Club History

 

     
  Though ‘Shane O’Neill’s GAC’ was founded in Glenarm in 1903 the seeds of its existence date back many years before this. A form of hurling, albeit a Scottish version, shinty, was played in the Mullaghsandal area during the mid-19th century. The clamour for a Gaelic identity began with Glenarm man Eoin McNeill who was co-founder of the Gaelic League in 1893 and who was instrumental in setting up a branch of this organisation in the village of Glenarm in 1902.  
     
 
John ’Benmore’ Clarke Francis Joseph Biggar
 
     
  The following year John ’Benmore’ Clarke (local hotelier), Francis Joseph Biggar (historian), James McRann (local school teacher) and a handful of local men founded ‘Shane O’Neill’s GAC’. Mr Biggar presented the new club with its first set of jerseys (white with the Red Hand crest on the front) and a banner of pure Irish linen. The year after the founding of the club the hurling team competed in a competition for ‘The Shield of Heroes’. This took place on the strand at Glenariffe at the largest Gaelic gathering ever in the Glens of Antrim—the first Feis na nGleann in June 1904. The team which played in the great Gaelic gathering included: Alex Petticrew (captain); Willie, Frank and James McGavock; James O’Hara; James McAuley; John O’Neill; Pat McCollum; Alex Robinson; George and Archie Heggarty; James McNeill; Dan McNeill and Dan McAuley.
While a club was flourishing in the largest populated area of the Glenarm parish, namely, the village of Glenarm, and the peripheral areas of the parish—Mullaghsandal, Carnagear and Feystown—formed their own clubs in 1905. The Mullaghsandal Shamrocks, led by ex-army man, Jimsy Magill, enjoyed the earliest success of these teams but due to emigration all of these clubs from the fringes of the parish failed to enter teams after two seasons and it was left to ‘Shane O’Neill’s’ to carry the standard for the parish. During the early years John ‘Benmore’ Clarke was instrumental in encouraging all aspects of Gaelic culture and secured hurling matches with a number of the Belfast sides which had been established nearly a decade before ‘Shane O’Neill’s’. Mullaghsandal Shamrocks did re-enter the North Antrim League in 1921 and managed to win the league that year but further emigration led to the club’s early demise.

The 1920’s and 1930’s were perhaps ‘Shane O’Neill’s’ most successful. Benmore, Jack Callaghan, Willie McMullan, James and Hugh Reid, James Gibson and Davey O’Boyle were prominent in running the affairs of the club. Frank Feeney, Hugh Reid, Alex McCollum, Arthur and Dan Gibson, Dan McElgorm, Willie McMullan and Johnny McAteer were selected for the County Senior hurling teams. The club won the North Antrim Senior Championship in 1928 but were beaten in the county final. Again in 1933 having entered and won the South Antrim Senior Championship they failed again to capture the County title. The great Feis na nGleann which had started in 1904 and which continued to propagate the best in Irish culture was held in 1932 in Glenarm where it enjoyed huge support.
Despite the hurling teams successes the ‘Shane O’Neill’ club had to withdraw from the Leagues in 1937 when financial problems surfaced. Pearse Bradley, George McElgorm, Arthur and Dan Gibson and Johnny McAteer joined with Glenariffe Ossians and helped them claim the 1938 Senior County title defeating Sarsfields of Belfast.

Following a lapse of three years a meeting was held in 1940 to resurrect the ‘Shane O’Neill’s’ club. A committee was elected. It included:
Chairman— Rev Joseph Byrne, P.P.;
Vice-Chairman— P O’Neill;
Treasurer— Malachy Duffin;
Secretary— Alex McCollum;
Committee— James Gibson, Davey O’Boyle, George McElgorm, Paddy Mulvenna and Arthur Gibson.

Fr P J O’Keeney, C.C., who came to the parish in 1942, was instrumental in having the club’s name changed from ‘Shane O’Neill’s’ to ‘St Joseph’s’ and the club colours changed to dark blue. The new committee looked to the youth of the parish for the future and under the guidance of manager John Cassidy ‘St Joseph’s’ minor hurlers claimed a record three trophies in 1945—North Antrim Minor League and Cup and County Minor Championship. This triumph at minor level saw Archie Irvine selected for the Senior County team.

The minors’ achievements should have been a springboard for senior success but lack of employment in the area reduced the number of players and hence the team’s potential was never fulfilled. Despite this Gerry Mulvenna and Donagh Forde represented the club at county level in football. Lack of players forced the club to withdraw from the Leagues in 1955.

After a lapse of two years a new committee was formed in 1957 under the leadership of Fr Kevin Donnelly, C.C. The ‘St Joseph’s’ hurling team won three trophies in this first season, claiming the Junior North Antrim League and Cup and All County Championship. Three members of that team, Eugene McMullan, Arthur Forsythe and Anthony Mulvenna, along with young John Heggarty, went on to play for the Antrim senior hurling team. Other players like Arthur and Charlie Mulvenna, Liam Reid, Jim Lafferty, Charlie and Donal McGavock and John Davey were prominent in the club at this time.

