The Gaelic Tradition
The first evidence of a Gaelic revival within the Parish of Ballymena can be traced back to the 1920’s. A report in the Irish News on the 23 March 1926 headlined “IRISH BANNER FOR BALLYMENA” stated “A Ceilidh organised by Mrs J B Mc Allister, president of the Butterfly Stall of the Ballymena Bazaar, was held in the Parochial Hall on Sunday night. During the proceedings Canon O Donnell, PP. VF, unfurled an Irish Banner, presented by Mr. F J Bigger, Solicitor.”
“In performing the Ceremony, Canon O Donnell paid tribute to the activities of Mr Bigger in connection with the Gaelic revival, and said that Mrs Mc Allister was imbued with similar tastes, and was the medium through which the beautiful flag was presented to their new hall.
During this same decade the first Gaelic football team was formed. They were known as ” The Mc Crackens” named after the United Irishman, Henry Joy McCracken. Games were played in a field loaned by Miss Rosetta Mc Keown on the Deerfin road at Crebilly. The founding members were Barney Mc Cambridge, Hugh Boyle, Paddy Robinson, Joe Laird, John Vaughan Jack Myles and Dr William Ludlow. During this time members of the Mc Crackens club participated in a North Antrim select team and played against South Antrim Clubs and Select teams. The club went out of existence after a few years (1922-1925).
Although Ceilidhs had become a regular event in the Parochial Hall on the sporting side it was not until the 1940’s that Gaelic football would re-emerge. After the end of world war 2, the “Mc Crackens” club was reformed by employees of 2 brewery companies within Ballymena, James Mc Allister’s and Patrick Murphy’s. Games on this occasion were played in a field loaned by Charlie McAuley at Caugherty Road. Founder members of the club on this occasion were Jack o Doherty, a native of Armagh and had played football for Armagh and Antrim as well as captaining Derry. Along with o Doherty was Seamus Mc Cracken, Tom O Reilly, Jim Best, Gerry Mc Kee, Tommy Quinn, Mickey Neeson,,Thaddy Harte, Hugh Walsh and Felix Neeson. Yet again, after a few short years, the club went out of existence. (1945- 1950).
Another attempt to form a Gaelic football Club happened during 1959, this time the Club would be known as St Patrick’s. Games were played again at Caugherty, on a field loaned by Kevin Mc Auley. The team played their Games in White jerseys with a green shamrock crest. Founder members of St Patrick’s were: Rev Fr Scullion CC (President), Dan O Connell, Tommy Quinn and Francis McAuley. This team lasted a few years (1959 – 1963). In 1965 yet another attempt to establish a club occurred. This time the club would be called All Saints and games were played in red jerseys at the All weather pitch at St Patrick’s School. Founder members were: Paddy McKillop, Gerry Hamill, Robert O’Connell and Seamus Loughran. The team faded out at the onset of the troubles in 1968.
Mc Cracken’s players who featured on the North Antrim select side of 1923-24 Back row – 4th – 6th from left, Jack Miles, Barney Mc Nally and Alex Mc Manus Middle Row 3rd – 5th from left, Danny Mc Quillan, Charles and Dr Wm. Ludlow Front Row – Barney McCambridge, Unknown?
St Patrick’s team of 1959 Back row – D O’Connell, F McAuley, T Quinn, S Davis, H MacRory, J McGuckian, C Mc Manus, H Crawfoot, J Duffy, Fr Scullion Front Row – C Kelly, M McReynolds, J O’Loughlin, S McKervey, J Agnew, A O’Hara, B Mc Cambridge, B Goldring, B Agnew.
Almost a decade had past before another group of gaels decided to form a Gaelic Club. This time the focus was not on football for adults but setting up structures for Juvenile hurling and camogie.
In the spring of 1975 Anthony Mulvenna, a meat inspector and former member of the Glenarm Hurling Club and Seamus MacRory, a local printer, arranged a meeting through Fr Fergus Jordan C.C. who was a Keen supporter of the Gaelic culture. On the Sunday of the meeting, Fr Jordan announced at the morning masses that a meeting was arranged for anyone interested in Gaelic games and culture. The response was limited. The meeting was held at a house belonging to the parish at Market Road, Ballymena, those present included Fr F Jordan, Anthony Mulvenna, Seamus MacRory, Joe Reid, Paddy Devlin, Danny McGarry, Seamus Crummey, Sean Gallagher, Brian McLarnon, Harry McAlinden and Neil Doherty. At that meeting it was agreed to hold further meetings and to affiliate the club with the GAA.
At the next meeting opinions were aired into what the club should be called?
Seamus MacRory suggested Na Fianna, however most of those present agreed with the less political name of All Saints Gaelic Athletic and Camogie club.
