The great strength of the Gaelic Athletic Association is that it has spread into virtually every street and small village in the country. Having players and supporters all over Ireland has made this organisation one of the most popular and one of the most powerful in the land.
Charles Kickham wrote about “The Pride of the Parish” and how it could motivate people to new levels of achievement.
This became very evident in Galway in the mid-1950s when the GAA decided to organise street leagues in football and hurling at under-14, under-16, and under-18 levels. There were teams involved from the Claddagh, Renmore, Bohermore, Woodquay, The West, Shantalla, and Salthill.
Suddenly, you were out of your comfort zone, playing on the Army pitch in Renmore, the Swamp, the sloping pitch behind UCG, the pitch in Shantalla, and sometimes even the Pearse Stadium. You got to know fellows from the other side of town and appreciate their skills. But even if you represented an area such as Bohermore, your sporting career probably started playing games such as ‘three goals in’ before graduating to play for your street or your immediate area. In Salthill, for instance, there were at least three teams, Dalysfort Road, Lenaboy, and Devon Park. Many of the games between these teams were played on the Nuns’ Field, which was where Oaklands is today. Conditions were basic, jumpers or jackets were used as goalposts and there was no referee.
Our team photograph today is of the Devon Park under-14 team of 1967. They played against local Salthill teams as well as teams from Shantalla, The Claddagh and The West. They are, back row, left to right: Mike Fahy, Diarmuid MacDonncha, Ger Cunningham, Kevin Barry, Brian Lynch, and Paul Flannery. In front are Ray Conway, Brendan Conway, Jimmy Duffy, Stephen Fahy, and Pat Hickey.
The street leagues helped raise standards and make the games far more competitive. One of the results was the increase in numbers of city players who began to feature on county teams, though when you got that far, you had to be a member of clubs such as St Augustine’s, Fr Griffin’s, or St Kieran’s.
For those of you in the county who might be considering compiling a local history, there is a new invaluable resource which has just been published by Galway County Council. It is titled For the Record, The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils. It is a guide to the collections held by Galway County Council archives, and gives a very good idea of the materials available for any given area. An excellent production for which there is no charge if you apply to the Galway County Council Archives Service in Cathedral Square, Nuns Island.