The Early Years

By the late JJ Trautt
According to the records, the Ardagh St. Patrick’s Gaelic Football Club was founded in 1889. The colours were green and gold and except for a couple of brief periods when the club ‘lapsed’, St. Patrick’s have been very prominent in Longford GAA affairs ever since. It is certain however that long before the GAA was founded in 1884, and the first set of rules written, that football of a type was played in the parish of Ardagh and Moydow. As a very small boy I clearly remember my father bringing me to O’Donnell’s shop in the village to listen in to broadcasts of big games. On these occasions the small shop would be packed to the roof, as the owner possessed the only radio in the district. No matter how interesting the radio game was, I was more interested in the wonderous tales of games played ‘long before their time’ and recounted by all present by such authorities as Paddy Skelly, Frank Farrell and Peter ‘Bishop’ Patridge, all of whom have gone to their eternal reward long since.

I used to listen in awe as the old-timers recalled fierce ‘battles’ between Ardagh and Edgeworthstown, in ‘their father’s time’, in the big ‘field’ at Lacken. It seemed that every able bodied man in the district competed in these games and victory went to the team that brought the ball farthest into the enemy territory when the day was done. It would seem that prior to the foundation of the GAA that football flourished in the district known as the ‘old road’, comprising mainly of the townlands of Lisiniskey, Oldtown, Ballinruddy, Keelogues and Drimroe. With the official formation of the club the centre of activity seems to have shifted to the Loughill area with the Baxter and Farrell families much to the fore. The first club chairman was Patrick Baxter of Grillagh, secretary was Charlie Baxter, Treasurer was Thomas Hanley and team captain was Thomas Keenan. The above list of officers are contained in an extract from the R.I.C Crimes Special Branch papers in the state Paper office in Dublin Castle for the year 1890. It further states the approximate number of members for the club was 30 and that none of the above named were suspected of IRB membership.

At the county convention held on the 15th October 1890, the Ardagh Club was represented by Patrick Baxter farmer of Grillagh and James Hosey farmer of Rabbitpark. The first official County Championship was held in 1890 and in the first round Ardagh defeated Newtowncashel by 0-2 to 0-0 at Keenagh. They were beaten later on in the competition by Rathcline in what the ‘Longford Leader’ briefly describes as a controversial game. The ‘Leader’ also mentions a game in 1889 at Ward’s field in Longford Town. It would appear that the field was near the present Ward’s Tcs., and rugby was also played there. Amongst the early players on the Ardagh team we find the names of Baxters, Halligans, Keenans, Peter Farrell, Cartrongarrow, Leaveys from the Ferefad area and the ‘old road’ represented by the Keenans (Keenas), ‘Seery’ Jones from Ballinruddy and the ‘Jowler’ Keegan. After the 1890 championship there is a gap in the records and while we know many tournament games took place the next county championship is listed as 1904. The early records do not credit St. Patrick’s with much success at County level but old Gaels tell me that there was always a good team in Ardagh.

In the first decade of the century many new players came into the club including a few from outside the parish. Pat Feehilly from Aughnasilla played with the club and was the proud owner of the first pair of football ever seen in the area. My maternal grandfather who was a neighbour of Pat told me that scores of people called to his house to see the ‘boots with horns’. The captain of the team at that period was James Farrell from Drumbawn and in after years he was generally known as the ‘captain’. Around the outbreak of World War I, Ardagh had put a very good team together and won their first County title in 1916. The following year they also reached the County final but were beaten by Granard by a single point.

After the Troubles

While the football of these early years must have been more robust than today there was generally a great spirit of comradeship between the teams. That sprightly Longford octogenarian, Jimmy Duignan from the Tallyho, and a great former Clonguish player, recalls playing his first match in Ardagh in 1917 in Trautt’s field. Prior to the game thay ate apples in the orchard adjacent to the field and afterwards both teams had ‘tea with bread and jam’. This was a common occurrence after games of that period. During the ‘troubles’ football took a back seat as many of the footballers were on the run and when teams re-organised in 1924-25 in the parish, many new faces were making their appearance, including Fr. Michael McLoughlin and Fr. Sean Manning who were students in St. Mel’s at the time.