Within a matter of weeks a steering Committee was functioning. Anthony Mulvenna (1975-79) presided as Chairman and Danny McGarry initially assumed the role of Secretary. All Saints Gaelic Athletic and Camogie club had been formed. During the year Danny McGarry resigned as Secretary. Anthony Kearney (1975-78) assumed the roll for the remaining months.
During the summer of 1975 U12 hurling games were arranged through various North Antrim Clubs.
At an official meeting of All Saints G.A.C. in early 1976, it was agreed to cater for juvenile football in the same manner as hurling and camogie. During the first season hurling and camogie were played on the All Weather Pitch at St Patrick’s School. The committee was very aware that a field was urgently required.
They approached the parish for the use of a field behind All Saints Primary School, the Hugomont Pitch. The Parish Priest, Archdeacon McGratten, agreed to lease the field to the club at a nominal rent.
Although no changing facilities were available at first, players would change in cars or between the trees. Within a year, tin huts were erected to overcome this problem.
The field at Hugomont sloped from an incline at the top to a dish at the bottom. At the bottom was bog land. After any inclement weather players would find themselves playing with their ankles sunk into the bog, such was the conditions. Another hindrance to playing at Hugomont, particularly football, was the overhead electricity cables that ran parallel to the end line at the bog end, about 20m into the pitch. The result of this added to some strange endings to games. The ball, on its way over the bar, frequently hitting the cables, dropping straight down and catching players unaware. Sometimes the whole complex of the match changed in that incident.
The Hugomont Pitch during Sports Day
An approach was made to the local Borough Council in the early summer of 1976, seeking playing facilities to cater for the growth in juvenile memberships. This was rejected by the council, who were of the opinion that all that All Saints aims were to cause disharmony within the community. (See chapter – Borough council versus All saints)
It didn’t take long for success to arrive for the newly formed club. In their first full league campaign in 1976 the U12 Hurling team, managed by Anthony Mulvenna, were runners-up in the South west hurling league and the U16 football team started their league. The feeling was that the coaching was beginning to make an impact. During the summer of 1976 the U16 football and hurling teams were invited to Carnivals at Toome, Kilrea and friendly games at Dunloy. In each occasion the teams equipped themselves well.
In April 1976 the first General Meeting was held to formally elect a committee. The purpose of that meeting was to formally elect officers until a properly constituted meeting could be arranged. The first elected committee was:
Hon President – Fr F Jordan C.C Chairman – Anthony Mulvenna Vice Chairman – Seamus McRory
Secretary – Anthony Kearney Treasurer – Brian McLarnon
Committee – Joe Reid, Seamus Crummey, Sean Gallagher, Paddy Devlin, Harry McAlinden, William Lee, Denis Martin, John Agnew, Sean O’Reilly and Anna Lee
The first Annual General Meeting of All Saints G.A.C was held on Sunday 28 November 1976. The first elected committee was:
Hon President – Fr F Jordan C.C Chairman – Anthony Mulvenna Vice Chairman – Denis Martin
Secretary – Anthony Kearney Treasurer – Brian McLarnon Committee – Joe Reid, Seamus Crummey, Sean Gallagher, Paddy Devlin, Harry McAlinden, William Lee, Seamus MacRory, John Agnew, Sean O’Reilly and Anna Lee
Draft copy of the Club Constitution
In his report the Secretary Anthony Kearney, an Instructor, noted the steady progress that was being made in juvenile games and pastimes and remarked on the negative attitude by those in local authority.
In his report the Treasurer Brian McLarnon, an accountant in a local family run hotel, gave an account of the financial state of the club. He went on to pin point the “500 club” and the first Sports day as being the main sources of income. A presentation was made to the Camogie coach, Mrs Nullagh McCann who was going to live in Dublin. Fr Jordan paid tribute to Mrs McCann before presenting her with a statuette.
In 1977, and under the management of Francis Scullion and Tim O Kane, the Under 16 football team were crowned South west league winners when they defeated Tir- Na-Nog in the final at Toome.(3-5, 1-4)
Over the next 2 years (1977- 1979) successes on the field resulted in finishing runners- up in the South West Junior hurling Championship (1978&’79), U14 football league runner-up 1979 & Minor football league runner up 1979. The Camogie team was crowned Div 3 League winners 1979.
In 1978 players started to become actively involved in the County teams. Enda McCann, Colm McCloskey, Brian McKenna and Raymond Shannon were the first players to be called for trials. Enda Mc Cann succeeded in becoming the first player from All Saints to represent the Club at Minor level.
At the 1978 AGM the club constitution was redrafted. On this occasion all references to Camogie were deleted. The club was renamed All Saints Gaelic Athletic Club.
The purpose of this was due to grant applications. The camogs were set up as a separate national organisation. The club had sought funding from the local Department of Education and the application could only be made through one organisation.
Within the Gaelic Athletic Association, recognition was given to Camogie, however there was no active promotion of their games.
