A number of leading Gaels in the County decided 1947 to establish a memorial to the memory of the late Tom Kenny. It was agreed that the memorial would be a stadium and the organising Committee requested the County Board to inspect venues in the County and recommend three as suitable. The Board selected Loughrea, Craughwell and Athenry. The Committee then met and unanimously agreed on Athenry as the site for the stadium. The 'Back Lawn' as it was known was sold to the Kenny Memorial Committee by the trustees for £500 in 1952. It was an ideal site for a G.A.A. stadium, situated beside one of the few ancient town walls that existed in Ireland or the Continent. The walls were built according to some historians from the spoils of the Battle of Athenry in 1316, while others claim King John built them in 1211.
Apart from the suitability of the field for the stadium, the town itself was an ideal centre with one of the most important railway junctions in the West of Ireland. It also had the ability to cater for large gatherings, and except on a few occasions for almost twenty years from 1902 all County Finals were played there. The Back Lawn was 'purchased' in trust as a public park for the people of the town. The trustees in an agreement with the G.A.A. in 1912 gave the Association the right to use the field on all Sundays and Church Holidays for sports and pastimes. This agreement was reached after a dispute arose when a tenant demanded a fee of £5 for the use of the venue for sports.
By 1932 all the trustees had died except one who was paying rates on the field for years, he had no option but to put it up for sale. The new owners had no agreement with the G.A.A. and attempted to stop games being played there. A meeting of Athenry G.A.A. Club was held on the 17th. October 1932 to discuss the Club's position and attitude towards the sale of the field. The meeting passed the following resolution 'That we, the Gaels of Athenry protest against the sale of the Back Lawn to any individual for the reason that it was purchased by a number of trustees as a public park for the use of the people of the town and the said trustees by agreement with the G.A.A. subjected the yearly tenancy to the condition that the G.A.A. have the right to use the Back Lawn for sports and pastimes on all Sundays and Church Holidays of the year.' The meeting appointed a Committee of J. J. Ruane (Chairman); Stephen Jordan (Secretary); Jim Barrett, Michael Walsh, Michael Kilkelly and John Cleary to oppose the sale. Acting on their behalf O'Dea's Solicitors of Eyre Square, Galway at the third attempt in the High Court succeeded in stopping the 'sale'. One of the conditions was that the trustee is paid all the rates he had paid over the years and they pay their own expenses and Court costs. As they had no funds, the solicitor, a brother of County Chairman Canon James O'Dea, paid all the High Courts costs. The Committee immediately began a fund raising campaign to raise the necessary funds but, because money was scarce, it took a number of years to pay the solicitor and rates.
In 1945 a Field Development Committee was started after the local Club made representations to the trustees. In a letter written by the Secretary, Frank Kilkelly the Club also asked them to meet a deputation to get some understanding regarding the Clubs use of the pitch. The new Committee included the trustees, representatives of Athenry, Newcastle, Cussane and Derrydonnell Clubs, the Agricultural Show Society and six co-opted members. Two years later the Kenny Memorial Committee was set up and among the events they organised was the Kenny Cup Senior Hurling Tournament. This competition became one of the most prestigious to win in the County. There were many exciting games and the first winners were Loughrea who defeated Ballinasloe 3-4 to 2-3 in May 1950 at Ballinasloe. J. J. Ruane presented the cup to Loughrea Captain Vincent McNamee and M. T. Monaghan, also a Loughrea man presented a set of medals on behalf of the 'Gaels of London'.
In October 1953 the Committee considered tenders for the development of the pitch and decided on the lowest received which was from Sheehy Brothers, limerick for £1,200. A special finance Committee was set up within the Parish to raise funds with fifty-six people attending a meeting called by that Committee. With liabilities amounting to £1,800 an application was made for a further loan of £1,000 to the bank to complete the work. The application was refused and the development had to be postponed until the following year. In February a house-to-house collection was made throughout the Parish and work resumed. On July 3rd 1953 the park was officially opened by the Chairman of the Connacht Council Mr. Don O'Rourke (Roscommon) and blessed by Fr. Delaney C.C. Speaking on the occasion the Connacht Chairman said the youth of the Parish should be proud of the stadium and thanked the people of Athenry for subscribing towards the development and the organising Committee which had worked so hard. There was a glamorous opening ceremony and among those present were surviving members of the 1923 All-Ireland winning team. Tom Flannery and Dick Morrissey and also Athenry De-Wetts Charlie Whyte, Mike Duffy, Patrick Kennedy and Stephen Jordan.
