40 years of Bredagh Memories, by Matt Fitzpatrick, November 2011

It is hard to believe that four decades have passed since a group of Gaels gathered in the Conference room of St Bernadette’s Church and decided to establish a GAA club in South Belfast. On that October night in 1971 I remember well the men whose vision, foresight, determination and dedication set the ball rolling.  They were history makers.  They did not have a home, they did not have any knowledge of how to set up, start or run a GAA club. But what they did have was determination that it would happen and their efforts and foresight are there now for all to enjoy and see for themselves.

The nearest club was Ballyhackamore ,which went out of existence later that year after the goalposts on their ground outside Dundondald had been cut down several times.  Carryduff had not yet been established.  So there was a real void and above all a real need for a GAA club to be formed in the South Belfast area.

At the time I was secretary of Ballyhackamore club and also the East Down GAA Board Secretary. Several times I had been approached by the late Frank McMullan RIP, the late Eamon Gilmore RIP( a former neighbour of mine) and several other Gaelic minded people in the area about starting a club. They said they wished to play in Down and wanted to know the details about starting a club. I advised them to apply to the Down County Board. Consequently as secretary of East Down and as the club would be in their area I was detailed to meet the members that evening in St Bernadette’s.  As well as Frank and Eamon (a former Dromara player) there were Seamus Sammon, a brilliant administrator from Armagh and Fermanagh. All Ireland JFC winner James O’Keefe, Matt Morgan, Father Matt Wallace, Tony Bradley, Paul Hillen, Des Maguire, John Nugent, George Mc Crory, Jim Boyle, Patrick J Gribben, Michael Wilson (see separate article) as well as several other Gaelic minded people whom I fail to recall….the memory is getting shaky after 40 years.

I advised them on how to form a club, what was required, what applications were to be made, how to actually run a club and above all how to encourage participation by both GAA minded and non GAA people in the South Belfast area.

Firstly they had to decide a name for the club.  After discussion Bredagh was agreed, being the old Irish name for the area.  So there and then the Bredagh GAA Club was born.

After all the paper work was completed the club had to register club colours... again much discussion took place. Galway were the big guns at that time and eventually the maroon of the Tribesmen was proposed by the first Treasurer, Patrick J Gribben and so the Bredagh club was now up and running.
The club duly applied to East Down and was accepted and took part in the East Down JFL winning the title in their first year. They also reached, but lost, the all County JFC final. However in later years the JFC crown would eventually come to Bredagh, as well as various East Down and All County League titles.

A pitch was obtained from the Sisters of Mercy on the Ravenhill Road. This was developed, club rooms completed including committee rooms and it looked like Bredagh had a home of their own. But in 1998 the ground was sold and Bredagh GAC was left without a home. For many years the playing fields at Cherryvale were used and, despite the lack of facilities, the club expanded.. Now Bredagh has the largest number of members in County Down and on a Saturday or Sunday morning as many as 300 children can be seen in Cherryvale being coached in football, camógie and hurling.

I would particularly like to highlight the contribution from the Bredagh Ladies team who were the first team from the club to claim a Senior championship in 2002. Two years earlier there were six representatives on the Down team, including Captain Jacqui Clarke, which won the All Ireland Junior Football Championship. I remember in Gaelic Park New York the display given by Cathy Gallagher who overpowered the strong New York defence to set up attack after attack as well as taking several Scóres.

Bredagh has produced some excellent players who have worn the red and black of Down with distinction. I was Down Minor County team manager from 1970 to 1975 and in that time two Bredagh players came through to the Senior team. As Minors,John Wright and Damien Watson were magnificent.  I remember after Cavan beat us in the 1974 Ulster final (incidentally Cavan’s last Minor win before this year) Dan Rooney one of the Down Senior county selectors came to me and said ‘where did you find that left half back?’ He was referring to Damien Watson who had an outstanding game and as everyone knows Damien went forward to captain the county Senior team with distinction and win a NFL medal with Down. John Wright too made the Senior county team as a corner back but work commitments saw him being unable to continue to travel to training. Since then Bill Gardner and Tommy White have also played Senior football with Down.

While memories of those forty years are at times hard to recall it is the hilarious moments that still remain. I remember a hurling game at the Nazareth pitch in which Bredagh were playing Drumaness.  A well known referee (who shall remain nameless) was in charge.  His knowledge of the hurling rules was, to say the least, very much lacking. Terry McAuley, the brilliant club football ‘keeper, was playing full forward on the Bredagh hurling side. Every time Bredagh Scóred the Drumaness keeper pucked the ball out from the 20 metre line. Terry quite rightly reminded the referee that the ball should be pucked out from the small square. The referee ignored Terry’s advice and let the keeper carry on. Then, after another Bredagh Scóre, as the keeper dribbled the ball out to the 20 metre line Terry flicked it back into the goal area and told him to puck it out from there. The referee sent Terry off. At the subsequent hearing I was present and related what happened and Terry’s dismissal was overturned.

So there they are, my memories of Bredagh GAC; a club apart whose contribution to the GAA during the past forty years has been remarkable.

To those in charge now I say you have a great tradition to uphold.  Keep it going and here’s to the next forty years.