Parish dispute settled with formation of two clubs
For Athenry the season opened with a monster tournament on 4th March at Clarinbridge. They played the host club and although it was a splendid game neither side scored with the game ending in a draw. On Easter Monday the team again travelled to Athlone for games between clubs from Galway, Roscommon and Meath. Athenry played Killimor who were convincing winners after an excellent contest.
Fewer games were played during 1887 than in the previous year. One of the reasons was a heatwave during June and July when it was regarded as being too hot to play. In September the club accepted an invitation to play in a magnificently organised tournament at Gurteen. The home side defeated Athenry by one point. `On an occasion that any Irishman having the interest of his country at heart would have been proud of being present' wrote a local paper.
Over 30 clubs were represented at the County Convention in Athenry on 23rd October. Michael Connolly and John Lynskey represented Athenry with Patrick C. Kelly present as Chairman of the County Committee. Delegates passed a motion 'that no Branch of the Association be allowed compete in the championship unless each member belongs to the Parish.' The motion became a rule of the Association that has remained to the present day. Trouble at the National Congress in Thurles resulted in a split that would have smashed the Association were it not for the intervention of Dr. Croke. All rancour was removed and within six weeks the matter settled.
Patrick C. Kelly was one of the Galway delegation that attended a reconvened Congress on 4th January 1888.
The split in Athenry was also finally resolved in 1888 with the acceptance by the Central Branch of the affiliation of `Dr. Croke Football Club' and,'The Old Guard Hurling Club' from the Parish.
During the year the Club played several hurling games. On the 28th May they defeated Clostoken at Craughwell by 1 -1 to 0-1 but were unsuccessful against Oranmore at Oranmore. Athenry won the toss and started determined with Oranmore battling against the sun and incline not to mention the stubborn resistance of the Athenry .men. Despite their best efforts to keep the leather in their opponents half Oranmore succeeded in scoring a goal before halftime. In the second half Athenry continued to try hard but the 'Oran' men played well and won with the score 1-1 to 0-2.
Under the auspices of the G.A.A. horse races took place at Rahasane near Craughwell on the 23rd July with over 50 clubs taking part. The stewards were the leading G.A.A. personalities in the County, among them Patrick C. Kelly.
Strange game at Athenry on All-Saint's Day
On All-Saint's Day 1st. November a 'strange' game was played at Athenry. The town was astir early as the members of the Old Guard Hurling Club prepared to meet the clubs of the neighbouring parishes. Trains brought members of Oranmore and Castlegar Clubs as well as a large crowd from the Galway Temperance and Commercial Clubs. Other Clubs came by road namely Craughwell, Kiltullagh, Kilconnerion, Clarinbridge, Gurteen and Clostoken. The teams were divided into two parties, defenders and besiegers. A flag was placed on a rampart to be defended by the home side who were members of the defending party. Should the besiegers win the flag was theirs.
The game started at 12.30 p.m. with the Castlegar “skirmishers” leading the besiegers who maintained a strong attack. "But Loughnane and Nolan cleared their lines with the force equal to a 100-ton gun back to midfield where the ball remained for ten minutes. Then Dennis Greally broke the deadlock with a furious stroke and before the besiegers had time to react Michael Connolly sent the ball to Jack Clancy; he passed to Jim Burke who cleverly scored a goal. The game continued all day and when night closed and the rivals retired from the field the flag of the Old Guard Club was still on the ramparts proudly streaming."
The Hurling Club held their Annual General Meeting on the 9th November. It was well attended and after opening the meeting the Chairman asked the Secretary to read the minutes of the last meeting which were then signed. The treasurer Thomas Connolly presented his report, which showed debts of £2 and 10/6 on hands, adding that after the following Sunday there would be more than sufficient to pay off the debt.
In his address the Club Chairman Patrick C. Kelly referred to the tournament on November`s Day. The weather favoured them, and the game also ended in their favour but his greatest joy was the unity and good fellowship that existed among the young men of the Parish. John Lynskey then proposed that the Club should set up a library as the hurling season had ended. Kelly said it would be of great benefit as they could see in every letter coming from America that young men had no business out there unless they were educated.
Officers were elected as follows: Patrick C. Kelly (Captain), John Curran (Lieutenant) John Lynskey (Secretary), Thomas Connolly (Treasurer), Pat Williams, Pat (Roun) Farrell, Pat (Dubh) Farrell, John (Dog) Kelly, John Connolly, John (Fada) Clancy, (Committee).
On the previous day Kelly proposed at the County Convention that the County be divided into baronies with a member of the County Committee in each responsible for the control of games in his area. He was elected for the Barony of Athenry.
