Tug-Of-War Club in Ballycroy in Co. Mayo

Acknowledgement: Our thanks to Padraic Bradley for the information contained herein. It almost all comes from his excellent research project, titled 'Ballycroy Tug-of-war’

The origins of Tug-of-war go back to pre-historic times. The oldest evidence of it is to be found in Asian counties, including, for example, Burma, Japan, China and Korea. It was performed as an inter-village competition. It featured in rituals. The ethnographer F.E. Sawyer relates that the Burmese people used to have a ritual Tug-of-war featuring a 'rain party' and a 'drought party.' In the contest the 'rain party' was allowed the victory because this was taken as indicative of the beginning of the rainy season. In Korea the people organised Tug-of-war competitions to foretell the success of the next harvest. The use of Tug-of-war in rituals was also to be found in places as far apart as the Congo, New Zealand and Alaska.

In ancient times Tug-of-war was performed in a variety of ways. In Afghanistan they used a wooden stick instead of a rope. In Korea a form of Tug-of-war existed where people clasped each other around the waist to form a living Tug-of-war chain. Team captains must have had very strong hand grips linking the teams together. It was not just teams that performed Tug-of-war. In several countries a man to man version existed. Among some Eskimos there is a form of Tug-of-war where two contestants sit on the ground and use a short rope with a double grip. The one who pulls his opponent over from his seated position is the winner.

Around 500 B.C., the Tug-of-war sport was practised by athletes in Greece. The evidence of the sport in Western Europe goes back to 1000 A.D. One finds reference to it, for example, in heroic tales from Scandinavia. In the 15th century, Tug-of-war was very popular at tournaments in French chateau xgardens and also in England. Tug-of-war featured in the Olympic games from 1900 to 1920. After 1920 it was deleted from the Olympic programme by a majority vote of the I.O.C. in order to reduce the number of participants in the games. In the decades that followed various countries set up National Tug-of-war Associations. In 1960 George Hutton of the Great Britain Association took the initiative to establish a Tug-of-war International Federation (T.W.I.F.). The T.W.I.F. is now a well-recognized international sports federation with more than twenty-five affiliated member countries.

The sport now has thirty active clubs in Ireland that compete for national titles. The range of weights for competition in Ireland is 96 to 104 stone and Catch Weight. In the case of a specified weight, the weight is the maximum for eight men and includes the complete kit and boots to be worn by the team in competition. There is no limit in Catch Weight competition.

The size of a Tug-of-war Rope is 35 yards in length and four to five inches around. No knots or loops may be made in the rope, nor may it e locked across any part of the body of any member of the team. Crossing the rope over itself constitutes a loop. Any act, other than the ordinary grip, which prevents the free movement of the rope, is a lock. The end or anchor man may grip the rope under the arm and pass it over one shoulder but the remaining part of the rope must be free.

The object of a match is for one team to pull the other four feet over the line they start from. "While raw strength is important in tug-o-war, technique and training are equally important, but above all you are only as good as your hands," says Corkman Liam O'Flynn, who is a PRO for the sport in Ireland.(Farmers Journal, 21st September 2002).

One of the great merits of Tug-of-war is that it is essentially a team event which demands that each individual give nothing but his best in unison and harmony with his colleagues. Tug-of-war has many brilliant teams but no individual 'stars.' To those who desire to develop mind and muscle together with the true spirit of comradeship within the principles of sportsmanship, Tug-of-war affords such an opportunity. It is not only a good clean sport but it entails an attitude of mind to which real sportsmen aspire.

Ballycroy Tug-of-war Club had its origins in 1938. At that time Norman McManamon and Paddy McKenna founded the Claggan and Aughness Tug-of War clubs in the parish. During this period money was scarce, which meant that Claggan or Aughness did not travel long distances to pulls. They mainly participated at local events like sports and fair days. The prize money at these events was ten to fifteen pounds. 1978 saw a huge revival of tug-of-war in Ballycroy. Tony Deane, John Ginty and Edward Rowland sought to build up a strong club in the parish. This regeneration put the Ballycroy Tug-of-war club on the road and the club was to have many future victories. The club started entering regional and national competitions. As it faced teams from all around Ireland victory seemed far away but came more quickly than anticipated.

1979 saw the first major victory of the newly united Ballycroy side. It came in Ballina rugby grounds where they snatched the 680 kilos Novice Connaught Championship for the first time. They also came runners up in the 600 kilos and the Catch weight categories.

1980 brought another Connaught victory for the club ' this time in the 560 kilos senior division. 1981 saw a record number of victories for Ballycroy Tug-of-war club. It had five Connaught wins. These were in the 560 kilos, the 600 kilos, the 640 kilos, the 680 kilos and the 720 kilos. Ballycroy was also runner up in the Catch weight division.

These victories propelled the team to two more victories in 1982. They two were the 640 kilos and the 680 kilos. Ballycroy was also runner up in the 600 kilos division that year. 1983 saw another prosperous year for the club. There were Connaught victories in the 600 kilos, the 640 kilos and the Catch Weight.

