amenities second to none. I asked the club to help me with this week’s column and chairperson Pauric Harvey obliged with the following text:
“Four Masters GAA Club Donegal Town or Club Na gCeithre Mastir CLG have a great tradition and history of promoting the GAA and Irish values. Values and traits such as team work, hard work, respect for all, leadership and honesty are all promoted throughout all areas of the club.
“ So striking is the name of the club that the image of “Four Masters” is one of the first to come to mind when Donegal Town is mentioned. The club is dedicated to the memory of the 17th Century Tír Chonaill-based Franciscan monks who wrote the first comprehensive annals of Ireland.
“On Friday, October 20 1905, the “Ball Dearg Hurling and Football Club” was founded in Donegal Town. The new club got the name “Ball Dearg” to commemorate the famous birth-mark of the Clan O’ Donnell. Ironically, their maiden appearance was against the “Townawilly Four Masters” in a hurling match. But it was in football that they found their feet quickest as the “Ball Deargs” captured the 1906 County Senior Championship defeating Killygordon in the final.
Willie Ward and his sheep in Eglish last weekend
“The “Ball Dearg” club lasted only until 1907 when there was a break in G.A.A. activities from before World War One until about 1918. This coincided with the club being re-formed and re-named Donegal Gaelic Football Club. These were difficult times and G.A.A. programmes were completely disorganised. For example, Donegal G.F.C. won the 1922 County Senior Championship with the final against Dungloe not played until Whit Sunday, 1924.
“This club was in existence until 1926 and then for a few years things were not so prosperous in G.A.A. circles in the town. Gradually, men like Charlie Harvey and Phil Timoney got things moving again and Four Masters G.A.A. Club was eventually formed in 1932. The following year the club supplied two defenders, Joe Lawne and Jimmy Mc Enhill to the Donegal Junior Championship team who swept into the All-Ireland Final but they were defeated by Mayo.
“It is a story of struggle, but the fact that Four Masters G.A.A. Club continues to go from strength to strength is a tribute to the great men and women of vision and leadership since 1905.
“The club has seen a huge increase in the number of underage players in the last decade and we hope they will go onto play on senior teams and stay involved in the club in the future. The club has a large number of parents and coaches involved with our teams with many from other clubs and counties which have added a lot to the club. Loads of former players within the club are giving back their time as coaches, managers, and volunteers as well which is fantastic to see.
“The facilities we have in Tir Conaill Park have been greatly upgraded and improved in recent decades, with the new pitch reopened in 1992 with a game between Donegal and Wicklow. Since then the club has gone from having one full sized pitch and small changing rooms on the town side to developing a new stand, four large changing rooms underneath, an Astroturf pitch, a grass training pitch, as well as purchasing a new club room last year.
“The club has held several large club championship games over the years including the Kilcar and Naomh Conaill game two years ago, and is something we hope to repeat in the future. We have repainted all changing rooms, added our club crest to them and the club entrances, redone all nets in the club blue and white, and inserted new seats to our stand in recent weeks.
“The overall aims of the club are to provide and promote all Gaelic games and codes within our area, to involve and give back to the community, and to provide better facilities for future generations.
Donal's parents Frank and Rose on their wedding day
“At the heart of all this is each committee within the club (Executive, Bord na nÓg, Ladies, Parks, Scór) all working hard and working together to recruit new people, players, parents, and ideas to improve the club.
“Future improvements of the club’s facilities were discussed in the Bosco Centre earlier in the year and plans will be drawn up which will guide and give a focus to the club in the upcoming years off the field of play in terms of new facilities, fundraising and getting new people involved to help out with these projects.
“On the field of play, our underage boys and girls teams are a huge part of the club and will always continue to be as any future successes and improvements at senior level will be helped and enhanced by having better teams and players coming through.
“2019 was an exceptional year for our underage boys teams; winning 5 county titles, All Ireland Féile Div 2 title, and 3 SRB titles which we hope to build on and improve on in the upcoming years.
“The numbers of players at underage have grown and we hope will continue to grow in Donegal Town with more people moving to the area and more jobs being created in the locality. Ensuring all players get game time, are well coached and managed will be and are vital within our club.
