Brendan Crossan: Naomh Éanna, Glengormley - a picture of defiance

St Enda's Glengormley footballers celebrate their county championship victory late last year. They will compete in their first-ever All-Ireland Intermediate final at Croke Park on February 9 Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Brendan Crossan - The Boot Room

IN the early 1970s the players of St Enda’s, Glengormley used to get changed for their games in a hut they called the chicken house.

It was a two-storey outhouse. In the lower floor, the local farmer kept chickens.

St Enda’s were granted permission to use the upper floor, the loft, as their changing facilities.

To reach the loft, the St Enda’s players had to climb a set of stone steps.

Situated on the isolated fringes of north Belfast, the club kitted out the chicken house with discarded bus seats.

It was around May 1974 the team was getting ready to play a match against Ardoyne Kickhams.

Gerry ‘Tank’ McLaughlin was the club’s full-back at the time.

‘Tank’ was a huge man. Not many got past ‘Tank’ on the edge of the square.

Unknown to the St Enda’s players, a booby-trap bomb had been fixed under its floorboards.

“The bomb was designed in such a way that if someone of lesser weight had sat down on the chair, the springs would have brought the two wires together, completing the circuit and we would have been blown to kingdom come,” recalls former St Enda’s chairman and local writer Liam Murphy.

“But ‘Tank’ being a big heavy fella, he just plonked down and broke the springs, and broke the circuit.”

Sitting facing ‘Tank’ was the late Dermot McCoy who noticed some wires and a battery under his team-mate’s seat.

McCoy, just a teenager, guided the players out of the hut and away to safety. An army bomb disposal unit was called out to the Hightown Road club.

Club chairman between 1979 to ’82, Murphy added: “There were 25 people in the hut at the time. If that bomb had gone off there wouldn’t have been a St Enda’s club today.”

Founded in 1956, its members acquired their first permanent pitch in 1973. Beside the pitch they built a wooden-framed building that was burnt down in the same year it was built.

In the same year a booby-trap bomb in a flask was discovered on the premises.

In 1974, as described above, the chicken house was booby-trapped.

In 1978, the club’s wooden goalposts were cut down. During that bloody decade of the ‘Troubles’, there were eight arson attacks on the club.

In 1981, 19-year-old footballer and St Enda’s club member Liam Canning was shot dead by an off-duty UDR soldier.

Read more: St Enda's, Glengormley progress to All-Ireland IFC final

In the same year, a permanent clubhouse was built. It became a thriving social hub.

A year later, the club added a members' lounge to the clubhouse.

In 1983, the two-year-old clubhouse was burnt to the ground. It was rebuilt within three months.

In 1986, it was burnt to the ground again. The ash was still warm when club members commenced work on another rebuild.

Further loyalist attacks followed to the point where the club was forced to brick up its windows, put on a steel roof and use fire retardant paint on beams and attach a security cage to its exit doors.

Before St Enda’s bid farewell to 1986, grenades were attached to the club gates.

In 1991, loyalist louts poured petrol through the letterbox of Colin Lundy’s house in the nearby Harmin estate. The St Enda’s clubman and his mother, Kathleen, were burnt to death.

In December 1992, a planned UFF gun attack on a packed clubhouse was aborted but a car leaving the premises was raked by gunfire.

The car was hit 13 times. Miraculously, there were no injuries.

Before the year was out, the clubhouse was burnt to the ground.

It was rebuilt and burnt down again in '93. Later that year, it was burnt down for the umpteenth time and rebuilt for the umpteenth time.

The club's mini-bus was also fire-bombed.

In October 1993, Sean Fox, club president and first Irish language teacher, was tortured to death in his own home. He was 72.

In 1995, a protestant neighbour alerted St Enda’s member Brian Curran to stay clear of the entrance as he'd witnessed loyalists fix a booby-trap bomb (contained in a coke can) to the gates.

In December 1997, leading club member Gerry Devlin was shot dead by a loyalist gunman as he was leaving the club.

In July 2001, young Gavin Brett was murdered in a drive-by shooting at the bottom of the club’s lane.

The killers didn’t know Gavin was protestant.

Gavin’s brother Philip, a DUP councillor, sends the club his best wishes before big games.

In July 2002, St Enda’s young midfielder Gerard Lawlor (18) was shot dead by loyalist killers on a moped as he made his way home on the Whitewell Road.

This list of attacks on the Glengormley club is by no means exhaustive.

In all, there were 13 arson attacks on the clubhouse and shattered glass was regularly strewn across their pitch.

Out of all these attacks, the police made no arrests.

In 2005, Nailscoil Éanna opened its doors on the club's grounds with just seven pupils.

Today, 211 children are taught in their native tongue at Nailscoil Éanna and Gaelscoil Éanna.

In 2012, they opened two new grass pitches.

The St Enda’s footballers will play in their first-ever All-Ireland Intermediate Football final at Croke Park against Kerry’s Kilcummin on Saturday February 9.

The club is running an All-Ireland final fundraiser curry night tomorrow evening at the club.

A curry and a bottle of beer will cost you £10. There’s a ‘Just Giving’ fundraising page.

You can ‘buy a brick’ (payment plans available on request) to help put the finishing touches to the splendid £1.8m Halla Éanna community hub, situated beside the Gerry Devlin pitch.

A round-the-world video, where an O’Neill’s ball will be kicked from St Enda’s to Abu Dhabi to Perth to Melbourne to London to New York to Moscow, will be launched.

Super Joe Maskey T-shirts are flying out of the shop.

The club is hosting ‘Up For The Match’ with Terence McNaughton, Joe Brolly and Paul Rouse, chaired by Mark Sidebottom, next Thursday night.

St Enda’s have over 800 members – the largest in Antrim - and compete in all codes.

Listen and you will hear the stomping feet of over 500 juvenile members.

This is Naomh Éanna in 2019. This is what defiance looks like.

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