" They don’t make them like Dan Phelan any more"
You know how clubs love to stick chests out, and boast about their longevity, their place in the historical evolution of the GAA, and how one of their brethren was present at that ground-breaking meeting in Hayes Hotel back in the days. Mind you if all the people purporting to be at that meeting were actually there, one feels that Semple Stadium would not have been large enough to hold the crowd. On the other hand many clubs were removed a goodly distance in time, and origins from such remarkable days, and this column felt that we should celebrate the courage, and dedication of men who are still among us responsible for instituting a GAA club in our time, and are still available to tell the story.
Last month, sixty years ago, Dan Phelan (dialectically pronounced Whaylan in Windgap speak) led the movement that evolved into the Windgap GAA club being formed. In that pioneering task, he was joined by Seamus Horgan, Ned Fitzpatrick, Geoff Butler, Jimmy Butler, and Seamus Fleming. All but Dan Phelan and Seamus Fleming have passed to their Eternal reward. Dan lives in the only house on the right between Delaneys (Slate Quarries) and Maloneys, and even though he lost his lovely wife, Mary, some fourteen years ago from the dreaded cancer, the fervour for his own National game has diminished not a whit in all of that time. Into his eighth decade we felt that the acknowledgement of the contribution made by Dan Phelan and Seamus Fleming should be recorded publically, if for no other reason than they are still hale and hearty, and still able to read without any difficulty. Personally I often think that we do not acknowledge the contributions of our peers when they are still among us. The defining difference between the remaining Godfathers of Windgap GAA club is that Dan Phelan still carries the torch for the club he helped to construct, and he has never lost his devotion, and love for the little club from the hills which has defied the odds to continually punch above its weight.
What and how was the birth of Windgap created. What if any was there of any form of hurling action in the Parish? “There was a hurling club in Tullahought which competed at junior level. Known as St.Josephs, that team went into decline in the very early 50s. Seamus Horgan and myself were chatting outside Shea’s one day, and we felt that we needed to organise a hurling team in Windgap. I was courting my wife Mary Moore, who was living at the time at the Tullahought end of the Parish. After my chat with Seamus, Mary told me that night when we met that the lads in Tullahought were thinking of re-organising the now defunct hurling club”. “But it was not hurling that was the core element of Gaelic games being played around this area Dan? I prompted. "Not at all. Football was the game around here, not only in the Parish in Lamogue, but there were strong teams in Kilmaganny, Cotterstown, Coolagh, the Slate Quarries, Knocktopher, Glenmore, Piltown, Callan, and even across the border in Mullinahone. So you are correct in stating that hurling in this area was secondary to football”, he informed. Back to hurling matters! So who were the Tullahought men of a similar mind to yourself and Seamus? “Ned Fitzpatrick, Jimmy and Geoff Butler, and Pierce Barry were very central to the “hurling for Tullahought” idea. I was working for Watt Shea (Larry Shea’s father) at the time, and I would often be in and out of the Creamery (Seamus’s father was the Manager). I met with Seamus in the Creamery (euphemistically identified as the centre of local Government) and he asked me to organise a meeting with the Tullahought lads. We met in the lane alongside Shea’s pub on a cold February night. We didn’t get consensus that night, but we met again within the week, and there was no problem. We agreed that we should try to get a hurling team to represent the entire Parish up and running. A meeting was called subsequent to general approval, and the inaugural meeting of the Windgap club took place in a room of the Windgap card rooms. Mr.Horgan, and Tommy Brophy were the bosses of that building, and they facilitated us with the room”. This most amiable, and captivating of Windgap natives was now in full flow, with information, and observation. It was hard to stop him. But who would want to stop a subject as convivial, co-operative, and informed?
