Eugene McGee: Ballaghaderreen border legacy throws up unique provincial final
Published 19/11/2012 | 05:00
As far as I know, Sunday will be the first time in history that two clubs from the same county meet in a provincial club football final. This will happen when Mayo champions Ballaghaderreen confront defending provincial kingpins St Brigid's Kiltoom in the Connacht final.
The explanation for this unusual happening is that the parish of Ballaghaderreen is, in fact, located in Roscommon for local government purposes.
The origin of this curious situation dates back to 1888. The town was then officially part of Mayo but, as a result of the influence of an English landlord, who stood to benefit financially, it was 'legally' transferred to county Roscommon.
However, two years earlier Ballaghaderreen GAA club had been formed, and being solid GAA traditionalists already, they decided they were not to going to change their allegiance to that crowd from Roscommon but were going to remain in what they still considered to be the beautiful county of Mayo.
As time passed by, for 124 years in fact, the club has remained staunchly Mayo.
Every now and then there is an outburst of debate about the matter, but thankfully it is usually carried out in a fairly non-confrontational manner.
That is only what I have been told and it may well be that there are more skirmishes or divided opinions on special occasions such as when the two counties meet in a Connacht final, and Roscommon people feel less than happy when they see their county's second largest town covered in red and green.
On these occasions, the fervour of Ballaghaderreen people for the Mayo colours probably exceeds that of any town actually in Mayo.
Over the years there have been odd attempts to, as Roscommon GAA people would claim, rectify this over-a-century-long hijacking of part of their county.
And whenever the Ballaghaderreen club have county players for Mayo, as is the case right now, then the level of debate can be sure to escalate.
In the early 1990s a motion was put to the Connacht Council to change the club into the Roscommon fold. Roscommon and Sligo were in favour but Mayo, Leitrim and Galway were against.
As far as most people are concerned, that is the end of the story, but the strong feelings still persist.
Writing in a recent Connacht final programme, former Mayo and Ballaghaderreen player Sean Kilbride – who later transferred to play with Roscommon, won Connacht medals with that county in 1978/79 and whose sons Senan and Ian will play for St Brigid's against Ballaghaderreen on Sunday – wrote: "For those like myself who grew up in a Roscommon household with a Roscommon sense of identity, they should be allowed to choose, especially since it is in their own county.
"That would be the right thing to do, because there is a resentment in Roscommon that the second biggest town in the county is lost to it in GAA terms, even though the town is administered by Roscommon and in every way is a Roscommon town."
So there is still enough sentiment around the subject to stir debate at least. But either way, a club from the geographical county of Roscommon will be Connacht champions on Sunday and I am sure there will be an excellent sporting attitude all round at the final, so eagerly awaited throughout Connacht and beyond.
Thankfully, that is the GAA way when these geographical peculiarities arise.
There are other examples of border divisions like this in other parts of Ireland but nothing as substantial as the one in Ballaghaderreen.