Tir na nÓg are half way through their Centenary celebrations. John Shannon gives a brief outline of the club’s history and how the year has gone so far.
From humble beginnings, having playing its first competitive match in August 1919 on reclaimed marshy ground, the Tír na nÓg Gaelic Athletic Club has remained true to its core values and grown from strength to strength.
The history of Gaelic games in Co Antrim and Randalstown’s Tír na nÓg club, in particular, have their origins in the Gaelic Revival which swept Ireland between the death of Parnell, and the Irish Revolution from 1916 onwards. The growth of the GAA in Ulster owed much to an infusion of key personnel from the South of Ireland, mainly of Post Office officials, inspectors and agricultural workers, often from strong hurling and football counties.
So too, in Randalstown when a young forestry worker, Maurice Bogue, arrived in 1912 to take charge of the forest in Shane’s Castle Estate for Lord O’Neill. Having obtained a few sticks and a sliotar he introduced the skills to several locals.
Early in 1919 a meeting was called to consider the formation of a hurling club. With the great revival of national spirit it was unanimously agreed to establish a club and to enter the County Championship. The club assumed the name Tír na nÓg and registered the familiar royal blue colours. Among that first committee elected was: Arthur Martin, Tommy Martin and Paddy McCann whose children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are still involved in the club today.
In Irish mythology Tír na nÓg (Land of the Young) is one of the names for the Celtic Otherworld. It is best known from the tale of Oisín and Niamh. Tír na nÓg is depicted as an island paradise and supernatural realm of everlasting youth, beauty, health, abundance and joy. Its inhabitants are described as the gods of pre-Christian Ireland, who engage in poetry, music and entertainment. The young from the lands around the Whitehill pitch have benefited from the vibrant spirit within the club.
Gaelic football and camogie were soon introduced in the club and within a few short years drama, Irish dancing and céilí evenings were the norm. Underage hurling was not omitted and it was as a direct result of the activities of the Tír na nÓg club that the first South-West Antrim Schools Hurling League was formed in 1924. The six teams that contested the league were Creggan, Farinflough, Magheralane, Randalstown, Moneynick and Carlane. In the 1920s and early 30s an annual picnic was held in the hurley field, jam sandwiches and tea being the order of the day.
The social contribution of Tír na nÓg during the 20s and 30s must not be underestimated.
Often we look upon the first half of the twentieth century as black, white or grey years before moving into the era of colour and technicolour as the new millennium approached. Yet on reflecting back on the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s that perception of drabness cannot be applied to the mindset, outlook and general personality of the people involved in Tír na nÓg at that time. Their passion, humour, enthusiasm, ambition and almost zealot-like approach ensured that from humble beginnings by a Cork man in a marshy field off the Craigstown Road a strong and vibrant club had emerged.
Success in competition has been achieved over the centenary with hurling, football, camogie and Scor honours having been obtained at Antrim and Ulster Level with All Ireland achievement emanating from the Scor na nÓg competition. The spirit within the club has ensured a constant programme of growth and development both in the facilities and the inclusivity of the local community.
Thus with an energy that has prevailed for one hundred years Tír na nÓg GAC has emerged as one of the eminent clubs in the country. Today, at its home on the Barnish Road, there are two excellent pitches, a training pitch, an indoor 4G pitch, gymnasium, hurling wall, a suite of changing facilities, meeting rooms and a function room. The facilities, some of which have received grant assistance from Sport NI, DARD, Antrim Borough Council and the Gaelic Athletic Association are for all the community with schools and other sporting organisations availing of them. There have been a number of shared events with hockey and rugby clubs and in 2003 Tír na nÓg hosted the Special Olympians from Connecticut USA for a display of gaelic games and other local sports.
The club fields teams from Primary 1 through to adult level in camogie, hurling and gaelic football for both male and female. There is an emphasis of personal health and Tír na nÓg has associated itself with with CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) – the club organised for a heart screening clinic to be set up and two hundred young people were screened in 2017 and a further 200 in 2018. Since its inception one hundred years ago Tír na nÓg has produced many fine sportswomen and sportsmen, many of whom have represented proudly the club but have also played for Antrim, Ulster and Ireland in all codes of hurling camogie and gaelic football.
The club has a thriving cultural aspect participating in Scor and drama while offering Irish language, dance and music classess. The social events continue to appeal and while the picnics and jam sandwiches may have gone they have been replaced an every expanding eclectic mix including Cúl Camp; Children’s Summer Scheme; Hunt for the Hunk; Balloon Race; Hypnotist; The Biggest Loser; Dancing with the Stars; Primary School Discos; Barbeques; Concerts; and Guest Teas to name but a few.
The club has thrived because of its people and their commitment to fundraise, train teams, referee matches, transport juvenile teams, build facilities and organise events. This commitment gelled the Tír na nÓg family into what it is today and aspires to become in the years to come.
To celebrate their one hundredth year anniversary the Tír na nÓg club have arranged a number of events which loosely follow four ancient Irish Festival times. The themed festivals are:-
Imbolg:- This was held in February and was the opening week of the centenary. It was based around St Brigids Day and had traditional crafts(basket making, rush cross making, turf cutting; eel fishing; hurling stick making; etc) and Irish language lessons
Bealtaine:-A Gala Dinner was held in June attended by over five hundred and fifty guests.
Lúnasa:- To be held in August this will be a weekend of music, outdoor nights, children fun day and other events.
Samhain:- Halloween shall bring the year of celebration to a close with a night for members to relax and reflect on the year that has been.
Interspersed throughout the year will be a focus on the teams, the games, bespoke club products and ground improvements.
The club has a museum installation for the year, displaying club and GAA memorabilia alongside members memories and highlights of their Tír na nÓg .
One of the highlights of the forthcoming Feile weekend will be the burial of a time capsule. set to be opened again in 25 years, the capsule has been filled with pictures, children’s art and other artefacts of interest.