Back in the day - How they fought the case for Casement - The Irish News, Sep 4 1999
As Casement Park currently lies idle and forlorn, the dream of a bright, buzzing new stadium now stuck in the doldrums, we look back at The Irish News of 20 years ago today when the 1999 grand re-opening of the west Belfast venue brought with it the vision of a rising Saffron gaelic games kingdom ...
Tomorrow sees the grand re-opening of Casement Park following its extensive facelift. Irish News gaelic games conrespondent Matt Fitzpatrick recalls the hard work and dedication of those who half a century ago made the dream of the west Belfast venue a reality...
ALMOST half a century ago Casement Park was opened and with it began a new era for not only gaelic games in Antrim but an impetus to other counties to provide similar accommodation.
Over half a century ago the dream was born – in 1946 in fact – and seven years later on June 14 1953 that dream became a reality. During those years the Irish News was closely associated with the Casement Park development committee.
The written media in those days was the big communicator. Money had to be raised.
That was done. Sean McGettigan, one of the prime movers in acquiring Casement Park in December 1946 announced that the site had been acquired and paid for.
Paddy O’Keefe, the General Secretary of the GAA, travelled up specially from Dublin to present the Antrim County Board with £1000 from Central Council.
Robert Kirkwood the then Editor of The Irish News was there to thank his Lordship Dr Mageean, Bishop of Down and Connor for coming along and Mr O’Keefe for the donation. One of the features of the fund raising activities was the popular GAA Outdoor week in Corrigan Park.
Famous at that time was Fr Flanagan of Boys Town a great personality.
The ever eager Sean McGettigan noticed in The Irish News that Mr Flanagan was coming to Ireland for holiday.
Sean along with Seamus McFerran made contact with the great man himself.
They told Fr Flanagan that the committee was working for the youth of the city of Belfast and invited him to come to Belfast and open the GAA week. Fr Flanagan agreed.
The Boys Town founder indicated that he would be arriving at Rineanna (now Shannon) airport on a Saturday morning.
They felt that it was imperative that he be met at the airport as it might be impossible to get in contact once he set foot on Irish soil. Sean McGettigan and Paddy Gibbon were detailed to go to Rineanna and meet Fr Flanagan when he got off the plane.
The Irish News played its part in that historic meeting.
Michael Cannon top Irish News reporter, and later RTE, was also at the airport to greet the famous Boys Town founder. That GAA week was one of the many highlights in the fund raising campaign.
The famous Artane Boys Band was also another attraction.
The tremendous work by the Development and Fund Raising Committees ensured that when Casement Park was officially opened on June 14 1953 it was free of debt and a surplus available to buy the pitches now situated at Shaw;s Road.
The Irish News worked closely with all concerned with the project ensuring that maximum publicity was available to help them in their work. Casement Park was almost completed when I arrived in the city. Coming from Fermanagh it looked a massive stadium which it was.
From its inception when I was a student in St Columb’s College in Derry I followed the work through the pages of The Irish News.
Weekly even daily exposure was given to the project.
When June 14 1953 dawned The Irish News was there to record the events of the day.
I was a young student at Queen’s staying in digs in Clonard Street. I remember the glamour, the brilliant colourful spectacle of the day. The Falls Road for the three miles to Andersonstown was ablaze with colour.
An expectant crowd lined the road to get a glimpse of the famous and not so famous as they went in a motor cavalcade up the road. One large car looked impressive.
“Here comes the Cardinal” someone shouted.
All knelt down in respect.
But they were soon on their feet when they realised that the car contained Michael Cannon, Robert Kirkwood and owners and some of the staff of The Irish News.
Michael Cannon entered in the spirit and waved to the crowd.
When Cardinal D’Alton, making his first visit to the city since his elevation accompanied by his Lordship Dr Mageean eventually drove past it was an unforgettable sight. Their car was accompanied by a motorcycle escort provided by the GAA.
When they arrived at Casement Park a 20,000 crowd was present and twice as many along the route.
I remember the excitement when a runner, one of 27 who took part, arrived from Thurles with an urn with soil from Thurles and Croke Park as symbol of unity of the GAA in the 32 counties.
I remember Cork defeating Galway in the hurling game which saw the famous Christy Ring score 3-1 and Josie Hartnell get 1-3. Kerry defeated Antrim in a football game by 2-8 to 2-5 with Jackie Lyne scoring both their goals.
Not so many years afterwards when I was playing with Eire Og I played against most of the Antrim men of that historic day.
I took a few notes of that football game which I have preserved because Antrim were the kings of Ulster at that time.
The team was Gerry Bradley; James Gallagher, Peter O’Hara, Jimmy Roe; Brendan McMullan, Ray Beirne, Paddy ‘Crocker’ Murray; Seamus McDonald (0-1), Capt Sean Gallagher; Dr Sean Gibson (1-1), Kevin Armstrong (0-1), Pat Mullaney (0-2); Paddy O’Hara, Donagh Forde, Tom Best (1-0).
One of the highlights of the official opening was a one mile handicap race won by J McKinney (Dromara A.C.).
Sunday September 5 1999 will be another historic day.
This time the media coverage will be more concentrated as it records the rebirth of the 21st century-style Casement Park.