“The development and retention of every player within each team is something which we look at closely each year. The ongoing development and improvement of coaches within our club are areas which we hope to target and improve on each year through coaches’ meetings, workshops, talks, and reviewing.
“Every team, code and person within the club is equally important and is treated with respect. The club prides itself on being inclusive with a wide range of nationalities, races, faiths amongst all areas of the club. We have one secondary school and five primary schools in the area with all of them providing players to the club and partaking in our local school leagues. We try our best to ensure all within our schools get an opportunity to play Gaelic Games through coaching from the county board coaches, leagues and working with the teachers to promote our training.
“In 2020 we hope to have two new senior teams, one for hurling and a 3rds men’s football team. In addition, we have senior and reserve mens, senior ladies, and teams at all age groups underage boys football, ladies’ teams from U8 to Minor and hurling teams from U8 to U14, and camogie teams from U8 to U14. We also cater for U4 to U7 boys and girls at our Football Academy each Saturday which coaches the basics skills of agility, balance and co-ordination in a fun and safe environment on our astroturf. We thank all parents and coaches for organising and helping out with this initiative each year, and our academy sponsor Abbvie.
“During the recent Covid 19 pandemic the club got involved in several community initiatives including: delivering shopping and medicines to people cocooning and to the elderly, calling the elderly club members each week, delivering a phone list of all the important local contacts for everyone on the Chef Aid, donating money and care packages to the local Chef Aid, care home and Donegal hospital via a one week club fundraiser in which club members walked the equivalent of 2,600km or the Wild Atlantic Way.
“We raised over €3,000 for all these fantastic local initiatives thanks to the kind donations of everyone that took part.
“The club are very proud of club members Kevin Mc Brearty (along with James McGroary and Aaron Kyles) who raised a huge amount of money in the recent ‘Everest for Olivia‘ fundraiser, David ‘Ducker’ Keaney for raising and donating money to a wide number of local charities through his Weighbridge Coffee Cabin on the Donegal Pier, and Sean Fegan organised a backward marathon on Saturday last for Pieta House. Several other senior and reserve players also took part in the backwards marathon on the AVS track.
“The club has many famous Donegal players, managers and chairmen throughout the decades. The first ever All Star received for a Donegal player was won by our own Donal Monaghan in 1974 at corner back in the year of Donegal’s first ever Ulster Championship win. Tom Connaghan managed the club to county titles in 1982 and 1984 as well managing Donegal U21’s to All-Ireland success and the county seniors in the late 1980’s.
“Indeed, the club has the proud record of having the most All Stars of all Donegal clubs with Karl Lacey (four times), Paul Durcan (twice), and Joyce McMullin all winning men’s football All Stars. Nicola Lacey (2002) won a Ladies All Star and Mark Patton (2010) won a Rory Magher Hurling All Star.
“The club has provided a host of Donegal players over the years including Seamus Bonnar, Barry Dunnion, Micheal Doherty, Barry Monaghan, Micheal Kelly, Shane Carr, Kelly Lacey, Donna Dunnion, Corny Carr, PJ Flood, and Denise Dunnion to name but a few. Sean Dunnion was Donegal Chairman in recent years and is our current Child Protection Officer within the club.
“The homecomings of National League, Ulster and All Ireland winning teams down the years have been proudly organised by our club volunteers for the Diamond in Donegal Town. The club has a long and proud association with Dom’s Pier 1 and the Breslin family as club sponsor over many decades and look forward to it reopening.
“The club last won a Senior Men’s Football County Title in 2003 after beating Termon, with the team going on to reach the Ulster Semi Final. We hope to reach those heights again in the future but know we’ve a lot of work to do to get there.
“The future of the club is very bright with an ever-growing number of players, coaches and volunteers getting involved year on year. We hope to be competitive at all codes and with all teams each year with the focus on enjoyment for all, providing a sporting and social outlet for the whole community.
“We wish to thank all our fantastic volunteers, sponsors and supporters across all areas of the club and look forward to our return to training and games in the upcoming weeks”.
Many thanks to Pauric and the Four Masters club for this contribution. It is uplifting and I’m sure that this famous club will be back at the pinnacle in the not too distant future.
Go mbeannaí Dia sibh.
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