Both these men later became County Board Chairmen in both Longford and Leitrim. Many of the ‘pre black and tan’ team were now retired and we find the names of Peter, Dan, Michael, Brian and Pat McLoughlin of Breany, John Leavy (Cross), Jack Ward (fatehr of ex-chairman of the Legan club), John Kelly, Paddy Reynolds, Jimmy Bannon and Bill and Paddy Keenan now appearing on team sheets. Transport to matches was generally by James O’Donnell’s lorry if the game was an away fixture and the centre of activity was based around the pitch of Stephen Kelly in Bottomy.

In 1929, Ardagh were beaten in the Junior Championship by Mostrim (Mostrim 3-2, Ardagh 1-4) and the ‘Leader’ report says Mostrim were flattered by their winning margin. Ardagh players who played well that day Keens, Bannon, McLoughlin and P. Dowler. The latter was transferred from Carrickboy at a County Board meeting on Tuesday 18th February. At a 7-a-side tournament in Granard in 1929, Ardagh won the medals beating a Granard panel of nine county players in the final. The Ardagh seven were: Pat Reynolds, John Kelly, Jim Bannon,Mel Bannon, J. Tiernan, Pat Keenan, Pat McLoughlin, Pat Farrell and Bill J Mannion.

The 1930s

During the 1930’s Ardagh St. Patrick’s were really a good team with the bulk of the teamcoming from three families; Bannons, McLaughlins and Keenans. The Junior Championshipwas won in 1930. Little is shown in the records of what teams were involved but one extract from the ‘Leader’ gives the score of an Ardagh v. Mostrim game as Ardagh 4-5 (17 pts) to Moistim 0-0, that was on Sunday 26th May 1930. P. Trautt , Ardagh was the game’s referee that day. It would appear from the records that the 1930 Junior Championship was not played until Sunday 21st March 1931 and that the contestants were Ardagh St. Patrick’s and Colmcille. The result of that game was a draw. The ‘Leader’ report reads “a feature of the game was the display of minors and ex-minors, Keenan, Farrell and McLoughlin for Ardagh, Murphy and J. Keenan for Colmcille”. The replay was fixed for the following Sunday at Edgeworthstown with J.Mannix as referee. Colmcille failed to field for the replay and final was awarded to Ardagh. Ardagh were beaten in the championship in 1933 by Killashee. Many followers of Gaelic football agree that 1932-1939 was the ‘golden age’ of club football in County Longford with Drumlish, Granard, Killashee, Ardagh and Longford Wanderers all fielding top class teams. Ardagh were building a good side and in 1934 they won the Junior title again defeating Dromard by a wide margin after two replays. In 1935 Ardagh won their way to the Senior Championship final but were beaten by Granard St. Mary’s. 1936 was a red letter year for the Club resulting in the Senior Championship being won with a scor of 1-5 to 0-5 over Drumlish at Pearse Park on Sunday August 30th. In the earlier rounds of the competition Ardagh won well from Mullinalaghta and defeated the three in a row holders, Ganard in the semi-final. Commenting on the final James Mannix wrote “4,000 spectators saw Ardagh St. Patrick’s take the title from Drumlish after a game that was fought out cleanly to the last whistle. Ardagh won deservedly but it was tough luck on Drumlish to be without Hanniffy, Breen and Kelliher. The Keenans, McLoughlins and Bannons played a big part in the Ardagh victory and one must be glad to see Jimmy Bannon, who must be regarded as a veteran, back in the ranks and playing splendidly”. Apart from the County final the Keenan brothers were members of the first All-Ireland winning Longford team with Bill captaning the side which beat London in the final at New Eltham. 1939 saw Ardagh once more in the County final and once again their opposition was Drumlish. The game itself was of short duration, ‘war’ breaking out on the field of play after fifteen minutes at which stage Ardagh were in the lead, when following a foul on Bill Keenan, a free-for-all ensued, which resulted in the Ardagh men leaving the field. Later the County Board declared the game ‘null & void’ but Drumlish were awarded the County final by the Leinster Council on appeal.