The Club competed in the County Senior Hurling Championship for the first time in 1889. Records of who they played are not available but they did not reach the semi-final stages. There are no records either of the Club playing in any tournaments during that year. However, hurling was being played all over the Parish but in rural districts, the scourge of emigration was destroying any chance they had of fielding reasonably strong teams. In Cussane hurling games between the locals were a common sight while Moyvilla, Coldwood and Derrydonnell had teams but were not yet affiliated.
Parnell Case splits the Association
In December Ireland was shocked by the announcement that Parnell was named as co respondent in divorce proceedings initiated by Capt. O'Shea against his wife Catherine. Many believed he was being blackmailed as had happened during the early 1880's when several attempts were made to discredit him in the eyes of the public. The most famous was an attempt to link his name with the Phoenix Park Assassinations. He was cleared in a famous court case but was less fortunate on this occasion.
The Athenry Hurlers failed to field for a tournament game at Craughwell in March 1890 and their game had to be postponed. Newcastle and Athenry teams played in a tournament at Gurteen on the 1st July. Newcastle arrived led by their Fife and Drum Band who played National airs throughout the day. Athenry with their new Captain Johnny Kelly first crossed hurleys with Kilconnell and the game ended in a draw. Next to play were Newcastle led by Thomas Jordan and Gurteen, and this game also ended in a draw. The only difficulty the organisers had was trying to control the 'black coat men" who were rather fond of coming inside the lines.
The hurlers were in action on the 17th August at Turloughmore and a week later at Athenry in a very successful tournament with six teams taking part. The first to play were the home side and Gurteen. Both teams started well but were soon convinced that victory would not be achieved except by overcoming stubborn resistance. The crowd looked on at the combat keenly watching the determination of each side to lick the other. Murphy of Gurteen hit the ball to Laffey who sent it further towards the goal where John Ward and Martin Treacy found themselves encountered by Thomas and Peter Kelly but still managed to score a point-the only score of the first half.
During the second period there was no lack of enthusiasm or skill in the play of either side. After about five minutes the home team got the ball near the Gurteen goal where Peter Nolan distinguished himself. He and team Captain Keane made a vigorous attempt to score and would have had not Treacy caught the keen eye of Keane. He darted in and drove the ball over the end line, the Athenry men claiming a point.
During a scrummage a blow of the ball rendered John Connolly, one of the cleverest hitters of the ball, unfit for active service with the game ending in a draw. The day passed off good-humouredly and nothing arose to spoil the harmony of a good day's sport.
The London Times on the 17th November 1890 published the result of the divorce case involving Parnell adjudging him guilty. The Home Rule Party split as a result in two factions, Parnellites and Anti-Parnellites. Like the Party the G.A.A. was one of the biggest casualties locally and at National level. The Galway County Committee supported Parnell but several clubs took the opposite side. However, a proposal was passed to send a deputation to Parnell to assure him of the support of the Gaels of Galway. The 'split' in the Association was evident at the Annual Congress with only seven Counties represented.
A decline in hurling in 1890 continued the following year. In one of the few games reported Athenry played Turloughmore in the Senior Hurling Championship on the 7th June at Athenry. The game was evenly contested with both teams trying hard for victory. The ball was kept in rapid motion throughout and the general opinion was that the able team from Athenry who so often showed so much gallantry and skill in the use of the hurley would win. That was changed, however, by the hardy youths from Turioughmore who were declared winners by 0-4 to 0-1.
The year saw the continued strengthening of Gaelic football in the County and on the 30th May, Newcastle defeated Fohenagh by 1-2 to nil at a tournament in Gurteen.
It was a year of intense political activity. On the 23rd May a meeting of South Galway supporters of Parnell was held in Athenry 'to take practical steps to promote the leadership of ParneIl'. Delegates were present from many National League and G.A.A. Clubs including Athenry. On September 27th Parnell made his last public appearance in Ireland at Creggs, suffering from flu. He returned to Brighton where he died on the 6th October. Over 500 people from Galway attended his funeral and amongst those from Athenry who attended were: Dennis McDonagh, Johnny Kelly, John Ryan, John Broderick, John F Broderick and M. J. Lardner.
With the death of Parnell, the new Association lost one of its strongest supporters, and many leading members of the G.A.A. in Clubs and at County level resigned. Clubs faded out, competitions and tournaments disappeared. In 1892 only 220 clubs affiliated where there had been a thousand a few years earlier.
There are no reports of games involving Athenry during 1892 and according to the records available the Club did not affiliate. With most of the leaders of the G.A.A. taking the Independent side (supporters of Parnell) many parishes divided and had two clubs, which in most cases resulted in none.
Whatever their problems the Athenry Club was represented at the County Convention on 20th January 1893. Again there are no records available of hurling activities during the year.
On the 27th October the Athenry Junior Footballers played their Loughrea counterparts at Athenry. The teams lined out at 1.30 p.m. and Loughrea won the toss. With the wind in their favour the visitors looked like they would win but a clever pass from Mike Gilligan to Frank Healy, who for a youth played a scientific game, resulted in a good goal for Athenry. During the second half the home team never let the leather rest in their half and when time was up they were two goals ahead. Tom Murphy was Captain of the Athenry team.
