Daingean GAA Club experience lean times during the revolutionary years, 1913–23. By Sean McEvoy. Decade of Centenaries Series

The Country is currently celebrating and remembering what have become popularly known as the Revolutionary years or Era spanning the timescale 1913–23. These years witnessed the formation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, the Howth gun running in 1914, as well as the Easter Rising, the growth of Sinn Féin and the formation of the first Dáil in 1919. The events of this time are finally capped off with the War of Independence (1919–21), the signing of the Irish Treaty in December 1921, and the calamitous Civil War (1922–23) which followed during this period also, the Great War (1914–918) and the Spanish flu epidemic had varying degrees of impact on the life of the country. There is no doubt that this train of events combined had a great impact on almost all GAA clubs then in existence. Some clubs fared better than others for example during the years in question Killeigh captured two senior football titles while Rhode who had won only one title to date, captured three in six years. For Daingean however these years brought no titles in any grade.

These lean years for the clubs are surprising as Daingean had captured its first junior title in 1908 and their first senior title the following year. However, despite these successes the team broke up quite quickly. During the early years of the GAA player loyalty to clubs was not as entrenched as it is today. Clubs often were formed one year and would simply disappear the next. After Daingean lost the 1910 junior final to Banagher that was played in 1911, a number of players John Buckley and Peter Brazil left to line out with the new clubs formed in Ballycommon shortly afterwards. Daingean fielded no senior team in the championship from 1912 to 1927 and did not even field a junior side in 1912 and 1913. Meanwhile the new club in Ballycommon had early success capturing the junior Title in 1913 and reached the senior final the following year only to lose out to Ferbane. The success or failure of clubs at this time could often hinge on the death of a key player or official in this regard. The unexpected death of the club’s junior captain Denis Flanagan in 1912 left the club bemoaning the loss of an on­- field leader. Throughout 1913 the local correspondent to the King’s County Independent newspaper made a number of references to the poor state of the clubs. In August that year he lamented  ‘that we have already referred on more than one occasion to the great scarcity that exists in Philipstown at the present time of any sort of amusement, and the wonder if where there is such splendid material at hand, no attempt is made to organise a football or hurling club’.

The same correspondent kept up his pressure for the rest of 1913 and by April, the following year, the club had been revived again on a proper footing with Denis Gorman as president, John Harte as secretary and Nicholas Bolger as treasurer. There official wisely decided to plate the emphasis on developing a new young team based on juvenile sides that had emerged in the parish between 1911 and 1913. Surprisingly these teams had emerged at a time when adult teams in the club were struggling or not fielding at all (as pointed out earlier) and the new juvenile teams emerged at a time long before proper underage competitions would be organised countywide in the late 1920s. Prominent players on these sides included J. Reilly, J. Harte, C. Hayes, J. Walshe, James E. Greene, P. Lynch and Joe Quinn. A nice combination of these young players and some veterans

From the earlier years saw the junior side reach the 1915 final which took place in Rahan the following year against Cloghan. This was a bruising encounter that Daingean lost by the slimmest of margins and club’s supporters (possibly unfairly) felt that stricter referring may have altered the outcome. The club did lodge an objection to the ref’s final report to the county board and subsequently brought an appeal to the Leinster Council. This appeal was to be heard at the council’s last meeting in Dublin just before Christmas 1916 but no Daingean delegates turned up and the matter was dropped.

 Rather than building on the progress made in 1915, the years 1916 to 1923 were some of the leanest in the club’s history. There are a number of reasons for this, starting with the departure of James O’Quigley a national teacher who had come to the town in the early years of the twentieth century. He can be best described as a typical Irish Irelander from this era and was dedicated member of the GAA, Gaelic league and the Irish Volunteers O’Quigley was the man behind the formation of a hurling club in the town and he was also behind the revival of the game of handball. In the latter case the promoted the game by staging an annual tournament among the school children that grew in popularity from 1908. On his departure to Mayo in 1916, the club made to him a special presentation of a suitably inscribed walking stick for his services rendered to the club. His loss to the club in relation to his administration and organisational skills really is difficult to calculate beyond saying that it came at a time when his guidance was probably most needed. This can be especially seen in the club’s lack of effort to promote hurling again until the 1920s. In fact in 1916, the club actually donated its stock of camáns for a north Offaly hurling team that played against a small Offaly selection in support if the National Aid Association Tournament held in Ballyduff  park in September 1916. Such tournaments were held to support the families of those who lost members fighting in the Easter Rising or members of families who had relation arrested in the aftermath. Sadly this rather generous gesture by the club in Daingean was most likely easier to take considering that the local hurling club had all but died out by then.

 A second reason why the club entered a lean period after 1916 is because recent research has thrown up that a huge number of the team that lost the 1915 junior football final became more involved in the independence struggle at this time. Many of the players became involved in the Sinn Féin branch in the town while the following list names those who served in the local GAA. These included Charlie and Ned Hayes, Denis Finlay, John and Ned Greene, Jim Brien, Pat Lynch, Nicholas Bolger, Mick Crystal and brothers, John and George Grace. While IRA activity in the Daingean area was not notable for spectacular ambushes, the local RIC barracks in the town and at Mount Lucas was attacked during this period. It should be noted as well that the British army did have a small garrison in the town which certainly helped to curtail IRA activity because of this involvement with the IRA the players above did not have the spare time for GAA activity that was needed to push the club forward. It is not totally a surprise then when one learns that the club had no representative at the 1917 Offaly GAA convention and the Midland Tribune reported that the junior side failed to fulfil this first round fixture in the next year’s championship.

 The club was spread embarrassment late in August 1918 when it managed to field both a senior side (against Ballycommon) and junior side (against Geashill) in compliance with the Central Council directive that all GAA units had to take part in games in what became known as Gaelic Sunday. This nationwide set of games was in response to the British Authorities insistence clubs having to seek permits for the holding of matches. This decision was in part designed to check the growth of Sinn Féin Central Council organised Gaelic Sunday in a blatant act of defiance of this request and the press reported that upwards of over 5,400 players took part nationwide making the day a glorious success. Sadly the two local Offaly papers do not list the names of the players on the various teams who fielded that Sunday in Offaly and one suspects this may have been because of the press censorship directive in operation at the time.

 Despite fielding two teams on Gaelic Sunday, this did not mean an immediate upturn in the club’s fortunes. Daingean failed again to take part in the 1919 championship and after drawing with Clara in the first round of their 1920 tie, the team showed its lack of practice in the replay by failing to score in the whole match. As the country sank deeper into the War of Independence no championships were completed in 1921 or 1922. It was only after the Civil War ended in May 1923 that field activity could start up again when Daingean took on Rhode at the pitch in St. Conleth’s that August. The local correspondent looked forward to the event claiming that ‘there had been no match in the locality of any description for nearly three years’. This is probably one reason why a large crowd turned out to cheer the local club to victory and even though the team lost the north Offaly final to Killeigh, in September the end of strife and national conflict meant that the chance to rebuild the club and country could now commence once again.

The research for this article depended heavily on the files of the county’s two Nationalist newspaper from this time, namely The Midland Tribune and The Tullamore and King’s County Independent; sadly no minutes of Daingean club meetings or photographs teams from this period have survived. A trawl through some County Board minutes in the OHAS shows no major points of reference for the Daingean club while the monthly RIC police reports from 1913 to 1921 don’t add any materials of note about the club’s struggle at this time either. The author would welcome any reader with material not unearthed to date that may be lying in some attic or if anyone has photographs of Daingean players on teams to contact him, on any member OHAS regarding same.

Sean McEvoy