During the years of 1977-79 it had become evident to the committee that the desire for Gaelic games in the parish was flourishing. The club entered the South west Junior football Championship in 1978. Sean Gallagher managed the team.
The years of 1977-1979 showed that All Saints had finally established themselves as a Gaelic Club.
To Crown their arrival, on 19 th October 1979, All Saints G.A.C. were named Antrim Club of the Year at a Presentation Dinner in the Greenan Lodge, Belfast. When presenting the Club of the year trophy, Hugh McPoland, County Chairman paid tribute to the Chairman Anthony Mulvenna. He noted the remarkable progress that All Saints had made in juvenile games, Scor where All Ireland success was gained in Scor and the promotion of the Irish language, in spite of the reluctance by the local Council to assist in anyway. The Club committee made incisive decisions during those years that would have a remarkable Influence in it’s future.
U12 SW Hurling League Runners Up 1976
All Saints first success on the field: South West U16 League winners 1977
All Saints U16 Captain Enda McCann receives the U16 League trophy from Joe Redmond, South west Secretary of the G.A.A
S.W J.F.C. First Senior Team 1978 Back Row: F McWilliams, J Dunlop, P McGuckian, G o’Reilly, R Shannon, S McMahon, A McWilliams, B McKenna, P Jordan, Sean Gallagher (manager) Front Row: J Agnew, P Friel, S McCloskey, C McCloskey, T Scullion, E McCann, P McGuckian, V O’ Loughlin , C Devlin
All Saints Camogs – Division 3 winners in 1979
One of the main objectives of first committee was to revive the Irish Language, dancing and the Scor competitions within the parish.
Within a matter of months the first Irish Language Classes and Ceili dancing classes had been organised.
On Monday 11 October 1976 the inaugural evening took place in the parochial hall on the Cushendall Road. Irish classes were well attended particularly by young teenagers.
The teachers who unselfishly gave up their Monday evenings were Liam Corrie, a local teacher, Mary O’ Boyle, a Gaelic enthusiast and Fr Fergus Jordan C.C.
After each Language class, Ceili dancing classes were held as light relief to the language classes. These classes were also well attended by the local community. In an interview in the local press, Club PRO John Agnew, told the reporter that the classes and ceili dancing were open to everyone and not just club members. He also added that the evening was good value for 10p.
The teachers of the classes were Anthony Kearney and Teresa Donnelly, a local dancing enthusiast. Denis Sweeney of Randalstown usually supplied the music. Such was the popularity of the dancing, Saturday evening Ceili were organised at least once a month.
All Saints Ceili Parochial Hall October 1976
From1976, Scor competitions were organised throughout the winter. The events were arranged through Gloria McLaughlin, Denis Martin and Seamus Crummey. Her efforts and those associated with the Scor were widely reported in the local press. The interest by parishioners to be actively involved was so encouraging to the committee.
Not only did these competitions add to the body of the club but also proved a valuable source of income that was needed to offset expenses incurred in the Juvenile games. During this period All saints obtained successes in the scor na nog competition with 3 County titles and success at the Ulster final with the Novelty act. In the Senior Scor, All Saints also had quite a number of County finalists and were victorious in winning the All Ireland title with the Ballad Group consisting of Fiona O’ Hagan. Collette O’ Boyle, Catroina Regan, Mairead Regan and Mary O’Boyle.
All Ireland Winners Scor Ballad Section 1978. Fiona O’ Hagan, Collette O’ Boyle, Catroina Regan, Mairead Regan and Mary O’Boyle.
Ulster Scor na nÓg winner – Novelty Act
Mary O Boyle along with Maurice Goldring and Kevin Crummey -competing in the Quiz section of Scor na nog 1978
Borough Council versus the Club 1976-78
From its formation as a club, All Saints came up against the local Borough Council, whose constant refusal to assist in providing amenities, resulted in the club pursuing legal consultations and proceedings.
In August 1976, the steering committee of All Saints Gaelic Athletic and Camogie Club, under the chairmanship of Anthony Mulvenna, wrote to the local council requesting the provision of playing facilities within the area. In the short term the club had asked for a field at “Kernohan’s Farm, but in the long term were seeking something more comprehensive.
The Town Clerk and the Recreation officer had met with Anthony Mulvenna and Anthony Kearney. A programme of events had been given to the council for publication and in turn the club was informed of the council’s reservations regarding the Sabbath.
The Council had requested a copy of the club’s constitution, the committee refused to forward this as they felt that this had nothing to do with their request for playing facilities.
At a Council meeting on 1 November 1976 Councillor David Allen, of the Democratic Unionist Party, raised the matter of the club’s request for facilities. He went on to state that he had in his possession a copy of the constitution of the G.A.A. In his address to the council he quoted from the constitution, (in fact what he was quoting from was the G.A.A’s Official Guide’s draft constitution) he pointed to the organisation goals of promoting the Irish games, language and culture. He protested bitterly that members of the crown forces were not eligible to participate in these games and that a “foreign” flag would be flown at games.
