CLUB BIOGRAPHIES (Brief)
A Club & County Brief Biography
Recognition & Appreciation of Leitrim as part of the G.A.A. Inter County Family
In geographical examination of the size of all 32 counties, Louth is officially regarded as Ireland's wee county, meaning it is the smallest county of the Emerald Isle. In G.A.A. landscape and population, the western county of Leitrim is officially at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to population figures, yet, year after year, they plough on relentlessly in provincial and All Ireland competitions. The reality that the biggest prizes of gaelic games i.e. Sam Maguire and Liam McC,arthy, are not going to occupy permanent residence for a full year in Leitrim, is not a deterrent to participation.
During my research I uncovered an article composed by Seán O'Suilleabháin, county board official, reflecting the counties heritage and G.A.A. history since the formation of the association in 1884. With a total of 24 registered clubs, special mention is attributed by the author to the vast level of games participation, having regard to its minute 25,000 population.
The historic review of Leitrim's roll of honour and gaelic games participation, makes interesting reading and the statistics reveal that in Co. Leitrim, the county officers and players are really exceptionally committed G.A.A. people and I now present their own review of their history.
OUR LOVELY County LEITRIM – historic synopsis of the land of times past by Sean O’Suilleabhain
The Connacht county of Leitrim is all but landlocked, having a coastal outlet to the Atlantic only two miles in length on Donegal Bay, between the boundaries of Co. Sligo and Co. Donegal. Leitrim is otherwise bounded to the west by Sligo and Roscommon to the south and by Longford to the east, whilst Cavan and Fermanagh point northwards and to the northern outreach, lies Donegal. Leitrim, therefore has boundaries with both Ulster and Leinster.
Leitrim, once the county town, has the remains of a castle and some other ancient buildings, but has lost its former importance and now its dwindled to a village. Carrick-on-Shannon became the chief town of the county, which had one other borough, Jamestown, built for settlers in the I7th century, and three other market-towns, Manorhamilton (which derives its name from its I7th century settler founder, Sir Frederick Hamilton), Ballinamore and Mohill.
Anciently the county formed part of the kingdom of Breifne, whose landlords, the O’Rourkes, retained some power until the confiscations of the 16th and 17th centuries. Dromahaire had, by that time, become their principal seat. After the sequestration of the O’Rourke chieftain’s territory, it was erected into the county of Leitrim in 1565.
Prior to that time and the subsequent arrival of settlers, the principal families, besides the O’Rourkes, were the subordinate septs, McGlanchy or McClancy, McGoldrick, McRannall (which has frequently become Reynolds), McGovern or Magauran, McLoughlin, McMorrow, and McTernan.
By 1879 not one O’Rourke held land in the county according to a list of landowners of upwards of one acre. The commonest surnames today in the county are the ubiquitous Kelly or O’Kelly and the indigenous Reynolds, in about equal numbers, followed after a considerable gap in numbers, by Flynn and O’Flynn, McLoughlin, McHugh, Rooney and O’Rooney, McMorrow, and McTernan, all in about equal numbers and then in descending numerical order, Keany, McGowan, Moran, Reilly and O’Reilly, Dolan, Maguire, Beirne and O’Beirne, Gallagher, McDermon, McGovern, McSharry and Mulvey.
The county, which is thinly populated, is hilly, ranging from shaggy brown hills to lofty mountains and with deep valleys. There are several beautiful lakes of which the best known are Lough Gill, Lough Allen, Lough Garadice, Lough Glenade, Lough Rynn, and Lough Melvin, whose western shore is in the county of Leitrim and the eastern in the county of Fermanagh. Many of the smaller lakes are also picturesque.
The county in the medieval period was thickly forested and five great forests endured into the 17th century, but they have disappeared, leaving bleak tracts of country. The soil of Co. Leitrim is exceptionally retentive of water, which accounts with its many lakes, for a standard joke, that land in the county is sold by the gallon, rather than by the acre.
Despite the cold and damp climate, agriculture has improved over the last century when the principal crops were potatoes, flax and oats. However, even in poorer times in the past, almost every Leitrim family kept at least one cow. A great quantiy of butter was made in the county and sent in firkins to the markets, whence it was exported to England. There were also large farms in the county where cattle were fattened for the Dublin and English markets.
There was but little commercial activity in Co. Leitrim and scant manufacture, but coal mines were opened up in the 19th century to the east of Lough Allen and where a vein was discovered in the Munterkenny Mountains. Sandstone, quarried in the Glenfarne region, was worked into ornamental objects. In the mid-I8th century, working of the counties rich deposits of iron ore was abandoned due to lack of timber to fuel the furnaces. A few years later one O’Reilly family started an iron works, designed to smelt the iron with coal, but this was a financial failure due largely to lack of foresight and uneconomical experiments in trying to produce malleable iron instead of cast-iron.
Leitrim's G.A.A. .. A Historic Synopsis
What makes Leitrim unique in Gaelic Football circles, is not the County’s achievements on the field, but the high level of participation in the gaelic games. Leitrim, the county with the smallest population of any of Ireland’s 32 Counties, has the highest number of G.A.A. clubs and players, per capita, of any county in Ireland.