The 1940s

St. Patrick’s were back in Pearce Park in 1941 for the final but were well and truly beaten by Granard. Emigration and retirement began to take a toll on the great Ardagh team at the time. Some members of the Whiterock Slashers Club (who had also fallen on hard times) joined the ranks and the County title was won again in 1942. Writing in the ‘Leader’ Jim Mannix had this to say “Colmcille were completely outclassed by St. Patrick’s who won 5-7 to 1-1. Most credit must go to John Joe Morgan and next the Keenans and McLoughlin brothers and Joe Brady. Ardagh asserted their superiority with Jim McLoughlin and Michael Donohoe both getting their names on the core sheets on several occasions. At the interval Ardagh led by 2-3 to 0-1. After the interval Colmcille managed a goal by T. Mulligan while Ardagh had scores from Pat MacLoughlin (2-1) and Paddy Keenan (0-2). After this victory football fell to a low ebb in Ardagh and no teams were affiliated in’43-’45. However football was still played in the parish and a young lad by the name of Frank Regan from Lisiniskey and ‘yours truly’ organised a minor club in 1945 which reached the Minor Final of that year. Due to bad weather the final was not played until the spring of 1946 with Granard winning by the only score of the game 0-1 to nil scored by Vincent Tierney some minutes before the end of the game.
Ardagh St. Patrick’s were back in business in 1946, affiliating a junior team which included some of the ‘old timer’s like Bill, Paddy and sometimes Jimmy Keenan, also Johnny McLoughlin of the ’42 team. The late Stephen Kelly was Chairman and Frank Regan was secretary. Funds to put the team on the road were raised by producing and staging a two act play, ‘Auld Aquaintance’ at several venues most of which had absolutely no facilities whatsoever for that type of entertainment. However ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ and an Ardagh team competed in the Junior League and Championship in 1946. No trophies were won in those early years of the rebirth cycle but by 1949, under the chairmanship of Barney Halligan of Dromloher, Ardagh had put together a pretty useful team and qualified for the Junior Championship Final after a series of runaway victories over South Longford teams. Killoe were the opponents in the final, which was played on October 4th in Pearse Park, where about 2,000 people paid about sixpence a head for admission (at least that’s the theory of attendance put forward by the Secretary, the late Mick Donohue!). Included in the Ardagh fifteen was one Johnny Graham (a semi-professional soccer player who played with Shelbourne). He was engaged to work at Ardagh Convent at the time. The Ban was of course in force at the time so he played under an assumed name. Killoe won the game by one point however so the question of objecting did not arise. The Ardagh team on the day was; Paddy Mulvey (Carrickedmond), Barney Halligan, Bill Keenan, N. McCann, Pat Ryan, Jim Keenan (Moydow), Mick Reynolds, Tom Lenehan, Seamus Keegan, PM Trautt, F. Regan, Paddy Farrell (Moydow), Steve Keegan, Peter Kilduff, Johnny Graham (Dublin), subs were John Kilduff and Ted Ward.
Following the game, Ardagh lodged an objection on a technicality and were subsequently awarded the game. Challenges and counter challenges were given in the local press and continued up to the time when the two sides met in the first round of the Leader Cup, the following year. Ardagh won a rather convincingly which seemed to bury the incident. Perhaps we would not be telling the whole story is some not too sporting incidents were glossed over, such as a big row at a Junior League game at ardagh in 1950 between the locals and Edgeworthstown. James Warde, the referee, managed to finish the game which Ardagh easily won. An objection by Edgeworthstown failed to materialise and Ardagh went on to defeatDrumlish in the final on August 15th that year. The personnel of the Ardagh team changed somewhat over the next few years and in 1954 Ardagh found themselves in the Junior Championship final against the hot favourites, Granard. Ardagh produced the trump