Officers of the Offaly Association in Dublin.
THEY have a lot more strings to their bow and do a lot more work than promote and support football and hurling but the GAA remains very much at the essence of the Offaly Association in Dublin.
One of the longest established and most successful of the many county associations in Dublin, the Offaly group have been a central part of life for exiles in the capital for several generations.
Set up originally as the Offalymen's Association in Dublin in 1957, they soon became the Offaly Association as the realisation quickly dawned that females were necessary to ensure its success. They have been a major help to Offaly people who have moved to Dublin – those who moved there permanently after taking up employment and those who worked there for a few years before returning home or moving elsewhere.
They have helped people get settled in Dublin. Initially, they provided an opportunity for exiles to remain in contact with people from home, to help establish themselves as they tried to establish themselves in a new city. They helped people get employment, accommodation. They have provided welfare assistance to people down on their luck or in a time of crisis. They have been a huge positive piece of life for Offaly people in the capital.
From the start, the Offaly Association organised social functions – big dances in front of big bands, card nights, variety and drama shows, talent contests and much more.
They have all been an important part of the Offaly Association in Dublin but the GAA is at its core. Organising functions for Offaly teams at big games in Dublin became one of their primary early functions. They organised the functions and banquets for senior teams on the night of big football games in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and hurling in the 1980s. The seeds of the Association had initially been sown in 1954 when a group of Offaly people got together to organise a function for the senior football team who were competing in the Leinster final, where they lost to Meath.
They played a pivotal role in the celebrations of some of Offaly's biggest successes – the 1960 Leinster senior football final, the 1961 All-Ireland senior football final, the All-Ireland football wins in 1971, 1972 and 1982; the All-Ireland senior hurling triumphs in 1981 and 1985. These were racuous, wild affairs – hundreds of people cramming into famous Dublin hotels such as the Gresham, bar staff worked to the bone, security staff on alert, the sober people taking it all in, the more drink influenced letting it all go. Truly special nights that can never be replicated, especially the firsts in 1971 and 1981.
The Association members express pride at the sporting success of individuals and teams in other spheres. They might even offer tangible support to some but they make no apologies for favouring the GAA above all else.
They ran a very successful Offaly Day for decades from 1973 until a few years ago. Generally held at Islandbridge with a social afterwards in the adjacent Garda Boat Club, the highlight of this day was the 7-a-side football and hurling competitions – events that attracted most of Offaly's greatest footballers as hurlers over the years as well as nationally famous figures from other counties.
When it was suggested in the late 1970s that the Association broaden its wings and put together rugby and soccer teams, the opposition was quite virulent and committee members insisted that it was against the “ethos of the association and the rules of its constitution”. The suggestion was never made again.
One of their big successes has been the presentation of an annual Offaly person of the year award. Instigated in 1988, some of Offaly's best known political, cultural, sporting and social figures have been honoured and it is one of the county's most cherished awards.
Life has changed for the Offaly Association in Dublin in recent years. A hardcore of people who moved up in the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s remain active and there has been a welcome influx of new members in recent years with new blood taking the helm. However, the need for a County Association is not as poignant as in the past – many new people working in Dublin commute from home or other areas. Buying a house in Dublin is beyond the reach of all but the bigger earners. Even those that do make the jump don't necessarily go looking for the county Association – communication and an ability to get around is much different now than back in the 1950s when trips back down the country were much more rare.
Yet the Offaly Association continues to flourish, to provide an invaluable outlet for exiles. Their desire to help Offaly GAA remains as powerful as any time in the past – they organised a very successful golf classic last year and they are busy preparing for their event this year: It takes place in Palmerstown House Estate on September 2 with teams of four costing 500 euros.
One of the leading lights in the Offaly Association is Liam Fleury. A native of Drumcullen and a first cousin of Pat Fleury, the captain of the Offaly team that won the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship in 1985 and a brilliant defender on the great 1980-1981 breakthrough team.
He first got involved in 1979 and has been involved as a leading figure and committee man since then. At that time the Association was “extremely vibrant” with meetings in Bermingham's, a famous Offaly pub in Dorset Street – owned by a Banagher man Jim Bermingham. They had a lot of members at that time with sub committees looking after various tasks.
Fleury joined during a golden era for Offaly GAA. The county won Leinster senior football and hurling doubles in 1980 and 1981, All-Ireland 's in 1981 and 1982 and they were at the coalface of the post match celebrations. It really was the heyday for the Association as they organised the big banquets – the County Board took over the organising of functions in the 1990s but the Association gave great assistance.
The venues included the Gresham, the Ambassador, the Cill Dara Hotel, the Davenport among others.
Fleury spoke about the early Offaly Association, even before his time when roads were poor and public transport not always easy to access. Visiting people in hospital was one of their many roles as relatives couldn't get up from the country. “Things have changed dramatically since and Dublin is easy to get to now”, he smiled.
He still speaks with infectious nostalgia about the peak years of the Offaly Daly 7-a-side competitions. The huge entry of teams, needing a knockout competition to whittle the number down at the start; the names that played – Babs Keating in football and hurling, Fan Larkin, Ned Rea, John Henderson and many more. “That was one of the mainstays of the Association”, he recalled, describing the vast amount of work that went into organising it and getting the venue ready; women getting sandwiches and refreshments ready in Kieran and Angela Claffey's house, where the night would traditionally finish with a sing song.
The Association also took part in an inter-association talent competition, organised by the Laois body in Moran's Hotel near Talbot Street. Recitations, singing, dancing, whatever took their fancy with a strict, professional adjudication in front of a packed function room in November. Two of the Offaly Association's most revered members, the late Frank Sweeney, famous as the writer of the Offaly Rover and Tullamore man Brendan Martin, a founder member of ladies football (the Offaly Association played a pivotal role in this) organised the Offaly team for this along with Liam Fleury and others – the cup for the All-Ireland ladies football senior county championship was donated by Brendan Martin and bears his name.