Leitrim has 24 G.A.A. clubs for a population of 25,057 (1996 Census) and 54 adult teams playing in 5 League divisions. If you consider that the number of males, between the ages of 18 – 32 in the whole of County Leitrim, is only 2,310, that means there is a team produced for every 42 males of normal football playing age, resident in the county. Of course a proportion of these players are normally outside the county during the week and return at weekends.
Not alone is this not matched by any other county in Ireland, but it is doubtful if any sporting organisation, anywhere in the world, could come close to this level of participation. It is an amazing achievement. In addition to Gaelic football, there is also hurling and handball in the county, as well as ladies football and camogie.
The first G.A.A. clubs in Leitrim were founded in Dromahair and Killanumery in early 1886. The first championship was run in 1890, with Mohill beating Ballinamore in the final. The G.A.A. died in Leitrim in 1891 with the Parnell split and it didn’t revive again until 1904. Since then the Organisation has gone from strength to strength, despite the awful depopulation of the county.
Success at county level has been limited for Leitrim. The nearest the county got to a full All Ireland title was in 1938, when they won the junior “Home” final, but to their grief, lost the final proper to London in Croke Park. At senior level, Leitrim’s finest hours came in 1927 and 1994, when the Connacht Senior Championship was won. The people of Leitrim will never forget the historic days of the summer of 1994, culminating in their All Ireland semi final appearance against Dublin.
There is a very vibrant club scene in Leitrim, from under-12 to senior level. Ballinamore's Seán O’Heslins, are the top club in Leitrim in terms of titles won, with 20 senior championships. However, each and every club has their successes to point to.
Leitrim is probably the most enthusiastic county at participating in Scór – the G.A.A.’s winter talent activity. Many clubs from the county have won All Irelands at Scór and Scór na nÓg level.
’Se Leitrim ceann des no gContaetha is laidre sa tir thaobh na peile Gaelach de.
www.ScoreBoard Memories.com summary and observation
Despite numerous and repeated Croke Park contradicteries, the direction the Gaelic Athletic Association has dictated to its loyal members, has been enormously negative and disrespectful to the core values associated with grassroots clubs and players all over Ireland. In Leitrim, a county most likely to be absent from progression in inter county fare, the summer months for gaelic games may not be as crowded as in other counties.
The financial well-being of Croke Park tops the list of all annual projections at the expense of the grassroots. The trend will continue for some time more, the number of counties outside the pale, struggling to successfully compete on the playing fields of Ireland, far outweighs the heavyweight annual contenders.
The G.A.A. is now no different to England's professional Premier League. The amateur ethos has been maligned and sacrificed, to fund the huge coffers of Croke Park and upkeep of staff and management and the necessity to ensure, that all the No.1 county earners remain firmly anchored as Croke Park's main assets.
Minnow counties, such as Leitrim and company, are not cemented in the daily diaries of Croke Park, simply because they are not viable options to compliment cash flow for headquarers. Similar to ManU, Liverpool and Chelsea, The Dubs and my own county of Cork, are the main bread earners for Croke Park, simply because they are power bases of population, enjoy a huge army of fans and sit at the top table.
Leitrim, with its 24 clubs, are a part of the G.A.A. inter county family, when it comes to cutting ribbons by white collars, but the distances between the Leitrims and similar minnow counties from Croke Park shores, has regretably enormously widened. The amateur ethos has been discarded several years ago and the fluency of games at the top level, now totally depends on players, as the centre stage main acts, abstaining from.. play for pay.
From the very first All Ireland series of competion in hurling and football at the top tier, Leitrim have never won an All Ireland 'A' grade competition, but they have succeeded at 'B' level senior football. In Connacht, Leitrim journey on every year in all grades of football and despite the anomaly always prevailing in population numbers, they remain true to the founding ethos of Michael Cusack and colleagues, whose objective was participation and pride in Irish culture and gaelic games.
County Crest.. Historic Synopsis
The unveiling of the new Leitrim GAA Crest occurred in 2007 by Sean O’Suilleabháin, who was the main force behind the crest design. Seán gave a little history on the crests associated with Leitrim GAA over the years. The first crest used was that of the O’Rourkes of Breifne, which was replaced by the County Council crest about 1993/94. In the meantime there was another crest used by the media and this crest had a row of circles across the top and three wavy lines down through the centre of the shield styled edge.
The 2007 crest is the result of various submissions from the public and the new version is based on an idea by Adrian Smith of Seán O Heslin’s club. Adrian had the skills to produce a computerised version that was worked on by himself and Seán. The map of Leitrim is distinctive and was a must in the overall design.
Glencar waterfall is used as a landmark representative of the north of the county, while Sheemore represents the south. The GAA symbols of a football and hurley, are used, as is the fiddle which represents Scór. The whole crest is encircled with a celtic rope and the name Liatroma is along the top in celtic font. The colours of green, yellow, white and a little blue are used throughout.
Derry JF Doody