card by enticing Jimmy Keenan out of retirement to fill the full forward position, to quote the Longford Leader of the time… “Ardagh’s victory was in sight after they slammed in a couple of goals, one by Jimmy Trautt and one by Larry Gillen, in the 24th and 26th minute of the first half, leaving the men in ‘green and gold’ sitting pretty. The interval score was Ardagh 2-3 to Granard’s 0-2. The final score was closer than expected with Ardagh emerging victors by 2-5 to 1-5. The victorious team was; – John Kilduff, Tom Pat Ryan, Bill Keenan, J Cox, Tom Farrell, Tom Lenehan, PM Gillen, S. McKenna, Michael Farrell (Moor), F. Regan, P. Kilduff, L.Gillen, Steve Keegan, J. Keenan and Jimmy Trautt. So it was Senior Football once more for Ardagh St. Patrick’s and they made their mark felt straight away. Good wins over Ballymahon and Sean Connollys earned them a place in the Senior Football Final against Drumlish. After a good start the big occasion was to prove too much for a team that was evidently too young and inexperienced and Drumlish ran out easy winners in the end. The following Sunday the same teams met in Ardagh in the Leader Cup semi-final but with a few changes in personnel and position Ardagh sprang a big surprise by defeating the newly crowned champions. Vincent Bannon came into the team at full back with Bill Keenan moving to the forwards. The Leader Cup (Senior League) final took place a few weeks later at Colmcille where the latter were Ardagh’s opponents. The game was played on an atrocious pitch and a big crowdo f Ardagh supporters, who traveled on two buses and up to forty cars saw their favoutites score a 2-2 to 0-5 victory over the highly rated home team. James Mannix in the ‘Longford Leader’ describes that final in the following fashion ….. “The very big crowd of Ardagh supporters had the satisfaction of seeing their team defeat Colmcille and become the holders of the League Cup for the first time since 1941. The game, playedon a pitch totally unsuited for football was hard and exciting all the way through and produced flashes of really fine football. Tom Lenehan at centre half back had a good game and got good assistance from PM Gillen and Bill Keenan. Larry Gillen and Mike Farrell held their own at mid-field while in attack Peter Kilduff, who scored two goals was very dangerous, buthad to retire before half-time. J. McLoughlin and J Trautt were clever forwards. The team which lost the final and won the Leader Cup was taken from the following panel: J. Kilduff, F.Regan, Bill Keenan, Joe Cox, Vincent Ledwidth, Tom Lenehan, PM Gillen, M Farrell, TomFarrell, Joe McLoughlin, Larry Gillen, Jimmy Trautt, Seamus Keegan, Peter Kilduff, S.McKenna, Vincent Bannon, Michael Cox, D. McCauley, Jim Grehan. To cap a great year, Ardagh won the prestigious Abbeyshrule tournament beating Empor (Westmeath) in the final. After 1955 came what can only be classed as a lean period in so far as winning Championships or trophies was concerned, but the club took part in all competitions. Jack Dalton from Druming was Chairman from 1958 and around 1960 a much changed Ardagh team again began to make an impression. After a good run in the ’61 Championship, Ardagh scored a great success in 1962 by winning the Castelshanahan Cup, beating top senior teams on their way to the final. Ardagh defeated a very good Ballymore team in the final which was played on October 4th 1962 and refereed by the then County Longford Secretary, Matt Fox from Ballinalee. Around 1960, Ardagh got a new or should we say a permanent pitch. The Pitch was put at their disposal by Terry Whyte of Moyrath, a very generous man renowned for his patronage of all sport. The ‘60s brought a new emergence to GAA clubs in County Longford and Ardagh was no exception. With emigration down to a trickle more players were available for selection and the away players became a vital cog in the set up of most clubs. Ardagh now had a fair contingent of Dublin based players. The club was now better organised and the day of the‘stand-in’ player recruited from the sidelines and having no proper playing gear came thankfully to an end.