Not only did the Councillor lambaste All Saints intentions but went on to suggest that the main intention of the club was to cause disharmony within the community. Seconding the motion, Councillor William Wilson, also recommended that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should be informed of the goals of this political organisation.
The motion to refuse facilities to the All Saints club was carried by 14 votes. There was no votes recorded against Councillor Allen’s motion.
In regard to the publication of All Saints “Calendar of events” the Council further proposed that no Sunday activities other than religious meetings should be advertised. (Council minute No 674)
The initial response of the club was reported in the local Newspaper, the Ballymena Guardian, Anthony Kearney stated that the club would follow the matter in the channels that were open to them and whatever conclusions those channel’s provided for.
The committee wrote back to the council asking them to reconsider the refusal. The committee felt that the council had been misguided by the remarks made by Councillor Allen.
No reply was ever sent from the council.
Jack Rooney, County Chairman of the G.A.A. stated that he was not surprised at the deliberations of “that august body” but thought that the “climate was not right for stronger sentiments”.
In an open letter to the local press All Saints expressed the “Unfortunate” attitude adopted by the Council. In the letter they pointed to their main aim, to give an outlet to the children of the borough, who wished to participate in Gaelic games. In regard to the Constitution the committee pointed out that they were non sectarian and were engaged in promoting a harmonious community spirit.
Councillor Allen responded to the open letter by All Saints by issuing an open reply in the following weeks paper. He went on to endorse all that he had stated in the Council Chambers.
At the Next Council meeting Councillor John O’ Mullan agreed with much of what All Saints had stated.
He informed the Council that the points raised by Councillor Allen in the debate were selective and only used them to suit his point of view.
Councillor Allen proposed that the Department of Education be informed of the decision to refuse facilities to All Saints and to ask why the Sports Council was grant aiding Gaelic Clubs. Councillor J O’ Mullan asked that his name be recorded as a dissenter to the motion.
Throughout the spring/summer of 1977 All Saints continued to send the ” Calendar of Events” for publication by the Council Resources Centre.
This Centre was funded by the Department of Education and was a facility the Community based groups could use for promoting their particular sports etc. The facility provided for free typing, printing and publicity.
On each and every occasion All Saints publication was omitted from the programme.
At a committee meeting it was agreed to write to the Commissioner for Complaints. The Club Secretary, Anthony Kearney, wrote on the 4th August 1977 expressing the clubs grievances insofar that (a) the Resource Centre had charged the club for printing a coaching manual when this service was supposed to be free. (b) The refusal to include information about the Annual Sports day and Ceilidhe(c) Refusal by the council to publish information of the Annual Feis na N’Gleann(d) Mal-administration by the council including the town Clerk.
The letter went on to state “The council’s instructions and decisions was sectarian and political bias.”
To highlight the grievance the letter referred to comments that the Mayor, Alderman McAuley, made during a television interview on July 14 1977 where he had given instructions to the Resource Centre forbidding publication of any literature containing the Irish Language or Sunday Sports.
An investigation ensued into the Club’s allegations, the Commissioner for Complaints, Stephen McGonagle, met with representatives of both All Saints and Ballymena Borough Council. During his investigation into the Resource Centre, the Commissioner expressed a view to the Mayor that for community relations,” Would it not be better to included these Sunday sports notice and include some phrases in the Irish Language”. The Mayor said that he would bring the matter back to his colleagues.
Stephen McGonagle – Commissioner for Complaints
Subsequently the “Calendar of Events” was withdrawn as a facility from the Resource Centre.
The Commissioner reported his findings on the 25 April 1978.
The report endorsed most of All Saint’s grievances against the council with regard to Maladminastration. His report confirmed that the Council had acted in a discriminatory and were politically bias against All Saints and the “Catholic” Community. The commissioner cleared the names of individuals within the council on the grounds of discrimination and added that it was collective Maladminastration by different offices in the Council. He concluded by stating that in his view the council’s actions were a “high-handed and arbitrary action”. The new club Secretary John Agnew (1978), a Civil Servant, who had been a member of the St Patrick’s team of 1959, told the local press that all the club wanted, as ratepayers, was the” fundamental right to pursue the sport of our choice in a quiet and peaceful manner. This was denied by the attitude of the Council”
Rev Ian Paisley, North Antrim M.P. Stated that he would face the Commissioner and the Northern Ireland Office “head on” over the findings of bias. Although he stated this at the time no appeals were ever lodged over the commissioner’s report.
During the years of 1976-78 the Gaelic culture within All Saints was promoted in the local press in weekly notes sent to the editor by the Chairman Anthony Mulvenna and Secretaries, Anthony Kearney and John Agnew.
