Pearse Stadium, Páirc an Phiarsaigh

Sixty six years ago this week, on June 16 1957, Pearse Stadium opened.

The idea of the park originated with a meeting under the chairmanship of the Mayor on April 29, 1952 with six members of the Corporation, six members of the Chamber of Commerce and six members of the GAA, with the assistance of Ralph Ryan. A site of 17 acres was selected and terms of purchase successfully negotiated. The site was part of the original estate of Rockbarton, conveyed by deed poll by the Commissioners of the Encumbered Estates in 1852. It later became part of the Hennessy Estate then the Corporation bought it for £3,000.

On September 28, 1954 Mayor Peter Greene and members of the Corporation signed documents which provided the GAA with an arena it had sought for decades to secure in the city. The GAA trustee signatories were Pádraic Ó Caoimh, general secretary of the GAA, John Dunne, Ballinasloe, trustee of Central Council, Michael Higgins and John Cotter acting for the County Board and Josie Owens on behalf of the 114 trustees of the proposed stadium who had each contributed £100 towards the project. It was Josie Owens, Michael O’Flaherty and Seán Gillan (the town secretary ) who sold the idea to the trustees. It was interesting that members of the Corporation as well as the mayor went out to collect these subscriptions.

The architect and engineer was Ralph Ryan, the contractors were James Stewart & Co, and Conor Howard was a special adviser on the surface, the sod and seeding. Dermot Lyons, Dick Copeland and Noel Kennedy surveyed the site and they were chased by a bull on their first day. Trial holes cut there showed that part of the site had sodden wet turf some 20 feet deep. The scrub and the peat had to be excavated and a new drainage system installed to ensure a certain amount of water under the pitch, so that even in the driest weather, the pitch would retain its ‘spring’. As it happened, they were dredging the river at the time and the stones and rocks from the river were used to fill in parts of the pitch and give it an elevated sideline. Eventually, after two years and all the chaos, a level green sward appeared from what had been bog, scrub and woodland.

The total area inside the surrounding wall is five acres. The pitch is the maximum one for GAA matches – 160 yards long and 100 yards wide. Terraced seating accommodation was provided for 16,000 and it was hoped to extend this to 40,000. The total cost of the project was £34,000, a figure that seemed eye-watering 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, so the opening of Páirc an Phiarsaigh was a major cause of celebration not just for Gaelic games followers but also for tourism interests in Galway and Salthill in particular.

The opening day was very hot, a lot of people were sunburnt. A capacity crowd of 16,000 turned out to watch Bishop Browne bless the pitch, the president of the GAA, Séamus McFerran, perform the official opening, and a hurling match between Galway and Tipperary and a football game between Galway and Kerry followed. Twelve of the 1923 team, the only Galway hurling team to win an All-Ireland up to that point, were honoured on the pitch.

Since then, the stadium has played host to thousands of games. It fell into a state of neglect in the 1990s but it was completely revamped in 2002 and reopened in 2003 with a capacity of 34,000. Since then, health and safety has reduced that capacity to 26,197. Apart from the GAA games, the stadium held an International Rules game between Ireland and Australia in 2006, in intercollegiate American football game, concerts by Westlife, Ed Sheeran, Bob Dylan (boring ) and Christy Moore (brilliant ).

Our photograph, taken in 1956, shows work on the stadium nearing completion. It seems very strange without a stand. The construction of Árd na Mara is almost finished, but there are a lot of green spaces to be seen that are no longer green. Hallinan’s Hill (formerly known as Stiff’s Hill ) has been levelled to make way for the extension of the new road connecting Oaklands to Dalysfort Road, but the entire area of Rockhill has yet to be developed. Bobby Molloy’s pitch and putt course can be seen alongside the stadium and as you can see, Rockbarton was a lot less populated that it is today.


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