31 March 2005 Edition
Huge crowds support Loughmacrory Easter events
There was an air of nostalgia and high emotion in Loughmacrory on Saturday as two teams from the 1980s played a challenge match in tribute to Gerard and Martin Harte. The game was part of the Céad Bliain programme of events to mark the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Sinn Féin.
Representatives of the 1980 Loughmacrory side who won the Tyrone Junior Championship challenged the 1982 Juvenile side, who won the Tyrone County Championship of that year. Gerard played with the 1980 side, while his brother Martin was a pivotal figure and mid fielder with the 1982 team.
The event got underway at Pairc an Locha with an introduction by Loughmacrory club chairman, Paddy O Brien, who was also a player on the 1980 side. Eamonn Mullin from Errigal Ciaran who refereed the original match against Brockagh again donned the black outfit for Saturday's game. The throw in was by West Tyrone MP, Pat Doherty, who came along to support the occasion, which was attended by over four hundred spectators.
The game itself was played with great passion and determination with many men who had not kicked a football for years coming out of retirement and putting on a display that would make younger players envious.
Seán Donaghy and Pat Kelly in midfield put on star performances, scoring some excellent points. Mickey McCullagh ran up a score tally of a goal and six points for the 1982 side, while Hughie Meenagh scored a goal in the first half and Paddy O'Brien scored a goal from a penalty in the second half. A goal from Frank Connolly and scores from Kevin McElduff kept the sides in competition.
However, in the last ten minutes the juvenile side began to edge ahead to give them victory with a margin of three points.
Following the game, players and supporters convened in Loughmacrory Community centre for refreshments and presentations. The atmosphere was relaxed and nostalgic as players who had not met in years reminisced about past challenges and shared fond memories of Gerard and Martin, who were so central to all their endeavours.
Especially commissioned certificates, personally signed by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams to mark the occasion, were presented to each player by Gerard and Martin's mother, Winnie, who was accompanied by Pat Doherty. John O'Brien chaired this part of the day and in a remarkable display of memory and with great humour, recounted the contribution of each player both in the day's game and in the original conquests.
The proceedings concluded with an address by Pat Doherty MP. He said he was proud to stand alongside the Harte and Mullin families. Pat reminded the crowd that Gerard and Martin and their comrade Brian Mullin were respected members of their community and held in high esteem, as evidenced by the hundreds who turned out for the game.
On Easter Sunday, republicans attended the graveside commemoration of Gerard and Martin. In one of the largest turnouts in recent years, a crowd of over 350 listened to Ardoyne republican Martin Meehan deliver the main oration.
Meehan conveyed his pride in being asked to attend the commemoration and said that he had met many Tyrone republicans while he was imprisoned in Long Kesh and admired their integrity and resoluteness, especially in the face of adversity.
This tribute match was the third event in the Omagh Comhairle Ceantair Sinn Féin Céad Bliain calendar. Further initiatives for the coming months include a display of the Céad Bliain National Exhibition in the gallery above Omagh tourist information office from Monday 4 April until Saturday 9 April. On Friday 15 April the Tyrone Pikemen will march to the Mass rock in Altamuskin glen to hold a vigil in memory of the 1981 Hunger Strikers. On Saturday 23 April, the Patsy Kelly Sinn Féin Cumann will host a discussion on the hunger strike in the Old School, Dromore. Relatives of the strikers and comrades who shared the Blocks with them will attend to share their experiences of this turbulent and influential period of Irish history. This event will be preceded by a Pikemen procession to the Bobby Sands memorial in the town, followed by an Irish night.