Sports days within the Ballymena Parish have been in existence long before the All Saint’s Club was formed as recalled John Agnew: “Sports Days of Yore”
Ballymena parish was famed for its NACA Sports Meetings that were held in GMC Auley’s field in the townland known as Caugherty, 3 miles north east of the town. These sports were started by Fr Liam Mullan CC just after WW2 and ran until the early 1950’s
Huge crowds were ferried by bus or bicycle with athletes coming from over the six counties.
The mention of the following names will bring pleasant memories flooding back to older members in the parish, names like:
100 & 200 yards: Seamus MacRory,Freddie Conway, Barney Dunseath, Harry McAuley, The Rice Brothers (Corrigan AC, Belfast)
Middle Distance: Brian Blaney, Jim Haughey, Seamus McAuley. Charlie Mulvenna (Glenarm) Alex McGavock (Glenarm)
Pole Vault: Bertie Montgomery
High Jump: Sean McCambridge
Cycling: Joe Graham, Vincent Graham, Sean & Joe Redmond (Ahoghill), Hugh Casey, Brian & Austin Hazzard
Open air Boxing was introduced with John “Dole-Ya” McDonald, Paddy Agnew and the Loughran brothers the top performers.
The first annual sports day of All Saints G.A.C.was held on Sunday _ September 1976 at the Hugomont Ground. The main objective of the sports day was to promote the newly formed club to the parish.
During the first sports day, children’s races were organised and juvenile hurling matches at U12 and U16 were arranged with Creggan and Ahoghill, while a series of camogie matches were played against Moneyglass. The star attraction of the day was a challenge football match between the 1960’s team and those that played in the 1965 team.
The following years programme featured a Veteran’s Challenge against Randalstown, the All Saint’s line up highlighted the wealth of talent that now lived within Ballymena.
Ballymena Veteran’s : D O’Neill (St Galls, Antrim & Ulster), A Mulvenna (Glenarm & Antrim), A Kearney ( Antrim Town), PMcGarry ( Loughguil & Antrim), B McLarnon ( Cargin), S Crummey (St Paul’s & Antrim), P Devlin (Loughguil), D Martin (Randalstown), T O’Kane (Kilrea), S Gallagher (Lavey), J Agnew ( Ballymena), M Donnelly ( Ballycastle), J Reid ( Ballymena) A McAtamney (Portglenone, Antrim & Ulster)
In 1979 the Hugomont mile was added to the programme for the first time and has become a prestigious event in its own right with local athletes returning each year to participate. The First winner of the “Hugomont Mile”, Sean O’ Neill went on to secured an Athletic Scolarship in Villanova University, USA and competed in the Commonwealth games as a sub 4 minute miler.
Sports days were held every year since 1976 with the exception of 1988 and 1993 when weeks of inclement weather caused their cancellation. In 1989 the first sports day was held at Slemish Park and in 1995, with the completion of the Pavilion, an exhibition of Irish dance and song was added to the proceedings.
After the refusal of the Borough Council to provide facilities for the All Saints club the committee decided to speculate into the possibility of purchasing their own grounds.
An approach was made to the Parish to establish if the Hugomont Ground was for sale. The parish’s response was that with future development, they could not sell this ground.
In August 1978 a development sub-committee was set up to purchase land for development. This Committee consisted of Fr Fergus Jordan, Anthony Mulvenna and Seamus Crummey, a Civil Servant and former member and Secretary of St Paul’s G.A.C ( Belfast).
The Committee looked over land around the townland of Crebilly where they earmarked a suitable site. The land was on the Woodside road just above the Bog Road.
The Committee established that the land belonged to a Mr. Seamus Kearney who was now living in County Meath. A letter was sent to Mr. Kearney on 21 st September 1978 stating that the club had inspected this ground for developing into playing fields and asked if Mr. Kearney would be willing to sell approximately 8 acres.
Mr. Kearney contacted Anthony Mulvenna on Mon 23 October 1978 and stated that he would be willing to sell. Anthony Mulvenna contacted Seamus Crummey to relay the news, Fr Jordan was on Retreat and couldn’t be contacted. It was agreed that the matter should be kept secret at this stage. Anthony Mulvenna contacted the County Chairman, Jack Rooney, who expressed his delight.
Although the Committee had now found a suitable site they still had to establish how to raise the Capital for this development.
Anthony Mulvenna made an approach to the Department of Education to establish what grants were available. The Department agreed in principal to percentage funding but stated that they would have to approve the site prior to any funding.
Seamus Crummey visited the County Hall and obtained measurements of the proposed land, it was now considered that 11 acres would be required.
On Saturday 28 October 1978 Seamus Crummey and Anthony Mulvenna measured out what they considered was enough ground for 2 playing fields, a pavilion and car parking. That night Anthony Mulvenna rang Mr. Kearney stating that the club had measured ground and had approval from the Department of Education to proceed but they required surveys etc. prior to full approval.
