The GAA is 125 years and the club has been at the heart of its growth. There are many heroes in the history of a club. Fr. Eddie O’Hara was one of these, among his pastoral duties he also devoted much time to the development of the GAA in the parishes where he worked.
It was he, who at the time of being chairman or President of the County Board in Mayo, that got Bonniconlon its first community field in 1935 when the Downing Estate was striped in those years.
The official opening was in 1936 and it was reported in the press that Bonniconlon was one of the first parishes in Ireland to get its own community field.
Today the pitch belongs to the GAA and is named after Fr. O’Hara, as are the club facilities that were officially opened by President of the GAA, Doctor Mickael Loftus on the 10th April 1983. It is called the O’Hara Grove Complex.
Fr. Eddie O’Hara was Chairperson of the GAA in Mayo from 1922 to 1939, some very important years in the association’s history and he toured the USA with the Mayo team in 1937, this was one of the most successful sides in the history of Mayo football because during the 1930’s they won six league titles in a row and one All- Ireland. Mayo won the All-Ireland in 1950 - also the year that Fr. O’Hara died.
Fr. Eddie O’Hara was born in Attymachugh, near Foxford, Co. Mayo in the foothills of the Ox Mountains in 1888, four years after the founding of the GAA and he attended St. Nathy’s College, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon from c.1902 to 1907 and went onto to study for the priesthood in the Irish College in Paris where he was ordained on the 1st June 1913.
He served in six parishes during his 37 years as a priest, mainly as curate in Kiltimagh from 1913 to 1922; in Bonniconlon from 1922 to 1939; Culfadda from 1939 to 1943; Gurteen from 1943 to 1948; Swinford in 1948; and finally as Parish Priest in Charlestown from 1948 until his sudden death on the 7th November 1950.
Fr. O’Hara selected and trained the team in Bonniconlon and lived in extraordinary times, in 1921 in Kiltimagh he witnessed the raids and presence of the Black and Tans at the fairs and at night when they searched houses and indeed he himself was marched at bayonet point through the streets of Kiltimagh, and the home of his namesake Fr. O’Hara from Coolaney was raided too.
He was at the funeral of the slain East Mayo Commandant Sean Corcoran in April 1921. In Bonniconlon during the Civil War he was the celebrant at the funeral of Lieut.
Pat Mullen after his death in the Mater Hospital in Dublin in August 1922. Lieut. Mullen was interred in the old cemetery in Kilgarvan, it was towards the end of Fr. O’Hara’s tenure in Bonniconlon that the present cemetery was opened in 1938.
In the other parishes where he served during the 1930’s and 1940’s he made an equally valuable contribution to the GAA and there is a fine GAA field, for example in Keash near Culfadda; in the Ballymote area of Co. Sligo: and also of course the well-known Fr. O’Hara Park in Charlestown.
His pastime and life work along with the religious life was the GAA, and as a young curate in the 1918 to 1921 years, he would have been a supporter of Sinn Fein also. He had another brother a priest too, Fr. Michael O’Hara, and the TD for North and East Mayo, Tommy O’Hara was a relative.
The Priest played a part in the life of the community then as they do today as activists. Prior to the arrival of Fr. Eddie O’Hara in Bonniconlon for example, there was Fr. Dan Gallagher from nearby Killasser who was on the side of the tenants in the land struggle; and Fr. Anthony Kirrane who was from Aclare and was a Gaelic League Activist and a member of Sinn Fein and was in Bonniconlon during the War of Independence. Since 1950 and the death of Fr. O’Hara, Mayo have won only one All-Ireland Final in 1951.
Perhaps the anecdotes of those who met them in one capacity or another and more especially the testimonies of the young, bear witness to the type of person he was. Dr. Micky Loftus recalls being at the All-Ireland Semi-Final of 1948 and not having a ticket.
He met Fr. Eddie near the grounds at Jones Road and telling him of his plight, was told to meet him at Barry’s Hotel in Great Denmark Sreet, that well-known Dublin venue for the country folk and he would have the ticket - and he was as good as his word.
A Bonniconlon native in his recollections of his boyhood in Bonniconlon in the 1930’s, recalls serving early morning mass for Fr. O’Hara and he would be selecting the team at quiet intervals. Such are the vignettes that one hears about the priest who was a man of the people and came from a farming background and his father was a tradesman.
Fr. Eddie O’Hara was, as is the case so many times over, one of the unsung heroes of the GAA at club and county level. As one who was at the opening of the Club facilities in Bonniconlon in April 1983, the day was of special meaning for the older members of the club there, people in their seventies and eighties who remembered Fr. Eddie O’Hara whom they considered as one of their own.
Focal Scoir: Greetings and congratulations to John Canon Doherty, Parish Priest of Gurteen, Co. Sligo who assisted in the research for this article and is 50 years a priest this year.