The 1970s

The 1970s saw an upturn in the fortunes of the club and the Minor team won the County Championship for the parish for the first time. 1970 saw Ardagh lose the Intermediate final to Rathcline. The turning point of that game was the injury to Mike Farrell. The following year, however Ardagh were a better team with Larry Gillen in their ranks once more and they went a step further this time beating Dromard in the final. So it was back to the Senior ranks once more for Ardagh and the very first game for them was against mighty Clonguish at Curry. A late point by Mick Hopkins gave Clonguish a draw on the day and indeed it was a draw they did not really deserve. The Tashinny ‘gold watch’ tournament was well contested and St. Patrick’s defeated St. Martin’s in the first round. The semi-final date was coincided with a Leinster Championship game at Croke Park featuring Longford. After the game all the Ardagh players assembled at the gates of Clonliffe College and it was a fast spin to Tashinny to take on Longford Slashers. Ardagh beat the fancied Slashers but more shocks were to come in the final. Clonguish were odds on favoutites for that game but once again they were tamed by the underdogs Ardagh. 1974 saw Ardagh reach the Senior Championship final for the first time in almost 20 years.The final was played against neighbouring Mostrim, but the day was not to be Ardagh’s. One of the most amazing points about that final was the number of interrelated players on both sides. The Ardagh team to do duty in that final was a as follows: Ml. Ward, S McGuire, PatManicle, Justin Yorke, Billie Keenan, JJ Orohoe, K Higgins, B Cummins, Ron Dowd, FHalligan, Andy Tynan, L Gillen and Pete Keenan. The great Offaly player Mick Ryan trained Ardagh that year, and most people think that it was inexperience cost Ardagh the final on that day. Mostrim took the honours with a score line of Mostrim 2-6, Ardagh 1-5. Although Ardagh continued to be a force in Senior ranks still championship success eluded them. But in 1977 Ardagh had a very good run in the All-Ireland sevens. But it was 1978 which was the year of glory for the club and the coveted Senior Championship was at last won. On the same day as that epic senior title match Ardagh were also contesting the Junior final against Longford Slashers, but sadly they had to be content with the runners-up tag for the Junior Final. So for the first time a St. Patrick’s team from Ardagh qualified for the Leinster Club Championship and proving their worth by beating the Westmeath Champions Ballymore at Ballymahon in the first round. Ardagh were drawn at home again at Ballymahon against Dublin Champions Erin Hopes and what a thriller of a game that was. Eugene McGee wrote the following week in the ‘Longford News’ .. “Ardagh came from four points down and in the dying minutes of the game they went ahead with a Ronnie Dowd point. But Hopes were equal to the occasion and they equalised almost on the stroke of time” The replay was held at Croke Park the following Sunday but alas this time the Dublin championsmade no mistake. The championship success of ’78 proved a great shot in the arm for the club and almost immediately the task of providing a Parish Park with a dressing room was undertaken. While no titles were won in the intervening years the club continued to operate in all grades of football with more and more players turning up for training. 1982 was another milestone in the club’s history when Ardagh St. Patrick’s reached no fewer than five county finals; Senior, Junior, Leader Cup, Junior League and Hughes Cup Final. Ardagh were hot favouritesto win the Senior Championship but they were deprived victory by Granard. Early goals by Granard proved decisive in this final but ingeneral Ardagh did not perform up to standard in this important game. Actually after achieving so much in reaching five finals the reward was poor compensation for the efforts, the only trophy captured in ’82 was the Junior League. It is I suppose, fitting tribute that to-day on the hundredth anniversary of the foundation ofthe GAA that Ardagh St. Patrick’s have at last attained the elusive dream of opening their own splendid grounds.