On Sunday 29 October 1978 Anthony Mulvenna contacted the County Chairman, Jack Rooney, informing him of developments. He recommended the former Down Footballer, Sean O’ Neill, Solicitor of Bready & Co should be contacted. Sean O’Neill was contacted and agreed to act on the club’s behalf. Sean O’ Neill organised meetings with the Sports Council to avoid pitfalls in applications.
Several Conversations were held with Mr. Kearney by Anthony Mulvenna to determine a price per acre.
A meeting was arranged with Mr. Kearney in the Mull House, Dunleek, Co Meath on 29 December 1978 at 4.30pm. Anthony Mulvenna and Seamus Crummey met and eventually agreed a price of £3, 000 per acre subject to planning permission grants etc.
On 13th March 1979 All Saints finally received confirmation from the Department of Education that the project would receive grant aid.
On the 10th May 1979 Seamus Crummey submitted the application for Outline Planning Permission to the local Department of the Environment office. This act would yet again see the Borough Council clashing with the Club.
On the 22nd August 1979 the Department informed All Saints that they had now received objections from local residents about the planning application. The Club were certainly of the view that these objections were orchestrated by the local council and not by the residents.
In support of the protest to the application, a deputation led by the local M.P. Rev Ian Paisley went to the County Hall to give submissions. Before going into the meeting Rev Paisley remarked “Why don’t they go into an area were people support their views?” As a result of Paisley’s intervention the planning application would now become the responsibility of the Chief planning officer.
In conversations with the Planning office Seamus Crummey was informed that the department had no procedural objection to the application and that outline planning permission would be granted but expected the Borough Council would protest.
At their monthly meeting on the 5th November 1979, the Ballymena Borough Council recorded its opposition to the club development at the Woodside Road. The Following are extracts from the minutes.
– playing fields at woodside road
on proposing the following Notice of Motion Cr.Martin Clarke stated that he had received a petition signed by 70 residents objecting to the playing fields in that area. Ald.J McCauley seconded this.. “Ballymena Borough Council Wholeheartedly supports the declared opposition of the overwhelming majority of local residents to the granting of planning permission to All Saints Gaelic Athletic Club, Ballymena, for the development of playing fields and attendant facilities at Woodside road Ballymena.
The Council contended that a local public enquiry should have been held to give local residents an opportunity to express their objections. The Council further went on protest over the rules within the GAA, in particular the exclusion of members of the Crown forces and the flying of the Irish Tricolour.
A meeting was arranged on 4th December 1979 at the request of the Planning Office. Anthony Mulvenna, Seamus Crummey and Charles O’ Boyle, a local Publican, met with the Chief Planning Officer, Mr. Ilmoyle who informed the club that he was considering setting up a public inquiry. All Saints strongly protested that this would only make matters worse and that they should act on what had previously been considered the merits of the application. Seamus Crummey wrote to the Environment minister Mr. Philip Goodhart, explaining that there were no objections from the RUC over the application. Furthermore he pointed out that in the current civil unrest there were Civil Servants and local businessmen involved with the club that a Public inquiry would put those members at risk.
Despite the objections to a public inquiry the Planning office informed All Saints on the 23 January 1980 that they had decided to convene an enquiry.
The local press published letters of “concerned” residents at Crebilly who suggested that a green field site close to Fisherwick on the Broughshane Road would be far more suited for a sports ground. In turn the Fisherwick residents replied that the Crebilly residents should mind their own business. These letters were allegedly orchestrated by the DUP to rubbish the Planning application.
A two day Public Enquiry was convened in the County Hall, Ballymena on March 18 th 1980. Belfast Architect, Cecil Savage was appointed inspector for the inquiry. In his opening remarks he stated that he had received a number of written objections from various groups and local residents. These included, Mid-Antrim Unionist Association, Ballymena District LOL no. 8, Braid District LOL no.18, Ballymena Black Chapter, the Rev. James Beggs and the Kirk Session of the J.K. Paisley Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, Ballymena.
Mr. J McSparren Q.C represented All Saints while Mr. Desmond Boal Q.C. instructed the Borough Council. Mr. Gordon McIlrath, a local Solicitor, represented the Orange and Black Institutions.
At the opening of the inquiry Mr. Desmond Boal sensationally announced that Ballymena Borough Council was formally removing its objection to Planning permission for the All Saints Club. Mr. Boal conceded that All Saints had met the planning applications criteria and that the Borough Council’s objections ” had been based on emotional and political grounds”. Mr. McSparren stated that “after the council being so active in promoting opposition to the application, not one member could see it fit to enter the witness box, but would prefer to run away like yesterday men.” He went on to describe Rev. Ian Paisley’s objections as “no more than a farrage of inflammatory nonsense”
During the course of the inquiry and under cross-examination, the Assistant Club Secretary, Seamus Crummey (1980-91) was questioned at length by Mr. McIlrath, during which he had to defend the constitution and rules of the GAA, as well as the club’s present position. Seamus Crummey pointed out that no flags had previously been flown at the Hugomont site and it was the view of the “present” committee that the same would apply at the Woodside road. On the GAA rules Seamus Crummey conceded that some were “out-dated and outmoded”.