Not I dear reader, not I. Some thirty interested Windgappian hurling heroes turned up for that meeting. you satisfied with the numbers Dan? “Why wouldn’t we be? We felt elated at the time, because you have to understand that we were in a very rural area, where families were scarce, and numbers were small. The population of the entire Parish at the time was scarcely 600. We elected the first Committee. I was elected Chairman, while the Secretary/Treasurer was Seamus Horgan, with Ned Fitz as vice-Chairman. Ned was also voted in as captain”. That was a great night’s work Dan. Given the spread of the Parish, with two distinct centres- Windgap, and Tullahought- communication would have been a difficulty. Not too many had motor cars, and I’m sure nobody had a mobile phone or an I-pod? “Are you mad me man” he exploded with a laugh. “Motor cars? I’ll go even farther- not too many had bikes. But we managed, and the Creamery was a great place to get the news, or send out a message to lads”. Now Dan, ye had an organisation, with democratically elected Officers. There was no rancour, and an awful lot of goodwill. Did ye affiliate to the junior Championship that year, and if you did, where did ye get a field? “We had no money, so not only could we not go out and buy a field, we couldn’t afford to pay a rent for one. But to the undying credit of the Windgap people, there were plenty of very generous landowners, who bought into what we were trying to do. Paddy Walsh gave us the use of one of his fields which we used for a very long time. Dick Murray lent us a field too, as did Mikey Barry. And there was a man by the name of Brittain in Coolhill who came to our rescue often”. You had a team, probably a couple (literally) of sliothars. Most of your players would have a pair of boots, with a wide variety of socks. But you would obviously need a set of colours. For a club that had no financial reserves, and billeted in borrowed property, the procurement of a set of jerseys was more than problematic. A solution obviously was to be found. How did ye manage? “It was difficult for the first few years. We registered our colours as red and white, and an alternative colour of blue and white. There was a method in our planning in this regard really. Because we got much assistance from more established clubs on the peripheral of our Parish. For instance when the Carrick Davins were not playing they would never refuse us the loan of their red and white jerseys. Likewise with Kilmoganny football club, they also obliged with their blue and white jerseys. Those two clubs were extremely unselfish, and gave us any help that we needed and that they could muster”, said Dan Phelan. In the naming of the new club, was their general agreement that it should be called Windgap, or was that a sticky wicket for some? “There was not one dissenting voice heard when it was decided to call the club after the name of our Parish”, said the first Chairman. But your club could not survive on fresh air. At some stage early in your development, the dreaded lucre, or the need of it would present addressing. How did you all manage? “Mr. Horgan (what indomitable respect) was an agent for the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake – the Lotto of the time-, and he suggested that any ticket bought by a club member, or sold by a club member, he would pass on the sellers commission to the club”. What kind of money are we talking here Dan? “I think the tickets were selling for half a crown (12 cents), and he agreed that the commission of 1/3 (7 cents) would go to the club. In those times we would collect a couple of coppers (cents) from the players to buy a sliothar. They cost about two bob (10 cent). We might use two of them in the year; it was all we could afford. Everyone got their own hurl. Some would make their own. I often think now when I’m up in the field back to our time, and compare them to the present. Every young lad, and girl would have their own sliothar, and probably a few hurls. In our day, if we had more than two sliothars, we would have been considered well-off hurling snobs. I know it is expensive running clubs in the present climate, but God save us, we had nothing at all”. Did you have any other forms of fund-raising events Dan? “We started to run dances every so often in Shea’s Hall in the village, and they were immensely successful. We even became more entrepreneurial, when organising huge Ceilithe down in Ashgrove in Mooncoin, and they were even more lucrative. Then we progressed onto the Carnival Dancing Festivals, and the roads would be black with cars carrying people to the Windgap Carnival . So slowly but surely we got our little club up and noticed.” You obviously had a tremendous core of great volunteers to do all the things that were needed to be done? “God save us but there was terrific co-operation around the Parish. The idea of having our own GAA club, and all it entailed created a tremendous bond among our small Community. Without singling out anybody in particular, you couldn’t have better men with you than the likes of Jimmy Butler. He was an outstanding man. That man would leave his farm, where there was plenty to do on a Saturday after dinner, and come down and line the field. But he wasn’t alone in that regard. Our Secretary/Treasurer, Seamus Horgan, God Rest him was a brilliant administrator, making an enormous contribution in time, dedication, and monetary assistance when needed”, he said. I threw a curved ball towards the man, not wishing to embarrass, but just in the search of comment, and information. I mean he is advancing in his eighty years! Do you remember the first Championship match Windgap played? Please read on. I just could not believe what I was listening to. “We played a second-string Hugginstown/Carrickshock junior team on the Fair Green in Callan. We beat them handy enough. We faced Inistioge (no Rower) in the second round, and took care of them as well, but Kilmacow beat us in the third round. But we were well pleased with our initial experience of Championship