'Bloody Sunday' an act of brutality
During the Anglo-Irish struggle and subsequent Civil War it was difficult to maintain hurling and football clubs and complete the championships. Despite the problems the County Hurling Championships with the exception of 1921 were all eventually completed. However, in football the situation was different with no senior championship finished in 1920 or 1921 and no junior between 1918 and 1923.
At the County Convention in 1920 delegates persuaded Stephen Jordan to remain as Secretary of the Board. He accepted the position giving twelve months notice of his intention to resign. One prominent member of the Board Larry Lardner was not present. Considered a danger to the safety of the Empire, he was removed to Wormwood Scrubbs Prison.
The events of November 21st 1920 have long been etched into the history books of the G.A.A. as 'Bloody Sunday'. During a challenge match between Dublin and Tipperary the Black and Tans entered Croke Park at the Canal End of the ground and started shooting. At first some of the players and six thousand spectators present thought they were firing blanks but the members of the Volunteer Movement present were fully aware that the bullets were the real thing. The Tans were firing indiscriminately at both players and spectators with the result that a stampede was created as men, women and children raced to the exits to get away. All around the ground the horror of what was actually happening was beginning to sink in as bodies of the dead as well as the injured lay all over the place.
The full extent of the atrocity was not known until the following morning when it was learned that thirteen people had died and a further one hundred had received serious injuries. Among the dead Tipperary's fullback Michael Hogan.
The Nation's response to this disgusting act of brutality was to strengthen and increase support for the Volunteer Movement involved in the struggle to attain independence.
GAA helps bring recocilliation following Civil War
The signing of the Treaty in December 1921 brought its own problems and within months the country was plunged into a civil war where people witnessed brother fight brother and friend fight friend. That sad chapter in Irish History ended formally on the 24th May, 1923 but before it did several true and great Irishmen were killed, among them Liam Mellows. He took the Anti-Treaty side and defended the Four Courts but was arrested and shot as a reprisal on 8th December 1922. Before his execution in a letter to his mother he wrote "I had hoped someday I might rest in some quiet spot, but if it is to be prison clay it is all the sweeter, for many of our best lie there."
Within twelve months of the ending of the conflict young men who had borne arms against one other were playing on the same teams and lost friendships were near restored. The debt the Country owes to the G.A.A, for this reconciliation can never be measured and certainly should never be forgotten.
Only the Chairman Tom Kenny and three Athenrymen Stephen Jordan, Larry Lardner and Jim Barrett attended a County Board meeting on the 6th. April 1923, The Chairman urged that something be done to get matches played and dates were fixed for games not played because of the disturbances.
Galway win first All-Ireland Hurling Final in 1923
Although the semi-finals had been played four months earlier neither Galway or Limerick showed any sign of staleness when they lined out for the 1923 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final played on December 14th. 1924. At halftime Limerick led by 3-3 to 2-0 and they defended vigorously at the start of the second half. However, Bernie Gibbs broke through for Galway to score a goal from close range and the Connacht side drew level when Dick Morrissey finished a free to the net. From then on Galway continued to pile on the pressure and goals by Leonard McGrath put them well ahead and clinched a historic victory by 7-3 to 5-4 and Galway's first All-Ireland title.
Due to a number of draws in the Connacht Football Championship the Connacht Council were asked to nominate a team to contest the All-Ireland semi-final. Mayo were nominated and went on to defeat Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final. In the other semi-final Kerry defeated Cavan who objected claiming Kerry had illegal players and Kerry counter objected claiming the same about Cavan. The Central Council disqualified both teams and it looked as if Mayo were All-Ireland Champions, but as they were only a nominated team it was decided that the All-Ireland titleholders would be the winners of the Connacht Championship.
All-Ireland Doubles Handball win for Athenry men
By neglecting handball in the early days the G.A.A. turned its back on the one game that would have completed the circle of activities. It had supreme team games in hurling and football but for the individual, to whom team games had little appeal, it offered nothing. The first handball championships sponsored by the G.A.A. were held in 1923 and the inaugural meeting of the Irish Amateur Handball Association was held in Croke Park on the 27th. January 1924. A year later the All-Ireland Championships began and it is in these championships that the history of handball and its players are truly recorded. It was not surprising that Athenry players were among the early contenders for All-Ireland honours. In 1924 Joe Whyte had defeated P. J. McDonagh who was senior softball champion of the U.S.A. and one of the games great players. In 1925 T. Behan and J. Norton from Urlingford, Co. Kilkenny won the first senior softball doubles championship. A year later Athenry`s Joe Whyte and Christy Barrett Snr.qualified for the final against the champions. In those days the championships were played on a home and away basis.
Before a huge crowd at Athenry, Whyte and Barrett, proved their true worth with an exhibition of handball at its best. The enthusiastic crowd cheered on their heroes who went ahead to lead at the end of the day by five games to one.
The eagerly awaited match to decide the winners of the 1926 All-Ireland Championship drew a record attendance to Urlingford for the second leg. Rev. Canon Farragher, P.P., led the huge Athenry contingent and there too were Club Secretary, Michael Barrett, Larry Lardner and Gerry Higgins. Everybody looked anxious, the Athenry pair needed to win two games to win the title-as Urlingford's Pat Sharkey introduced the players and in his remarks paid tribute to the sportsmanlike manner in which the Urlingford men were treated when they visited Athenry. Game One: The Athenrymen were several times in difficulty at the back wall, as they were not used to it. With the score 15-9 the Urlingford men went in and tossed the remaining aces to win.