However, the best was yet to come. 1984 saw Ballycroy compete at all-Ireland level. The result was that the club achieved its first all-Ireland win. It was in the 680 kilos Novice in Meath. This period of victories was followed by a leaner period. There was great emigration from Ballycroy to the U.S.A., England, etc., and also much migration to the east of the country. This left a shortage of young men coming up and bringing new blood to the club. As a consequence the club did not compete at national level for some years but only got involved in local club pulls and local sports days.

In 1991 a new generation of Tug-of-war pullers emerged. The new pullers proved to be just as ambitious as the men that had gone before. They had many successes but also experienced the bitter taste of defeat.

They had their first victory in 1992 when they won the Youths 600 kilos, the Intermediates 640 kilos and the Novice 680 kilos. In that year also they were runners up in the Novice 600 kilos and the 720 kilos.

1993 proved to be their least productive year. They only managed to be runners up in the Intermediate 640 kilos.

1994 saw Ballycroy Tug-of-war club make something of a comeback. At Connaught level it met stiff opposition but won the Senior 680 kilos. At all-Ireland level the club was runner up in the Novice 600 kilos and the Novice 680 kilos.

1996 saw the merging of Ballycroy Tug-of-war club and the Hillsiders Tug-of-war club from Bangor Erris. Both clubs at that stage had been weakening and finding it difficult to keep young players interested in Tug-of-war. Their coming together was accompanied by success. In 1996, at Connaught level, they won the Intermediate 600 kilos and they were runners up in the Interdediate 640 kilos, the Senior 640 kilos, the Novice 680 kilos and the Catch Weight. At the all-Ireland in Carlow that year they won the Intermediate 640 kilos. However, this combination of Ballycroy and Hillsiders was short lived due to breakdown of communications.

In 1998 and 1999 Ballycroy Tug-of-war club received more honours than in all its previous history. 1998 started brightly for Ballycroy. In Connaught the club picked up the Intermediate 600 kilos and the Novice 640 kilos. In the 1998 all-Irelands the club was runner up in the 640 kilos Division 2. This set back was more of a help than a hindrance to the club in giving the members motivation for the following year.

1999 was the year in which the Ballycroy club could do no wrong. The club started the year in magnificent form. At Connaught level it won the 560 kilos (Division 2), the 600 kilos (Division 2) and the 640 kilos (Division 2), while getting runner up in the 680 kilos (Division 2). The all Ireland season had yet to begin. Ballycroy started that season prominently with a semi-final place at Peterswell in the 720 kilos. The next pull was in Donegal, where they managed the runner up place in the 680 kilos.

Their next all-Ireland outing was to Creewood, County Meath, for the 640 kilos (Division 2). This was the occasion for the eight locals to fle xtheir muscles, dig their heals in the Meath soil and produce the performance of their lives. They had vast experience in the form of Paul Rowland, Paddy Bradley and John Cafferkey, who were the three remaining members from the 1984 all Ireland winning team. On the day the eight champions literally pulled the last 640 kilos all Ireland title of the twentieth century across the Shannon to County Mayo and Ballycroy. Victories over Creewood, Drumsna, Glenhill, Glenade, Daingain, Ardaghy and Dunderry had booked Ballycroy a place in a final where they had won convincingly.

Next stop for the champions was Shrule, County Galway, where they finished runners up in the 600 kilos (Division 2). Further down the road was Killylough, County Cavan. There the Ballycroy lads emerged as all Ireland champions in the 560 kilos (Division 2). Amazingly, this was their second all-Ireland in a month!!

In the year 2000 Ballycroy Tug-of-war club did not have as many successes as in 1999. However the club did proudly represent the parish both throughout Ireland and in England at the World Tug-of-war championships. Due to the splendid success of the club in 1989 it was promoted to Division 1 in Connaught and Division 2 in Ireland. The young and relatively inexperienced Ballycroy team was on more than one occasion pipped at the post by an older, more experienced Glenade team.

They started their campaign of the season on May 14th in Tourmakedy where they finished in third place in the 600 kilos category. Things were to get better when they finished as runners up in Shrule in the 560 kilos category and the 720 kilos category. The clubs next journey was to Glenade, County Leitrim, where the lads were again runners up ' this time in the 640 kilos category. The final journey of the clubs Connaught campaign was to Peterswell, County Galway. There the Ballycroy men came second in the 680 kilos category.

Next up was the All-Irelands. The first competition was in Buncloidy, County Wexford, for the 720 kilos. There the Ballycroy men won silver. Dungarvan, County Waterford, was the next stop but no medals were brought home on that occasion. The next outing was to Kiltimagh where Ballycroy won silver in the 600 kilos. After that was Creewood, County Meath, from which Ballycroy came home with silver in the 640 kilos category. The final all Ireland event of the season was in Ballina, County Mayo, for the 560 kilos, where Ballycroy again came a very creditable second.

The Ballycroy club also held an open day in the year 2000 where teams from as far away as Leitrim participated. On this occasion, in front of a home crowd, the Ballycroy lads were winners of the 600 kilos.