hurling. We had come a long way in a short time”, he smiled as the memories came tumbling back. What about the players who togged out in that first historic meeting; can you remember some of the names? “We had Jimmy butler on the goal. Then Willie Fitz, Phil Cronin and Seamus Horgan on the fullback line”. My jaw was on its way to the floor! “We had Paddy Houlihan, Thomas Murphy and Pake Aylward stretched across the half backline. Meself Dan Phelan and Bertie Norris manned the centerfield area, and on the half forward line we had Ned Fitz leading the line with the two Butlers, Geoff and Tommy flanking him. In along then we had Eddie Houlihan, John Norris and Chris Comerford working along the full forward line”. What an amazing man! What an amazing memory for a man who will not see 81 years of age again. Truly astonishing. Was there huge rivalry as you lifted your game, your prowess, your standing among the clubs in the immediate surrounds? “Initially I suppose, we were not rated, but as time progressed, people started to take notice. We had a healthy rivalry with teams like Dunnamaggan, Piltown and Callan. There was skin and hair flying when we would meet Knocktopher. They would have the Heaslips, the Goreys and the Cummins lads from Floodhall. We had plenty of fiery tussles with the likes of Kilmacow too”. I don’t suppose that you could afford the luxury of a bus to take your teams to games? “Are you codding me. Bicycles were the most pronounced mode of transport. Others would walk. Pat Shea (Shop) had the only car around, and he would bring a share of the lads. A lad by the name of Pat Cahill (Kilmoganny) working in his bar who also had a car, and he would bust the car with as many bodies as would fit. The rest walked or biked it. On one occasion we travelled to a football match in Dunnamaggan where we played Thomastown. Many of us travelled in a dray horse and car. There were fifteen or sixteen on the dray. It took us about an hour to get there, and another hour to come home. It was a big pull up to Windgap from Dunnamaggan. Would you remember one of them yokes”, he asked. There were different times then Dan? “I always say that even though people had very little to live on, they were far happier. There was great nature in people, and everyone helped out everyone else. Nobody was going around with his hand out looking for payment. I mentioned Paddy Walsh earlier, and him giving us the field. Well I remember talking to him about the rent, and he often said that payment didn’t matter that much, but that if we had a few pound to spare at the end of the year, we could throw a few his way. But that was the way things were. People went to bed at night leaving the key in the door. There was nothing to worry about. Mikey Barry was the same. He gave us a field up there at the Cross of Lamogue. No demands then or ever”, he smiled. It is a matter of public record that Dan Phelan, Founder member, installed as the first Chairman, continued in the office for eleven years. He trained the senior team s in the good years-late 60s, early 70s. As their star declined a little Dan at the behest of Eddie Kelly, and in the company of Kieran Purcell, and Eamonn Cronin decided that a Juvenile concept be created, and in 1979 Windgap Club formed their first Juvenile club with Dan as Chairman (again), Eddie Kelly as Secretary and the four acting as selectors. Over to Dan! “We formulated the plan that we needed an underage element to our club if it was to survive. We won the under-14 League and Championship that year, and the Féile Group Final as well. That was a great start, and thankfully that idea has maintained its momentum, and even though we have all long gone from the scene, there are many more great people taking up the challenge in the Windgap cause. And do you know Barrie, the numbers of girls playing camogie is terrific, and one must compliment all of the people over the years who nurtured the youth of our Parish, because without them, there is no club. That is as true for little Windgap as it is for the biggest clubs in our County”. Dan brought back memories of great days when the club hurled in the Senior Championship. He recalled being beaten by the great Bennettsbridge in the Championship by a single point having led by eight with as many minutes remaining. He recalled a tremendous quarter-final joust with the Fenians of Johnstown too.
While people will always say Purcell, whenever the name of Windgap is mentioned, but there were others too? “Undoubtedly there were. There were great family hurling names here, who made enormous contributions to our club CV over the years”, said Dan. “One of the greatest men we ever had in the club was Tom Kenny. Thomas Meehan, Eamonn Meehan, and Joe O’Shea were equally great Windgap men. Men like those would never short-change you. What you saw is what you got. Their dedication to Windgap was unconditional. The family names keep on repeating since those times. We had Kennys, Meehans, Purcells, Jackmans, O’Sheas, Doyles, Cronins, Hawes, Walshes, Powers, Mackeys, Moores, and the importance of that was that their children came on after them to play for the club as well”. We spoke of Dan’s career as a highly-respected referee, a career which blossomed after his activities in his club faded. He told how referees received £4 for a junior game, and he also told of a time when the late great iconic Secretary of the South Board, Joe Walsh gave him £28 to officiate at a South Final at the last minute. He takes great pride in the fact that a Windgap man, Jimmy Walsh has risen to one of the most prestigious Offices in the County following in the shadows of such luminaries as Paddy Grace, Ted Carroll, and Ned Quinn. He spoke of his interest in Windgap Badminton, a club which won many National Titles, and how his children, Judith and Seamie were enormously involved. Would he have changed any of it, and re-wrote the script. With a moistening eye, and not too little emotion, he shook his head, and haltingly whispered “Not one second”
They don’t make them like Dan Phelan any more.