June 16, 1957, was a blistering hot day, a day of celebration for the Galway GAA fraternity. It was the day the president of the GAA , Seamus McFerran, officially opened the Pearse Stadium in Rockbarton.
The idea of the stadium originated with a meeting of six members of the borough council, six members of the chamber of commerce, and six members of the GAA. The Mayor acted as chairman and a 17 acre site which was known locally as “The Boggers” in Rockbarton was chosen. The site was offered to the GAA by the town secretary, Seán Gillan. It was very wet and boggy, but as it happened, the council was deepening the river at the time so used a lot of the infill partly on the pitch, but also to give the pitch an elevated sideline. The pitch itself was one of the largest in the country, the construction work was done by the Salthill firm James Stewart & Co and cost £34,000, a figure that seemed staggering at the time.
The GAA never had more than tenant rights in Galway before this facility was built; up to then games were played in the Sportsground, and before that again, in South Park. The stadium was a big success and used for all kinds of games from juvenile matches to major championship fixtures. It made a significant contribution to tourism in Salthill.
At the time Árd na Mara was just being built, Dr Mannix Road was all green fields, the closest houses to the stadium were in Rockbarton or Threadneedle Road.
Twelve members of the victorious 1923 All-Ireland winning side were among the crowd of 16,000 who turned up to watch Galway beat Tipperary in hurling and beat Kerry in football. The winning margin in the hurling was six points and the game was remarkable for two things — an extraordinary display by Galway midfielder Joe Salmon, and an impressive debut on the senior team by 18-year-old Jimmy Quigley from Devon Park. Billy Duffy opened the scoring for Galway and thus had the honour of raising the first flag in the new stadium.
The inaugural football game started in a whirlwind fashion as Kerry scored three quick goals, then Frank Stockwell took over and his genius inspired Galway back into the game with scores by Seán Purcell, Murt Kelly, Johnny Coyle, Billy O’Neill, Frank Eivers, and P Dunne helping them to win by four points.
The stadium fell into disuse in the early 1990s. It was renovated in 2002 and reopened in 2003 with a capacity of 34,000. A national survey of health and safety of GAA grounds in 2011 reduced the capacity to 26,197,
Our photograph shows a section of the crowd on the opening day. Many are wearing hats, caps, programmes, newspapers, and handkerchiefs on their heads to protect themselves from the sunshine.