In 1958 the grounds were vested in the Association as a County ground in order to obtain as many grants as possible and to continue development work. The 'Kenny Committee' insisted that a clause be written into the deeds that the park should always be called Kenny Memorial Park. Old divisions and personality clashes between members of the Board and Committee may be the reason why development work ceased. At that time £10,000 a considerable amount of money had been raised and spent on the project by the committee. It was the view of many people that the grounds should not have been handed over to the County Board; the decision to do so at the time was taken in what the Committee believed to be in the best interest of the park and G.A.A.
Despite several unsuccessful attempts to unite the hurling clubs in the Parish, Fr. Kearney proposed in 1956 and it was agreed that the Athenry Hurling Club changes its name to St. Mary's GAA Club to accommodate players from all parts of the Parish. The situation remained unchanged with Cussane and Newcastle continuing to affiliate separately. It was a worthy aim at that time to have united teams representative of the whole Parish. Fr. Kearney remained convinced that there was no future for a divided Parish and that rancour on all sides would have to cease.
Three Athenry players Bobby Gardner, Billy and Tom Conway got permission to play senior hurling with Turloughmore in 1956 and helped that Parish win their first County senior championship title. Cussane reached the North Junior (B) Final but were defeated by Ahascragh 5-2 to 2-2.
A first class field assembled at Powerstown Park, Clonmel in March for the N.A.C.A. All-Ireland cross-country championships. It was an event of historic significance - the first such race to be held outside Dublin and the defeat of long reigning champions Tipperary. Galway carved their name into the annals of running that day when Willie Morris of Derrydonnell AC and a native of Newcastle led them through the tapes for a memorable triumph. The race was an unyielding struggle between Galway and the host County right from the start. Little separated them over the first few laps of the nine-mile course. Galway had a slight lead after three miles as Morris and Tommy Madden challenged Tipperary's Sean Haydan and Walter Scott for the lead. At the bell with one and a half miles to go the leaders really got down to business. Barefooted, over a rugged course, Morris proved his worth and romped home ten seconds in front of Hayden with Madden third. The lion-hearted Derrydonnell runner had won his second cross-country title, having won his first in 1953.
The 1956 Connacht Senior Championship opened with a landslide victory for Galway over Mayo on a 5-13 to 2-5 scoreline and they went on to defeat Roscommon at Tuam by 1-9 to 0-2. Sligo were again full of hope of a Connacht title having qualified for the final with a 3-5 to 0-10 defeat of Leitrim. But it was not to be, Galway having a facile 3-12 to 1-5 victory.
After their 0-8 to 0-6 defeat of Tyrone, Galway were back in the All-Ireland final to meet Munster champions Cork who had knocked out Kildare. This final marked the birth of the "terrible twins", Sean Purcell and Frank Stockwell, who were to form probably the greatest ever footballing partnership. Stockwell scored 2-5 from play – a record for a 60 minute final. The two goals from Stockwell helped Galway to a well deserved 2-13 to 3-7 victory. Glory for Galway, and particularly for Tuam Stars – as well as Purcell and Stockwell, the club also had the team captain, Jack Mangan. Mayo man Aidan Swords of Charlestown collected an All-Ireland medal that day, coming in to replace the injured Joe Young.
Galway All-Ireland Football Champions 1956
Front Row: (left to right) Liam Mannion, Aidan Swords, Billy O'Neill, Jack Mangan, Gerry Daly, Frank Stockwell, Jack Mahon, Jackie Coyle, Sean Keeley, Tom McHugh, Joe Looney. Back Row: Joe O'Neill, Joe Young, Cyril Kelly, Jack Kissane, Gerry Kirwan, Mick Greally, Mattie McDonagh, Tom 'Pook' Dillon, Frank Evers, Sean Purcell and Seamus Colleran.
Members of Derrydonnell Cycling Club at Eyre Square, Galway
St. Mary's College Connacht Senior Hurling Champions 1956
Front Row: (left to right) Enda Muldoon, Jimmy Conroy, Paul Flaherty, P. J. Callanan (Capt.), John Connolly, Colgan O'Dea, Leo Gardner, Aubrey Higgins. Back Row: (left to right) Jimmy Callinan, Vincent Healy, Michael Greally, Pat Coleman, Eamonn Burke, Joe Gillane, P. J. Gillespie and Martin Kelly.
Derrydonnell A.C. Team County and Connacht Champions 1955
Front Row: (left to right) Bernie Rohan, Eamonn Fitzpatrick, Middle Row, ( L to R.): Bernie Ruane, Willie Morris, Tommy Madden, Kevin Ryan, Back Row: (left to right) George Moran, John. J. Burke, Peter M. Conneely, Mick Molloy and Dick Walsh.
Captain Jack Mangan leads the Galway team in the parade before the All-Ireland Senior Football Final.