Tyrone GAA has made plenty of history this century, but the events of much earlier years have been collected in the final work by the county’s key chronicler.
Joseph Martin sadly passed away in August of this year, but he devoted his final months to working on ‘Memories’, which will be officially launched at the county convention in the Garvaghey Centre on Tuesday, December 12.
The fifth volume on Tyrone GAA by the Carrickmore man, ‘Memories’ delves deeper into the past, shining light into hidden corners and onto forgotten figures and moments.
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Joe’s son Ciaran and daughter Sinead, both of whom worked on completing the book, will attend the launch at 7.30pm on Tuesday, with the former commenting that he will feel both “proud and bitter-sweet.
“Dad wanted to bring to life the characters, the vivacity, the trials and tribulations of early Tyrone Gaels in a way that previous books weren’t able to bring out.
“He worked so hard on it in much more difficult circumstances given that he was ill. He was very proud of it and keen for it to come out in 2023, so it’s great that the County Board have done that.
“He was very interested in what other people would make of it. He will never know that – but we assured him that it would be well-received, so hopefully it will be. It’s a special moment for us as a family, absolutely.”
A native of Carrickmore with whom he won three senior football championships in the 1960s, Joe Martin was a graduate of the National University of Ireland, studying history under Father (later Cardinal) Tomás Ó Fiaich.
A distinguished educationalist, he taught history for 10 years before joining the Western Education and Library Board. He was Chief Executive of the Board from 1995 to 2004, and subsequently became Chairman of the South West College.
He began researching the history of Gaelic games in Tyrone in the late 1970s at the request of the County Board. He published the first edition of the critically acclaimed ‘The GAA in Tyrone’ series in 1984 to mark the GAA’s centenary.
As Joe himself put it way back in 1984, it was matter of regret that “it has not been possible to record the anecdotes recalled with joy or sorrow, the little incidents on the field of play or at the committee meeting which are the very stuff of history”.
Drawing on his own archive, including publications from more than a century ago, and notes of interviews carried out as far back as 1980, ‘Memories’ remedies that in style.
There are first-hand stories about the people trying to keep the Association alive during the crises of 1912-23, how giants like Mick Coney of Ardboe (who essentially saved the GAA in Tyrone in the 1920s) went about their work, camogie in the 30s, and much more.
Martin also fleshes out the cultural context of the GAA in Tyrone, with chapters on the GAA connections of well-known Tyrone people like Alice Milligan, the Protestant Omagh-born poet who was big into the Gaelic League.
Indeed Ciaran notes that “One of the pieces he most enjoyed doing in his later years, the last chapter of the book, is his paper on the GAA and the Gaelic League in Tyrone in the first decade of the 20th century.
“Dad was also much taken with Donal McAnallen’s work on Tyrone Gaels and the First World War and reproduces that with his permission.”
Combining culture and the GAA in one, ‘Memories’ includes a report of the 1956 Tyrone SFC Final written by the Omagh-born novelist Benedict Kiely in his time with the Irish Press, alongside an extract from his memoir.
There’s also insight to the county final from half a century before that, 1906, from one of the players involved, as Ciaran explained:
“Some of the research was done almost half a century ago, like the interview with [94-year-old] Tommy Tierney of Donaghmore in 1980. That gave its own challenges, going back and getting the notes, context, etc.
“There was new research too: when he was too ill to travel various members of his Carrickmore family were making trips around Tyrone to check facts with people who would know.”
Joe Martin was a fine writer himself and – perhaps with a nod to another famous son of Tyrone, ‘Flann O’Brien’ – there’s a chapter on ‘The GAA and the bicycle’.
Every page uncovers a few fascinating nuggets, including the Campbells of Coalisland bringing Gaelic games to Portstewart Strand, the Carrickmore connection with the commissioning and purchase of the Sam Maguire Cup, and poet Rose Kavanagh’s connection to Charles Kickham.
‘Memories’ is a wonderful book, one that should appeal not only to Tyrone Gaels but to anyone with an interest in Ireland’s history.
It’s well worth all the work that Joe Martin put in, as Ciaran recalls: “He’d had this idea for some time, but I was surprised, the pace he was able to work this year was quite phenomenal.
“Myself and other family members helped and we were anticipating a less full draft – but what we got was pretty much what you see… A phenomenal effort, so hopefully people will see it as a real achievement under very, very difficult circumstances.”
Ciaran Martin concluded with praise for the support of the Tyrone County Board over more than 40 years for all his dad’s GAA history talks and writings, “including under current chairman Martin Sludden - and people like Dominic McCaughey, who was Secretary for 35 years, Mark Conway, Gerry Bradley, have just been absolutely superb.
“We couldn’t have got this book to fruition without the resolute support of the County Board and those individuals. They have gone the extra mile at all times to show their respect and gratitude for dad’s work, we’re very grateful to them.
“He would be very pleased at the huge efforts made so that his final contribution to Tyrone GAA’s history will see the light of day.”