At the conclusion of the inquiry Mr. Savage deferred any decision until he had an opportunity to revisit the proposed site and consider the evidence.
In September 1980 the decision of the inquiry was that outline planning permission should not be granted.
All Saints were not content that this decision was a balanced on the facts. The feeling was that Mr.Paisley had applied pressure on the Environment Minister Mr. Phillip Goodhart and had initially influenced the Planning Office. All Saints immediately lodged an appeal against the decision.
During correspondence and a subsequent meeting it became clear that the main contention to the refusal to grant Planning permission was the resident beside the proposed site. At a meeting with the Planning Office, Mr. McIlmoyle stated that if another site could be acquired then he could see no reason for turning down a subsequent application. Seamus Crummey stated that there just wasn’t another site available within reasonable distance of the town.
A deputation of Seamus Crummey, Charles O’ Boyle and Peter Boyle met the New Environment Minister Mr. David Mitchell and Mr.McIlmoyle. They asked him to consider the facts of the application rather than the bias that certain members in the Borough Council had adopted.
On the 6th February 1981 the new Environment Minister Mr.David Mitchell overturned the decision of the inquiry and granted All Saints G.A.C. Outline planning permission.
Ballymena Borough Council was outraged by the Minister’s decision to grant planning permission. To explain his decision, on Tuesday 10 February 1981, he attended an afternoon meeting of the Council. During the meeting a vote was taken and the minister was asked to leave the Chamber because he was “not welcome in this town” Mr. Mitchell bluntly replied “if it were the Protestant Protest Association that was seeking planning consent, there would be no objections by this Council at all”.
Such was the media interest into the passions being raised in the Ballymena Borough that on 2 occasions documentary programme makers visited the All Saints Club. The first of these was the historian Robert Kees who included a section in this BBC Television Series ” Ireland, A History”. Another programme by the Thames Television Company “Public eye” was recorded but subsequently not shown. The makers apologised for not showing this. They had in turn, televised a programme on the Republican Hunger- Strikes.
The planning permission hurdle crossed, the club then faced a further hurdle in that the British Government had put a moratorium on payment of grants for community developments.
After endless phone calls and meetings the Department of Education agreed on 24 April 1981,to grant aid the purchase of grounds.No funds were available during the year 1981/82. In March 1982 the club purchased the ground at the Woodside Road.
Following the public inquiry the club was able to complete the legal formalities and prepare for the construction of the playing fields.
The club then embarked on an extensive programme of fundraising while at the same time, acquired the services of Civil Engineer Finn Sherry the former Fermanagh footballer to prepare plans and specifications for tender. Detailed plans were submitted to the Planning Department in April 1984. Despite strong objections yet again, from the Borough Council the application was approved.
The Department of Education subsequently approved these plans and Finn Sherry’s appointment as Engineer for the Works.
Tenders were invited for the construction of 2 playing fields and Car parking on the 6 th July 1984. Four tenders were returned, John Brannigan of Co Down was eventually awarded the contract, a value of £54,000.
Work commenced on the site on the on Monday 20 th August 1984 and was to be completed by the 20 th February 1985. Due to very poor ground conditions the Engineer stopped the work on the 14 th September 1984, an extension of time was given to the contractor to complete the works. Weather hampered the construction over the following year. The Department of Education on the 1 st May 1986 threatening to withdraw funding if work was not completed by 31 December 1986, the club argued that the delay was due to inclement conditions over the past year. Nevertheless the work was substantially completed by the time and Seamus Crummey wrote to the Department confirming the completion.
After the Completion of the contract, Club Chairman Denis Martin, organised members erected a fence around the perimeter of the main pitch to bring it up to championship standard.
The grounds were officially opened and blessed by the Club President Rev. D Dargan on 10th May 1987. A Motion by Seamus Crummey at the 1983 AGM, to name the grounds, Slemish Park, had been adopted. Seamus Crummey’s father, Tom Crummey, who had been Treasurer of the Antrim County Board for more than 25 years and was instrumental in the purchase of ” Casement Park”, had often told him that Casement Park was originally to be known as Slemish Park.
The date the grounds were opened was significant, as this was the date that the Senior Footballers played in their first Senior Football Championship.
Within a short period of time it became evident that there was a drainage problem on the playing fields. An Investigation revealed that some sections of the field had no system of drainage installed. The contractor, J Brannigan, had gone into liquidation and therefore with no other alternative Denis Martin organised members to carry out remedial work.
The Tin huts that had been used at Hugomont were erected for temporary changing rooms. The committee were very aware permanent facilities would soon be required. Plans were drawn up projecting a single story Pavilion with 4 changing rooms. The committee considered the plans a length and wondered how they could finance the project.
