LOUGHINISLAND are bidding to bring all the GAA clubs in Ireland together as part of an ambitious new fundraising drive with a dual purpose.
The unique mission, called the ‘All-Ireland Field of Flags Challenge’, is to display the flag of every club in Loughinisland’s new development field as part of a major improvement of facilities across the board.
As a result, the club has launched the biggest fundraising event in its history, with a £30,000 prize draw, featuring a top prize of £25,000.
The draw will also support little Leo Moley, the two-year-old Loughinisland lad diagnosed with KAT-6a, a rare neuro-degenerative condition requiring life-long surgeries and therapies.
Leo is the son of senior ladies captain Laura, grandson of Loughinisland and Down legend Brendan Mason and the nephew of current county star Rory Mason, with every ticket purchased also helping him on his journey.
“Leo is such a gorgeous child,” said club chairperson Louise Kearney.
“They’re such an amazing family, they’ve always been so good to our club and the wider GAA community. Leo has become a celebrity in his own right, and we want to do what we can for him, because its club and community all the time.
“He is a major part of our community, and everything we do is with Leo in our hearts.”
That’s why Loughinisland have decided to cast the net so wide.
With over 2,200 clubs, the flag challenge is a colossal undertaking, and the brainchild of Clodagh Morgan, whose three children all play underage football at Loughinisland.
“We had originally decided to do a prize draw, but it was always in the back of my mind that it would be great if we could do some kind of a challenge,” she said.
“The help and support we got from other GAA clubs was immense, the likes of Madden – we were on the phone with Patrick Grimley a few weeks before he died, he was so helpful, and other club members were sharing with us what they had done, what the next step should be for us.
“It just got me thinking that while we all compete with each other on the pitch, outside of it people within the GAA really do support each other - they want the best for each other.
“Everybody has that pride in their flag, and we're excited at the prospect of connecting with every club in Ireland and bringing a piece of their history into our field.”
Clubs, or a group of members on behalf of a club, are invited to purchase a ticket from the prize draw and share their club colours so a flag can be created. As a token of appreciation, clubs who purchase a book of tickets will be entered into an exclusive clubs draw, where clubs can win an additional £1,000.
A £100 ticket offers nine chances to win, and entry into the clubs draw, a £40 ticket offers three chances to win, while £20 brings one shot at landing the big one.
Loughinisland hope it can open the door to a brighter future, enhancing their Teconnaught Road home with a second pitch and other facilities that will be of use to the entire community.
“It’s certainly an interesting challenge we have set ourselves,” laughs Louise Kearney.
“Our facilities are so important to the community – so many of our families are stepped in the tradition and history of the club. As Loughinisland has grown, there are so many new families coming in, and we haven’t been able to keep the facilities up to standard. They’re behind what people in 2023 expect.
“Fifty years ago, the location was ideal and the facilities were great, but we were land-locked, so we’ve been searching for ways to develop and looked at so many options multiple times, with nothing really feasible.
“Then when this new piece of land appeared, all of a sudden there was a burst of hope and energy that we can push forward.”
And Loughinisland have engaged with other clubs in the meantime to examine how best to turn this dream into a reality.
“We have looked at and learned from other clubs, with the hope then of developing our vision,” she added.
“Whenever we were looking at tickets sales during our original challenge, everybody was saying ‘I know somebody somewhere, from this club or that club’ – everybody has such a network through the GAA, and that’s something we hope to tap into.
“We’re all very much about our club identities, but we are also part of that bigger GAA family. A field of flags is a symbol of hope and connectedness, and celebrating what the GAA is truly about.
“We all know community life and wellbeing are connected, so having a walking trail, a 4G, a play park means we aren’t just about football, that we can include everybody in the parish.
“We want it to be a proper community hub for everybody. That’s the drive – to provide the best football facilities, but so much more than that for the generations ahead.”
Any clubs interested in purchasing a flag can email Loughinisland GAC at firstname.lastname@example.org