Score: Athenry 5 games, Urlingford 2 games. Game two: It was evident that the strange alley was puzzling the visitors. Norton tossing several times left Whyte standing and when the ball was returned Beehan`s kills gave the Athenrymen no chance. However, they fought every ace and on at least five occasions tried with their feet and failed when they could easily have taken with their hands. Again they could only manage nine aces, the Kilkenny men winning.
Score: Athenry 5 games, Urlingford 3 games Game three: The Leinster pair needed to win two more games to level the scores as the excitement mounted. Athenry led 10-9 when Beehan tossed and took the score to 15-10 and then Norton went in and finished the game.
Score: Athenry 5 games, Urlingford 4 games Game four: Cheer followed counter cheer as all four players engaged in a fierce struggle that was worth travelling, even from Athenry, to see. They were even at 4 and 5 when the Westerners went in and took the lead 15-5. Urlingford took their score to 11 and now it was Athenrys chance. Barrett tossed but Norton`s 'kill' was hailed by a cheer that was still echoing when a loud and more excited roar shook the village. Norton had put the two out for 'love'. Excitement was now at fever pitch as the crowd cheered on their favourites. The Urlingford men made it 18-15 but back came Athenry to lead 19-18 and are out. The Leinster men toss but are out, the Connacht men make it 20-18 and have two hands. Barrett is out; Whyte tries and has no better luck. There isn't a sound as Beehan tosses; they lose the two hands without a score. Athenry are in again but fail to score, the tension is unbelievable in a perfect exhibition of handball, Urlingford are out without a score, this time to the relief of their supporters Athenry clinch the game.
Score: Athenry 6 games, Urgingford 4 games Game five: It was evens at 2, 4 and 6 and when the local men led 15-9 it looked as if the game was theirs. With a wonderful series of tosses Barrett brought the score to 15 all and Whyte made it 20-15 before the shattered champions got a chance but had no luck. It was all over. Amid tremendous jubilation in the Galway camp the Kilkenny pair were congratulating their conquerors. Score Athenry 7 games. Urlingford 4 games.
Christy Barrett and Joe Whyte were 1926 All-Ireland Senior Softball Doubles Champions. The modest heroes were given a marvellous reception when they returned to Athenry that night. It was a night of jubilation with young and old turning out to greet the first winners of All-Ireland medals from the Parish. Turf torches on forks lit up the town as the bus carrying the victors and supporters arrived home.
Decline in GAA activities but Derrydonnell win Junior Title
The early 20s were, as far as Athenry G.A.A. activities were concerned, a period of decline with several players opting to play with the local rugby club. In 1927 a hurling club was formed in Cussane where there was a long hurling tradition. The most famous person associated with the area was Sir William Carson whose mother was from Casle Ellen. As a boy, Carson spent his holidays at Castle Ellen, played hurling with the locals and tried in vain to introduce the game to the fields of Trinity College. He was well liked by anyone who knew him personally and it is said he often did favours for local people.
There was also a revival of camogie in Derrydonnell whose hurling club was still in existence if not very successful. However, in 1929 they defeated Castlegar by five points to one in the first round of the junior hurling championship and defeated Galway Commercials in their next game. After defeating Bohermore the West Board ordered a replay because the crowd invaded the pitch but Derrydonnell were again successful. The championship was not finished until 1931 and on the 12th. April at Oranmore Derrydonnell defeated Ballindereen in the County semi-final. Playing against the wind in the opening half the winners proved to be a clever combination and had a lead of two points at the interval. Ballindereen came back into contention at the start of the second half with a goal that gave them the lead. A goal and a point in quick succession for Derrydonnell put them in control and from then until the finish they had the better of the exchanges.
Team: Bill Broderick, Jack Kelly, Jack Mahon, Peter Mullins, Tommy Broderick, John Hynes, Con Broderick, Michael Costello, Pat Mahon, Mick Poniard, John Heneghan, Paddy Kelly, Peter Heneghan and Johnny Mullins.
The County Final against Cappataggle at Loughrea did not live up to expectations. Derrydonnell after leading by six points to five at halftime completely outclassed their opponents in the second half and won by 12 points. Jimmy Waldron was the inspiration of the winners forwards who scored almost at will and Peter Mullins was their Captain. Fourteen years old Paddy Dobbyn played in goal. Roughness marred a camogie game between Derrydonnell and Galway Westonians. The Derrydonnell side infused unnecessary vigour into the game in the second half resulting in a number of stoppages while members of the Galway team received attention. Derrydonnell went on to win by 4-0 to 3-0.
In a letter to the Connacht Tribune by an enthusiastic Gael the Camogie Board were asked to "reconsider the advisability of admitting to the league teams which have not yet realised that a match is not a free fight in which they are expected to destroy as many scalps as possible and which is to be won by all means fair or foul."
Paddy Perry of Roscommon at the start of a great handball career defeated Athenry`s Martin Walsh in the Connacht J.S.S. Final and partnered by T. Gaughran also defeated Frank Kilkelly and Jimmy Corley in the J.S.D. Final. Perry went onto win eight All-Ireland singles championships in a row and is also remembered as the player who won three Dublin senior championship medals on the same day in football, hurling and handball.