Following the inception of the Intermediate Hurling Championship in the early ‘seventies’ St Joseph’s lifted the trophy on four different occasions—1976, 1981, 1995 and 1998. During the 1970’s and 1980’s Danny and Liam McAuley and young Kevin Mulvenna played county hurling. Frank Ward enjoyed the greater success at county level. He played for the Antrim hurling team for 6 years (1976-1982), 3 years with Ulster, gained three All-Ireland ‘B’ medals during that time and captained Antrim during the 1982 season. Others players like Eddie Matthews, Alex McNeill, Tommy and Willie Mitchell, Seamus Dobbin and Arthur Forsythe were responsible for the club’s successes at Intermediate Hurling level.

During the these two decades Glenarm enjoyed a very fruitful period in football winning the North Antrim Junior Championship on seven occasions—1975,1978, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1985. Barney Shannon, Eamon Mulvenna, Shay Hamill, Tony Hoey, Frank Ward, Seamus McIlhatton and Pat O’Neill were big players on these occasions.

In 1984 like all other clubs in Glenarm celebrated the Association’s centenary with a number of sporting and cultural events. A special Centenary Sports Day was held in the club grounds at Feystown, which drew large crowds. Prior to the purchasing of this field in 1976 (in conjunction with Larne club, Laharna Og) the club relied on the Gibson brothers for the use of a field at the Libbert. The club held the first ever County Poc Fada in the hills of Gowkstown in 1984 with representatives from many of the county clubs in attendance. The first Poc Fada was won by Dessie Donnelly (McQuillan’s, Ballycastle) who went on to retain the title five years in succession. St Joseph’s, Glenarm continued to host the County Poc Fada and later the Ulster Poc Fada finals for the following five years. The culmination of the Centenary Year was the publication of the club’s first written history. The publication “Cumann Luthchleas Gael—St Joseph’s GAC, Glenarm (1903-1984)” was written by club secretary Felix McKillop who received much help in the research from his brother Robert McKillop and club chairman Arthur Forsythe.

1986 was an historic year for the club when the ‘St Joseph GAC’s’ Antrim and Antrim Scor-na-nOg Ballad Singers won the Ulster Championship in Omagh. A member of the ballad group Anarine McAllister also won the Ulster title in Solo Singing the same year. The All-Ireland Scor-na-nOg finals were held in Ulster for the time that year. The St Enda’s GAC Club was the venue. The Ballad Singing Group claimed the All-Ireland title that night and the girls who recorded this historic feat for the club were: Anarine McAllister. Laurene McAllister, Orla Forde, Monica O’Boyle and Eimhear Matthews. Anarine almost made it a double celebration on the night when she was piped to the post in the All Ireland Solo Singing Final. The club did win county titles in recitation, set dancing and solo singing but never reached the success that the ballad singers enjoyed in 1986.
 
     
   
     
 
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s the Under 12’s and 14’s were under the guidance of Robert and Felix McKillop, with assistance from Arthur Forsythe. During these two decades the various teams enjoyed a rich vein of success in their division with some of the players selected for their county at this level. Declan Rodgers gained the captaincy of the County Under 14’s in 1994. The Under 15’s won their way through in the Ulster Feile in 1999 to claim a provincial divisional title. Sean McAllister, who had been the All County Skills Champion in 1998, was, along with Sean Ward, Ciaran Campbell and Ronan Matthews, the pick of this Ulster winning team.

1995 was a particularly successful year for the club not only won the Intermediate Hurling Championship but the Reserve Intermediate Championship and County Division 2 Hurling League. Hugh Magill, Brendan Ward, Seamus O’Kane, Seamus Dobbin, Oliver Mulvenna, Kevin McKay, Sean Waide and Pat O’Neill were the backbone of the senior team. Hugh and Kevin were selected for the Antrim Under 21 side while Sean Waide and Seamus played for the senior and junior county side respectively.

In 1996 the members of St Joseph’s Club decided to rename the club ‘Shane O’Neill’s GAC’ after a lapse of 54 years and so the club returned to the name which John Benmore Clarke had christened it in 1903.

Over the past 30 years four members of the club—Arthur Forsythe, Anthony Mulvenna, John Heggarty and Fr Alex McMullan, have dedicated their spare time to helping to run the affairs of the various Divisional and County Boards.

 

In 1995 the club decided to update it facilities at Feystown and the a new pavilion was erected.
 
In 2003 the club celebrated its Centenary year and is the oldest club withinn North Antrim.
 
In 2004 competing in the Junior Hurling Championship, Shane O'Neills represented Ulster in the All Ireland Junior Hurling Championsip losing out at the semi-final stage to County Killkenny team Galmoy.
 
In 2008 the club gained full ownership of the grounds at Feystown after joint ownership of the ground with Laharna Og, this allowed the club to carry out a number of improvements to the ground.
 
2009 saw the chance for the Shane Ui Neill Club to host Feis na Gleann after an 88 year absense. 2009 also saw the club lose one of its most memorable members Arthur Forsythe, a tru clubman in every sense of the word Arthur took part in all aspects in club life playing for club and county and after his playing days took the lead role in the day to day running of the club.

Today the club fields the following hurling teams: Under 10’s, Under 12’s, Under 14’s, Under 16’s, Minors and Juniors compete in the North Antrim League while the Seniors are in the All-County League.