The Big Green & Sport in Clonmany Parish in the 40s, 50s and 60s
A lot of the fun in Clonmany took place at the bottom of the Village on the banks of the river. There were two greens, the Big Green and the Wee Green, one on each side of the main road. They were magic places for a child. My introduction was that I stood Sunday after Sunday as a six year old behind the goals in the Big Green and competed with the others of my own age for the ball to return it to the goalkeeper. On a good Sunday I'd get four or five kicks of the ball. It was a big feat to get it over the small drain behind the goals, and it would be years before I would be able to kick it over the bar. In the era I am talking about, Gaelic was the in-game. I have memories of two large groups kicking the ball to each other, one group in the goal mouth and another group at about 40 yards. This was the main, as it were, warm up exercise in gaelic football at the time. It was indulged in before matches, at half time and at the end of games. Sometimes, if there wasn't a match, this exercise could last all evening with people coming and going as the mood took them. It was an interesting exercise for a six year old to watch and it was clear that the better players, got most of the ball. It was an early lesson on the need to learn skills if one wished to compete.
As remembered now in the 90s. You rnight ask if there was anything special about the Big Green, and I'd have to say that even now looking back that there was. Indeed the two pictures of Clonmany in the famous Lawrence Collection of the 1890s were taken in this area. In one of them there is a great picture of the green taken from the Straid side of the river bank showing the green with the village and the mountains in the background. In those days the area was bigger as the river had been eating into the playing area over the years. Especially near the river, the quality of the grass was superb, and if one couldn't play football on this surface, one just couldn't play. Its location was also conducive to allowing people to congregate in this area at the end of a Summers day or on a Sunday afternoon. One could stand in the shelter of the turf stack at the very top or sit on the little wall on the roadside or sit further out the road on the high wall. People I remember who liked to watch the football were James Roddy, Peter Hughes, Father Hugh Gallagher and Jack Crampsey, all of whom now gone to their eternal reward. Anyone coming to the village from the green side of the parish could while away a few minutes watching the football or talking to those standing around.
The area of the green was not only used for football. For instance once a year for a week in the Summer it was the location of the circus tent. To watch as a schoolboy the circus procession moving over the barrack heights into the village was a moment of magical expectation. The Green too, was used for the annual visit of the swingboats, etc. which drew children like magnets to the area. In an earlier generation the Clonmany Tennis Club was located behind the houses on the edge of the Green.
One should remember that the era that I am remembering was the era of the bicycle. If for instance, the Isle of Doagh and Cloontagh were playing a match in the green, the scene was like Ras Tailteann as the bicycles sped down the village. The feat of turning into the Green and stopping suddenly was an acquired skill. Because travel was difficult a lot of the football was organised on a within-the-parish basis. In addition, because the pitch was small, seven-a-side football was the norm. This was an extension of the five-a-side football that was popular in the Inishowen of the period and which provided the finale to the Parochial Sports which were held in all the areas each summer. As a teenager, one of my great memories is of reaching the final of the five-a -side at the Lagg Sports, only to be beaten well by the team comprising of the four brothers from Carrowmena and their cousin in goal. I can still remember spending some of our ten shilling prize in Carn as we had a break on our cycle home.
The Green provided the arena for a couple of great seven-a-side competitions in the late fifties and early sixties. There was intense but friendly rivalry between Cloontagh, the Isle of Doagh and Collegians (made up of the local student population) particularly. Jim Clafferty was the Alex Ferguson of that period. but he had competition in management from people like Joe Doherty in Cloontagh, Peter McEleney in the Isle of Doagh and John McDaid in Effishmore. Alas the Green is no longer as it was. Times change. Now football is played by the present generation in Shamrock Park, a full size pitch in the middle of the village. They now have changing room and nets and togged-out referees. If they enjoy their football as much as we enjoyed ours playing on the Big Green they are very lucky indeed.