The Limerick Association ran an inter-county quiz each year and Offaly always fielded a team in that. The Offaly Association themselves ran an inter-parish quiz each year. There was also an annual pitch and putt competition with a cup named for Mick Murray, a worker with Brendan Martin who did trojan work for the Offaly Association.
Fundraising was always part of their agenda and they would support any Offaly cause, particularly GAA – training funds when the county was in All-Ireland's and trips abroad when they were successful.
They organised a marathon at one stage from Tullamore to Kilcormac and back to raise funds at one stage in the early 1980s.
They held a function in Mountbolus Hall, bringing a busload of musicians down for a concert with Babs Keating among the travelling party to raise funds for a local community centre. They adjourned to a local pub after it, making the return journey to Dublin in daylight – the late Frank Sweeney was a driving force of this.
They helped organise events after football hero Matt Connor had his car accident in 1984 – Louis Fitzgerald, a famous Dublin publican, offered them the Embankment and contact was made with Jimmy Keaveney who organised the Dublin team of the 1970s to play the Offaly team of the same era. They played in Kilmacud Crokes and then had a function in the Embankment later that night with top artists giving their services free, including Brendan Reilly, Brendan Grace, Pat McGeehan and many more. Thousands attended that night and it was one of their great events.
They had an annual dinner dance from 1957 and this was a huge event – it was held in Power's Hotel, the Gresham and many other locations. It was in the Gresham on Valentines night 1981, the same night that almost 50 people died following a fire in the Stardust nightclub and they saw ambulances flying down O'Connell Street to the disaster – it was only later that they discovered the reason for it.
They were held in the Garda Club for years and the Association had a great link with this venue. Their person of the year awards were often held there. The dinner dance was held in the Regency for a few years before they decided to move them to Tullamore over ten years ago.
Fr Tom Scully was one of their great members. A teacher at Belcamp College, he managed the Offaly team that lost to Kerry in the 1969 All-Ireland senior football final and had the distinction of being president of the Offaly Association in Dublin and London. He and the 1969 team were honoured at one dinner dance – Frank Cummins of Cork, Kerry's Pat Griffin were among the attendance in a hotel owned by long serving Offaly footballer Johnny Egan in Dublin.
As numbers declined at the annual dinner dance in the 1980s, they decided to launch the person of the year award and this rejuvenated them. “It was a great success,” recalled Fleury.
The Drumcullen native was delighted to help organise the golf classic for Offaly GAA last year with over €20,000 raised and forty teams competing. They hope to exceed that this year.
Having relied on a hardcore of long time residents to keep them going for years, he was delighted to see new blood come on stream in the past few years. The chairperson is a national school teacher from Drumcullen, Jennifer Guinan and there is many more after joining. “It is fantastic, brilliant. We are in a really healthy position at the moment,” he smiled.
He talked about their GAA ethos. “When the county is going good, the Association is going well. The GAA would be very core to our existence but we are far more than that. There are cultural events as well,” he said, stating that they have attended talks about the history of Offaly.
Liam Fleury first came to Dublin in the early 1970s and joined the Association in 1979. “I was a student, playing football and hurling” he recalled – unusually for a Drumcullen man, football was his game of choice rather than hurling. A St Vincent's club man (he has trained football and hurling teams there), he went to Dublin Institute of Technology in Temple Street where he studied chemistry. He worked as a forensic scientist with the Department of Justice and was based mainly at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park but travelled around the country to attend crime scenes.
He retired in 2009 and then started his own consultancy business as a forensic scientist and also embarked on a second career as lecturer for a forensic science course in TUD (Technological University Dublin). He worked at that for another 11 years and only retired finally over a year ago.
He loved his career, both strands of it and he retains fond memories of his garda work as the importance of forensic science became more important to solving crimes. “I must say I loved every day of it. Every day was different. The Gardai were a super organisation and there were very interesting cases around the country. You could help in some way.”
As a young lad, he had intended moving back down to Offaly but life led him down a different path. Career determined his location but a piece of home never left him. The Offaly Association has been a big part of his life.
“It is very important. It is an identity and not just for Offaly. Country people in Dublin like to get involved with their own county. That is the beauty of the GAA. That is where the GAA succeeds over all other sports. It gives an identity. That is the DNA of it. Thinking back over the years and there were people who wouldn't go to many places but they always came to Association functions. They would be meeting their fellow county people. Now things are a bit different. That time you had to have meetings in person. Now you can have them on zoom. We have had them on zoom which is great in a way but at the same time, you can't beat the old personal touch.”
Golf classic details
THE Offaly Association in Dublin golf classic for Offaly GAA will take place on Friday, September 2 in Palmerstown House Estate.
The proceeds of the classic go towards the promotion and development of gaelic games in Offaly and last year’s outing raised in excess of €23,000.
The format will be a Scramble, with teams of 4 competing for a range of excellent prizes. All teams participating must include at least two players holding current Golf Ireland Handicaps.
The association would appreciate all support, either through team entries or sponsorship. Details can be obtained from:
Jennifer Guinan; Chairperson; Email : email@example.com
Fintan Lalor – 087 2306085; Fiontan.firstname.lastname@example.org
Liam Fleury – 087 6169192;
Or any of the following committee members: Locky Murphy, Ray Flannery, Tom Mangan, John Neylon, Liam Hogan, Aidan McCormack, Alan Gilson, Paul Mulvehill, Darragh Scully, Donal Cunningham.
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