Lisburn GAA club re-erect poignant tribute to member

St Patricks GAC Lisburn reinstated a plague to 18 year old Richard Mc Cormac at St Patrick's church Lisburn picture Bill Smyth.
St Patricks GAC Lisburn reinstated a plague to 18 year old Richard Mc Cormac at St Patrick's church Lisburn picture Bill Smyth.

A Co Antrim GAA club has paid a poignant tribute to a member of the association who died almost 125 years ago.

Members of Naomh Padraig GAC in Lisburn gathered at the weekend to re-erect a plaque to Richard McCormack who died in 1891 aged 18.

An inscription on the marker reads "erected by Lisburn branch of GAA" and was discovered by parishioners at St Patrick’s Church at Chapel Hill during a clean up of an adjacent graveyard in the early 1980s.

It lay in the attic of former Naomh Padraig chairman Sean Adair until recently when it was decided to return the marker to the disused graveyard.

The replacement of the plaque came as research continues into the history of the GAA in Lisburn by historian Dr Dónal McAanallen and coincides with the 125th anniversary of the second Ulster championship final, which was played at nearby Blaris.

The Armagh Harps took on Tyrone’s Cookstown to claim the county’s first provincial title.

Better known these days for its hockey team, Gaelic games were traditionally played at what was known as the ‘Hurling Field’ at Priest Lane.

Although now regarded as a predominantly unionist area, at one time a significant number of Catholics lived in the district which supported the growth of Gaelic games locally.

Its first club, the Red Hand of Ulster GAA Club was formed in 1888 and had an impact on the local community.

After going out of existence for several years the club was revived in 1904 and played for just four weeks at Blaris.

These games sparked serious riots as local unionist objected to the playing of games on a Sunday.

So serious was some of the disorder that the issue was raised during debates in the British parliament.

After coming under pressure the club agreed not to play on Sundays resulting in it eventually folding.

The potential for a return of the games received a blow in 1920 after hundreds of Catholics were forced to flee the area under the threat of sectarian attack.

Catholic homes and businesses were burned and looted after the IRA shot dead detective inspector Oswald Swanzy in the town in August of that year.

Swanzy was believed by republican leader Michael Collins to have been involved in the murder of Sinn Féin mayor of Cork Tomas McCurtain.

It was several decades before the GAA was re-established in Lisburn when in 1965 Naomh Padraig was affiliated.

The club is now celebrating its 50th year.

Current chairman Peter Burns said the development of Gaelic games in the district has "been a struggle over the years."

He said that for over 20 years the club was forced to play every home game away until Lisburn council provided them with a pitch in 1995.

Initially the club was banned from using the field on a Sunday but that rule was eventually relaxed and the club has continued to grow.

Dr McAnallen has carried out extensive research on the history of the GAA in the Lisburn area and he says it is unclear why the original GAA club erected a plaque at the grave of Richard McCormack.

The original ‘Red Hand’ club is believed to have folded around the same time as the growth of the GAA slowed down in Ulster.

He believes the grave plaque "inadvertently served as the epitaph to the passing of an eminent club, for it provides the last written reference to the GAA in Lisburn in that era."

Dr McAnallen will deliver a talk on the 1890 Ulster final at 8.15pm tonight at the Tyrone GAA Centre at Garvaghy.