In late 1991 it became evident that funds were available through an organisation call the Foundation for Sport and the Arts (FSA). Forms were applied for and the committee considered their requirements.
The application was sent to the FSA in early 1993 enclosing the plans. However, opinions were changing to the type and size of the structure. The committee agreed that a 2 Story pavilion would be a worthwhile investment. The new design was approved at the Annual General meeting in November 1993.
The Chairman Brian McCambridge (1990-1998), an electrical engineer and a member of the 1959 St Patrick’s football team instructed new plans to be drawn up. Ian McKendry, a local draughtsman, was instructed, and given direction by Denis Martin.
In July 1994 All Saints were informed that the application was accepted and that the project was awarded £50,000. This grant however, related to the earlier design.
The Club Secretary, Alaster McWilliams (1992-2013), a member of the first Senior team, estimated the cost of the new plans and informed the FSA that the Club had felt necessary to proceed with this proposal as membership was increasing and demand on facilities was immense.
The club also pointed out that if the “in-house” tradesmen executed the work the overall cost would be reduced. The estimate for the proposed works of £89,000 was accepted by the FSA and construction work on the Pavilion commenced at the end of July 1994.
The committee arranged general club meetings to seek volunteers for manual work to assist the “in-house” tradesmen.
A Bricklayer was employed but subsequently relieved of his duties due to slow progress.
The “in-house” tradesmen included the Chairman, Brian McCambridge, Vice Chairman, Joe Casey, former Chairman Denis Martin, Treasurer and Hurling Manager John McKay, other members frequently assisted them in the construction. Such was the measure of their determination, the only contractor employed was for the roof construction. The Pavilion was substantially completed during early spring 1995.
The first committee meeting of All Saints to be convened at the new pavilion took place on the 2nd May 1995 and has been held there ever since.
The pavilion was attacked by arsons in August 1996. They had set light to bins and set them beside the fire doors of the main hall. The attack was not discovered until the morning.
Denis Martin had called up to carry out maintenance work on the grounds and reported the incident. Loyalist extremists around that time had carried out a spate of attacks. Fortunately the fire doors prevented the fire penetration the hall. A Claim for damage was submitted and eventually rejected by the Northern Ireland Office.
On The evening of the 27th February 1997 the President of the GAA, Jack Boothman, officially opened the Pavilion. Such was the demand on the president that he had not had time to read the minute the secretary had sent giving him the background of the formation of the club.
When entering the Pavilion he immediately spotted the notice boards that had been erected. He then turned to those alongside him pointing at the press clippings and said, ” this, is this club” He quipped “Imagine a Church of Ireland GAA President opening a Gaelic Pavilion in Ballymena ”
In his address he praised the club officers who had persevered in forming the club. He wished the club the success it rightly deserved and thanked the club for the invitation.
In his address the Club Chairman, Brian McCambridge thanked the other invited guests including County Chairman, Joe O Boyle, North Antrim Chairman, Arthur Forsyth, County Treasurer Eamonn Grieve and Honorary President, Canon Sean Connelly. He thanked the various groups for entertaining members and guests. He paid particular tribute to the men who had been involved in the actual construction of the Pavilion, Denis Martin, Vice Chairman Joe Casey, former Treasurer, John McKay, and the Chairman’s brother Henry McCambridge.
Clare McWilliams, daughter of the Club Secretary, presented the President with a plaque to mark the historic occasion. The President then posed for pictures for a considerable period before departing for the long journey to Blessington, Co Wicklow.
Since the opening of the Pavilion the club began catering for Championship games and inter-County games. The main Hall has catered for County Committee meetings since 1997. Ceilidhs, Talent Competitions, Set Dancing Classes, Bowling, Old Tyme Dancing, Table quizzes, Night at the races, Barbecues and Irish Classes have all been catered for since 1996.
The Organisation of these fund raising activities was through the work of the sub-committees steered by John Donaghy (football), Rosaleen Casey (ladies) and Owen Elliott (hurling).
Drainage problems on both fields had curtailed the number of games and training sessions the pitches would take. In 1997 the Secretary applied and succeeded in gaining a grant of £23,000 from the British lottery Sports fund. The grant was for drainage and floodlighting to the small playing field.
Work was suppose to commence in July 1997 but due to concerns from the committee a Turf Specialist was appointed to give his recommendations. He recommended that the option the club initially adopted was the correct one.
In May 1998 the Secretary prepared tenders for the drainage work. On 13 June 1998 the Committee awarded the contract to S Curran of Armagh. Denis Martin and the Club Secretary would oversee the work. Due to inclement weather the work was not completed until 1 st June 1999.
As part of the works floodlighting will be installed in 2000.
The present committee is considering future development plans. No doubt these will be noted in later years.