A History of Erin's Isle GAA Club Finglas
Every GAA club is unique. Unique people in unique communities playing unique games in the most westerly region of continental Europe. They all have their own stories to tell of great sporting feats of dedication, service and commitment to club, parish and county.
This is the story of Erins Isle, Oileán na hÉireann, and its influence on Finglas over the last eighty-three years. It intends to show where the club came from, and how it came to be what it is today.
Finglas in 1917 was just a tiny village with a number of scattered houses and buildings and a small population. Since then it has grown into a modern suburb of Dublin City and has become a town in itself.
As finglas grew into a modern town so too did Erins Isle grow. Knowing one's history serves at least two purposes. It explains to us why we should not take for granted what we have inherited in terms of facilities and club structures. It also shows how these things were earned through the sacrifices our forefathers made in time, effort and money. Historical recordings also gives us a chance to sing the praises of a generation that is almost forgotten but that lives only in the memory of the most elderly club members.
In January 1917 a small group of Finglas men met in the Wolfe Tone Hall, Phibsboro. There they formally founded a branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association, naming it Erins Isle and ever since known as 'The Isles'. In time this branch of the Associationin Finglas was to become the most popular and powerful sporting organisation in the greater Finglas area with an influence on the pattern and trend of life in the area.
Like the parent body, it consistently strove to mould the national outlook to its own ideals, to reawaken a legitimate pride of race and to further the resurgence of the national spirit.
From small penurious beginnings the club became the sporting and social focus of Finglas life. It sought to embrace all who had the interests of the youth and the Association's ideals at heart. In the 83 years of its existence the club has attracted men of vision and commitment to its ranks. Over this period it has succeeded in maintaining its commitment to the betterment of the life of Finglas people, especially the youth, both male and female.
Finglas in 1917 was without any major source of employment. Social amenities were non-existent beyond a number of drinking establishments. The facilities we take for granted today were but mere dreams. Travel to and from the city, where it did take place, was by horse and cart, by bicycle or by foot.
This was the background against which Erins Isle was founded in 1917. Between 1917 and 1922 the club faced innumerable difficulties, some of which were as a result of the unsettled condition of the country due to the War of Independence. The club made an impact on the Dublin and fingal League scene. The visionaries of the time, most notably James Maloney, sought to embrace the entire Finglas community, male and female, youths and adults. Thus in 1917 Isles were fielding a Junior, Minor, Dublin School Boys League football teams and a Camogie team.
All saw that a football or hurling club was not an end in itself and if everything was concentrated on the games, the club would be short lived. Thus the key ingredient of a social dimension was included. Dances and other social events were seen as central to the survival of the club and Gaelic games.
In Spite of political uncertainty the club's sponsors and members kept it active during the Black and Tan period. When the truce was signed with the British in December 1921 the club was still active. However, with the intense debate over the Treaty conditions things began to deteriorate and in 1922 the club became dormant. It remained so for well over a year.
The ending of the Civil War meant that games could take place in a peaceful society. Erins Isle was revived in 1924. Between 1924 and 1932 great effort went in to acquiring a club house, a building which became the heart of Erins Isle, a meeting place for members and a dance hall on Saturday nights ar six pence a head.
The period 1924-1932 was one of consolidation and at the same time of great advance for the club. Aside from the 1990's this was a period of sustained success on the football and hurling pitches.
In 1926 the club won its first major adult trophies by carrying off the Fingal League and the ladies won the Junior B League in camogie. This was followed a year later with the North County league. Linden and Garristown Tournaments. Two years later the club won the Dublin Intermediate Football League. thus bringing them to Senior ranks. Hurling. too, was making inroads, especially with the influx of Gardai to club ranks. In 1930 the club were runners-up in the Junior B Hurling league but in 1931 won the Junior Hurling Championship.
In the mid-forties under the guidance of George Emmett, John Delaney, James Maloney and James Tunney (Snr) the club bought its own pitch on Ballygall Road West, having led a nomadic life from 1917 onwards when games were played all over Finglas and further afield. From this time onwards Erins Isle as a modern phenomenon emerges. The footballers advanced from the junior ranks to senior in just six years, winning the Junior- Football Championship in 1953 and the Intermediate Football Championship in the following year.
The acquisition of a new pitch seemed a dream come true for the sponsors or the club. The euphoria was to be short-lived as Dublin Corporation placed a compulsory purchase order on the grounds. The protracted land negotiations with the Corporation and failure to come to an immediate and satisfactory arrangement seemed to symbolise what was happening on the games front, at least at adult level.
The official opening of the new grounds at Farnham took place in June 1961. Between 1955 and 1965 there was little success although great work was done at Juvenile level. This was the period when links with local schools were forged and consolidated. Indeed this was a time when schools and club became synonymous. At primary and secondary levels the club had become the conduit through which games were developed in the schools. This community of interest with the schools did have a major impact in the 1970's in both hurling and football. The club advanced from junior hurling ranks to senior. The junior footballers won the Junior Football Championship and thus entered Intermediate ranks. The senior footballers, themselves, reached the final of the Senior Football Championship at Croke Park and were beaten in a replay by Erin's Hope. The club carried off the under 21 Football Championship for the first time in 1979. The club begins to get recognition at county board level when Isles players were donning county colours Joe Byrne in hurling made the county senior team. John Twomey spearheaded the Isles drive to the Senior Hurling Championship ill 1983 under the management of the late Paddy Connolly.
Ironically the club had achieved major success in a code for which they were not noted. Wally Thompson currently is President of Cumann Peil na mBan while John Costello is Chief Executive of Dublin County Board and a delegate to the Leinster Council.
From the 1980's onwards we see a major redevelopment programme introduced in the c1ub. In 1987 the playing pitches underwent major overhaul. A new bar. handball alley, treatment rooms, four badminton courts and a stage were included in the new phase. Such a huge capital investment was reflected in the professional approach to games administration, This was reflected in unprecedented success in 1983 when the Under 15 and the Minor Footballers and Senior Hurlers won their Championships. By 1990 Erins Isle were on the verge of a major breakthrough at Senior Football level. The senior football teams of the nineties contained the necessary mixture of youth and experience so vital to achieve success at the highest levels. The Senior footballers dominated Dublin football. In all they appeared in at least the semi-final on five consecutive occasions, surely indisputable evidence of quality. The team, with a few exceptions, hardly changed in that period. They contested five county finals in a row, winning on two occasions.
County success inevitably led to appearances at provincial levels. In 1983 the Finglas men made their First Leinster Club Hurling championship appearance followed by the footballers in 1993. Eire Og of Carlow beat the Senior Footballers in 1993. This achievement was of huge significance two years later when they made another appearance in the competition. This time they won the Leinster Title and met Castlehaven in the semi-finals of the All-Ireland Club Championships. Larry Tompkins, manager of the Cork team played against Erins Isle that day and experienced what was to be one of the most dramatic finales to any match.
Thus on St. Patrick's Day, 1998, Erins Isle were in Croke Park in one of the biggest games of the GAA, national football calendar. Up to 40,000 turned up to see the green and black vie with the Connacht champions, Corofin of Galway who were victorious on the day.
This was a fitting way to celebrate over 80 years of endeavour. Despite the result, Erins Isle had come of age as a modern, progressive,successful senior club, with quality players, quality management and quality administrative structures. Senior personnel on the national stage deported themselves admirably. That appearance did more to dispel the image of Finglas than any other means. Erins Isle senior footballers had become the icons of Finglas and displaced any of the luminaries of English premiership soccer.