Sean MacCumhaill

Club History

Gaelic football in the Twin Towns can be traced back to 1916. A group of men decided to set up a GAA club and Ballybofey Eire Og’s was formed. There was always a keen and friendly rivalry between players of the Twin Towns and it was  hardly surprising that a second club, Stranorlar Sarsfields was formed soon after. Both teams competed in the Finn Valley League, a competition organised by the late Dennis Gallagher.

The two clubs continued their hectic rivalry for the next decade, until experience and pragmatism told, and it was decided to amalgamate the clubs. In Oct 1926 at a joint meeting of the two clubs, a new club was formed called Erin’s Hope. The “Hopes” had no permanent home ground until a pitch was located at Drumboe. Plans were still afoot to purchase a more locally situated pitch in Ballybofey.

In 1946, as part of “Civic Week”, a match was held between Donegal and Sligo. This was such a success that a Park committee was formed and our present grounds were finally secured.

On Sunday 1st May 1949, Sean Mac Cumhaill passed away in Donegal Hospital. Soon after it was decided to name  the  new Park as Sean mac Cumhaill Park, in memory of the man who had done so much for the GAA in the Twin Towns. Sunday Aprill 22nd saw Mac Cumhaill Park officially opened by the President of the GAA. A plague was unveiled and Erin’s Hope changed their name to Mac Cumhaills.

The first match played in Mac Cumhaill Park was between the Donegal and Kerry. Kerry wore their traditional colours whilst Donegal wore blue and white. (see below pictures)


Seán Mac Cumhaill and the origin of Gaelic Games in the Twin Towns

As we enter into the centenary anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916 we reflect back on those turbulent times for our country and are thankful for the role those involved would play in shaping our nation. This year is also the 60th Anniversary of the Seán Mac Cumhaills Club. However, Gaelic Games existed in the Twin Towns long before the 1950’s through various predecessor clubs.

Seán MacCumhaill was born to Daniel Mac Cumhaill a native of Derry and Mary Anne Sweeney from Stranorlar. His father was an engine driver at the Stranorlar Railway Station and from him he learned his native language and in his early years he went to St. Patrick’s Training College in Dublin and he graduated as a Primary Teacher.

While attending college Seán Mac Cumhaill attended a game of football between Dublin and Tipperary in Croke Park in November 1920.  The British Army and Police attacked the game after 15 minutes and killed 14 spectators and wounded 62 others. One of those who lost their lives was Tipperary player Michael Hogan. The Hogan Stand in Croke Park is named after him.

Many young men were lifted by the Police and Army for their political affiliations and one such man was Seán Mac Cumhaill who had taken the side of the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Civil War and was then confined in Drumboe Castle and later Co. Kildare. He escaped from prison and was on the run until the cease fire in 1923, around the same time that the execution of the Drumboe Martyrs took place.

In 1932 he gave an oration at Drumboe. There were a dozen bands there from all over the county. A roll of honour was read which included the Drumboe Martyrs among the list and Seán Mac Cumhaill began his oration by saying that the whole country would unite and move towards the goal for which these men gave their lives. He then read the Proclamation of 1916.

Arrested again in 1936 in Belfast with 12 others he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. He served his time wand was released in 1941. Shortly after he was arrested again and sent to an internment camp in the Curragh Barracks. Seán Mac Cumhaill went on hunger strike which lasted for 49 days while also contesting a general election. This had a devastating effect to his health. In 1942 Seán Mac Cumhaill was elected as the Chief of Staff of the IRA but was re-arrested in August of that year and sent back to Curragh until his release.

The book “Golden Memories – A History of Gaelic Games around the Twin Towns 1916-1966” by Joe Crawford and Dan Mac Cumhaill, established that our nation’s games started in 1916 in the Twin Towns. Set against a troubled political backdrop under British Occupation life was tough. One of the first games noted was between Ballybofey and Stranorlar teams on the 16th of August 1916.

Both towns formed clubs of their own: Eire Ogs from Ballybofey in 1916 and Stranorlar Sarsfields in 1917. Eire Ogs from Ballybofey were competing for their first County Championship against Ardara on the 8th of April 1923 in Glenties. Ardara won the game 3 points to 1 point and Pat Spillane thought today’s football was too defensive! Football died down a little after this and both Towns struggled to field teams.

Seán Mac Cumhaill suggested that they should amalgamate and form one team called “Erin’s Hope”. This was the name of the team that he played for while at St. Patricks College in Drumcondra. Ben Griffin, former club chairman, and Seán Mac Cumhaill made an offer to buy a field which was within the town limits and eventually succeeded.

Seán MacCumhaill also served as secretary of the Donegal County Board from 1946 until his death in 1949. He died suddenly on the 1st of May 1949 after battle with illness. Soon after that it was decided that the new ground would be known as Seán Mac Cumhaill Park and Erin’s Hope also renamed in his honour. On Sunday, 22 April 1956, Mac Cumhaill Park was officially opened by the President of the GAA, and a plaque to the memory of the late Seán MacCumhaill was unveiled at the main gate.

The crowds attending Mac Cumhaill’s funeral packed the streets of Stranorlar. After the funeral service, his tricolour draped coffin was borne through Stranorlar to the old graveyard. “Seán Mac Cumhaill was an extraordinary man” said Fr. Gallagher at the funeral, “he never once flinched from the ideals he had set for himself, he was an honest, God fearing Irishman.”