Louth GAA legend Frank Lynch chats to Leinster GAA chairman Jim Bolger at Friday night's Double House Draw launch at the Imperial Hotel. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Frank Lynch got it only half right when he said at Friday night’s launch of the Wee County Double House Draw that he played in the last match to take place at Dundalk’s Athletic Grounds, 60 years ago.
No other GAA game was played there after a Young Irelands selection took on Tyrone’s Coalisland Gaels on December 6, 1959: but it was in March of the following year that Dundalk rugby team played Skerries. This was the encounter that brought the curtain down on an iconic grounds that had played host to several sports over a long number of years.
But while widely used for soccer, athletics as well as rugby, the Athletic Grounds is best remembered for the GAA matches it hosted, All-Ireland semi-finals and Railway Cup ties among them. It had established itself as the home for Louth GAA in this county – its closure was a loss that many maintain has never been recovered.
Owned by a limited company, in which Young Irelands – who played all of their home games there – had no shares, the Athletic Grounds was acquired by Halliday’s shoemakers for a new factory. Fr John Mulligan’s history of the Young Irelands tells us that Louth GAA made a “substantial offer” when the grounds came up for sale.
“The Associaton, who had in recent years made unsuccessful efforts to purchase the grounds, and conscious of the part played by the Athletic Grounds in its history, duly bid for the property. However, when it became clear that Hallidays wanted the entire property for its proposed development and that they could not be provided with an alternative suitable site in Dundalk, the Association, in the face of mounting pressure from various sources, reluctantly withdrew its substantial offer for the grounds.”
It remains to be seen if the proposed new grounds off Dundalk’s Inner Relief Road will prove itself an adequate replacement for the Athletic Grounds, allowing the county to get rid of the country’s ‘most impoverished’ tag.
Friday night’s proceedings, launching a project, which, if it has a 100 percent return will realise almost €2 million, were heavy on enthusiasm but a little light on detail. The projected cost wasn’t mentioned, nor where the bulk of the money is to come from. However, should the draw get a maximum response, the six-strong organising committee can head to government buildings and Croke Park with more confidence than hope. Clubs were urged to get fully behind the project.
The site’s suitability didn’t come up for mention, either. Those with an eye to climate change and the devastation it is predicted to cause are concerned its location is too close to the coast for comfort. But, presumably, this is something the planners took into serious consideration before dismissing all other possibilities.
At times on Friday night the emphasis on the town where the grounds is to be located was too strong; but there can be no denying the organisers’ commitment or enthusiasm. If it’s matched by clubs over the next few months, all tickets will be sold.