On the 12th of October 2000, the Ballycroy club management and team members travelled to Blackpool to the world Tug-of-war championships.

On 28th December 2000 the Ballycroy club will hold its annual Christmas dance in Ballycroy Community Centre.

The present club officials are Michael Leneghan (Chairperson), Simon Walsh and Mairead Bradley (Secretaries), Paul Rowland (Treasurer), Mairead Bradley and Susan Carolan (P.R.Os), and Paddy Bradley (trainer).

The Ballycroy Tug-of-war panel for 1978-1984 consisted of Paddy Bradley (Tallagh), Michael Finn (Creggane), Padraic Grealis (Lettra), Stephen Grealis (Lettra), Edward Rowland (Ballyveeney), John Ginty Bunmore), Paude McHugh (Tarsaghaun), Joe McGuire (Dooriel), Martin McHugh (Shranamonragh), Paul Rowland (Ballygaravaun), Pat Cleary (Castlehill), Brendan Calvey (Drumgallagh), Frank McGinty (Dooriel), John Deane (Doona), Tony Conway (Shranamonragh), John Cafferkey (Tallagh), Michael Hough (Lettra), Sean Murtagh (Drumgallagh), Michael McGinty (Claggan O'Donnell), Bertie Carmichael (Dreadda, Newport;married to Agnes Rowland, Ballyveeney), James Grealis (Ballygaravaun), P.J. Grealis (Ballygaravaun), Michael McManamon (Shean), Paddy Joe Calvey (Crosshill) and Hugh Conway (Tallagh) (coach).

The Ballycroy Tug-of-war panel for 1992 to 1994 consisted of Martin McHugh Shranamonragh), Sean McManamon (Claggan Cafferkey), Tony Walshe (Shean), Paul Rowland (Ballyveeney), Paddy Bradley (Tallagh), Eamon Conway (Drumgallagh), Francis Sweeney (Castlehill), Patrick McManamon (Shean), Liam Keane (Gortbrack), Dermot Hough (Lettra), John Murray (Drumslide), Padraic Grealis (Lettra), John Cafferkey (Tallagh), Simon Walshe (Shean), Edward Rowland (Ballyveeney), Michael Joe Gallagher (Knockmoyleen), Michael Leneghan (Tarsaghaun), Seamus Cafferkey (Aughness), Hughie Keane (Gortbrack), Stephen Grealis (Lettra), Pat Cleary (Castlehill) and Berti Carmichael (Dreadda) (coach). The Ballycroy / Hillsiders Tug-of-war Panel for 1996 consisted of Paddy Bradley (Tallagh), Michael Leneghan (Tarsaghaun), J.P. Healy (Bangor), J.P. Ruddy (Bangor), Tommy Doherty (Bangor), Martin Healy (Bangor), M. Murphy (Bangor), John Cafferkey (Tallagh), Paul Rowland (Ballygaravaun), Simon Walshe (Shean), Peter Winters (Bangor), Raymond Carey (Bangor), John Paul Lindsay (Bangor) and Tony Walshe (Shean).

The Ballycroy Tug-of-war panel for 1998 to 1999 consisted of Paddy Bradley (Tallagh), Michael Leneghan (Tarsaghaun), Hughie Keane (Gortbrack), Simon Walshe (Shean), John Cafferkey (Tallagh), Declan Conway (Bangor, his mother is a Conway from Ballycroy), Kenny McGowan (Bangor, his mother is Conway from Ballycroy), Sean McManamon (Claggan Cafferkey), Paul Rowland (Ballygaravaun), Liam Keane (Gortbrack), Tony Walshe (Shean), Padraic Bradley (Tallagh), Gary Ginty (Bunmore), Danny Conway (Bangor, his mother is Conway from Ballycroy), John Keane (Shranamonragh) and Michael Joe Gallagher (Knockmoyleen).

The panel for the year 2000 consisted of Paddy Bradley (Tallagh), Padraic Bradley (Tallagh), John Cafferkey (Tallagh), Danny Conway (Bangor), Declan Conway (Bangor), Michael Martin Conway (Shranamonragh), Noel Cosgrave (Bangor, his mother is Conway from Ballycroy), Thomas Cosgrave (Bangor, brother of Noel), Michael Cusack (Newport), Gary Ginty (Bunmore), Pat Heaney (Innishturk), Hughie Keane (Gortbrack), Michael Leneghan (Tarsaghaun), Kenny McGowan (Bangor), Paul Rowland (Ballygaravaun), Alan Sweeney (Bangor, his mother is also a Conway from Ballycroy), Simon Walshe (Shean) and Tony Walshe (Shean).

There is no barrier to women in the sport and sometimes at local sports the Ballycroy women have shown they well capable of competing. However, they have never participated in national competitions. "In 1984, the Garry Bouncers, from Knocklong in Limerick, were beaten in the World Club Championships final and we haven't had a women's team since. We'd really like to change that situation.", said Liam O'Flynn in the Farmers Journal of 21st September 2002.