At the County Convention Johnny F. Kelly was elected Assistant County Secretary for 1894.
Hostile Relations between Athenry and Tuam
On March 10th Athenry played Tuam in football at Tuam. The visitors arrived in Tuam at 1 p.m. and after refreshments and the preliminaries the game started. Tuam assisted by a gale in the first half were vastly superior in all aspects of the game. The report on the game states that "Athenry were inexperienced and a 'new' football team' and continued 'throughout the match there was no infringement of a single rule that would entitle either team to a single free kick". The Tuam side won easily but Quinn, Kelly and team Captain Ryan was outstanding for Athenry.
A return game was played at Athenry on the 7th April. On the way to the game a wheel on one of the brakes carrying the Tuam team rolled off and it had to be abandoned. The players were taken on board another brake and immediately the spring bar on that brake broke. As a result they had to walk the remaining five miles to Athenry arriving footsore and hot.
This may be one of the reasons why the game turned out to be a rough and tumble affair that was discreditable to the Association. After twenty minutes with Tuam leading 1-4 to nil their Captain took the team off the field because of the dangerous play and the attitude of spectators who were menacingly hostile to the visitors. The Tuam Herald wrote 'The Athenry team had some very good players and it really was a pity that those of them who could not control their tempers were not governed by their Captain or umpire. Indeed the umpire only added fuel to the fire and persisted in raising successive groundless arguments and objections."
The Athenry club was clearly annoyed with the report and team Captain P. Ryan wrote to the editor in protest. The report he claimed "no way represents the game. Such bluff will not do when dealing with Athenrymen who are prepared to meet Tuam at any time or place they choose."
The Tuam Captain replied through the papers the next week duly accepting the challenge and suggesting to the Athenry Captain that they have a small wager on the outcome. Also asking them to include on the team the umpire of the previous game so that they may get the opportunity of mistaking him for the ball and kicking his shapeless carcass half way to Carlow.
Athenry's best players in the abandoned game were Ryan, O'Brien, Quinn and Kelly. After the match the Athenry Club hospitably entertained the Tuam team at the Athenry Hotel. A sumptuous dinner was served and they drank the toasts of each team after which they adjourned to the Club Rooms and had a singsong. The Athenry Club then procured two brakes to take the visitor's home.
For the next three years there are no reports of games involving Athenry teams in either hurling or football. Records for those years show that the club did not affiliate but Johnny Kelly represented them at County conventions.
The year 1898, the Centenary of 1798 rising, was a difficult year for the Association in the County. Having banned politics the previous year, the G.A.A. saw a request by the Centenary Committee for them to commemorate the event as divisive and the opening of old wounds. Yet some clubs backed the request and eventually the County Board did likewise. Special tournaments were organised throughout the County in honour of the event and the Board postponed the closing date for affiliation in order to give every opportunity to districts throughout the County to organise and establish clubs.
Athenry played in three hurling tournaments during the month of July, at Claregalway they played College Road winning by 4-1 to 3-2 and, as no team showed up to play Turloughmore, the Athenrymen took them on and won by 1-4 to 0-1.
On the 9th July over 4,000 people were present at a tournament organised by Turloughmore. In the second game Claregalway defeated Athenry by six points to three. The Tuam Herald wrote "Such Sports as the G.A.A. will remain fresh in the hearts of Irishmen until Ireland gains her freedom and remind one of the time when the Irishmen of '98 rose in rebellion."
Another tournament was brought to a successful conclusion at Athenry on 23rd July. "Played at Prospect outside the Eastern Gate of the old town and site on which the most disastrous battle for the Irish cause was fought. The Connaught Clans when marching to join the Munster Clans were attacked by De-Birmingham, the English Governor of Athenry. The Irish wore defeated with twelve of their Princes slain. The clans that assembled for the hurling tournament or Sunday came to meet in friendly battle although it is questionable if it was as hot between De Birmingham's troops and the Connaught Clans as it was during some of the hurling games," reported the Tuam Herald.
Six teams took part and the organising committee comprised of John Fallon, Michael Shaughnessy and Richard Murphy left nothing undone to make the tournament a success. After the usual formalities the game between Maree and Athenry commenced.
In a well contested first half both teams got equal scores-a goal and a point each. At the change of sides the home side played splendidly and assaulted the Maree goal several times. They would have scored but for the excellent goalkeeper on the Maree side. However, it was the Maree men who scored first and went on to win 3-2 to 2-1. Athenry did not have a full team, as it was a rule of the club to give preference to players who played in games for the club outside the Parish. Connaught played Munster in an inter-provincial hurling match at Athenry on 17th December losing by 3-14 to 1-3.