Barry Molloy, the captain of the Roscommon team who won the 1951 All-Ireland Minor Football title, performed the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate St. Coman’s GAA Park in Roscommon Town at a ceremony which took place last Saturday.
St. Coman’s, known to generations of Roscommon people as ‘The Lough’, was described as Roscommon GAA’s ‘spiritual home’ and ‘field of dreams’. It was Roscommon’s home ground from 1936 to 1968 and staged matches right up until 2017. Among the many famous matches it hosted were the 1936 All-Ireland senior football semi-final, numerous Connacht senior and minor finals, and the 1965 All-Ireland junior hurling final.
The plaque and a display board which chronicles the major milestones in the history of ‘The Lough’ since it was first used in 1889 are located on a wall beside the former entrance to the famous pitch. The plaque was created by well-known local sculptor, Mark Feeley, and the unveiling ceremony was the culmination of two and a half years of painstaking work by the Roscommon Gaels club’s history committee, spearheaded by club PRO Orla Fleming and Marie Gillooly.
In unveiling the plaque, Mr Molloy, who is one of joint honorary presidents of Roscommon Gaels GAA Club, paid tribute to all who played in St. Coman’s Park over the years. He paid special tribute to all the people who had worked on maintaining the ground and recalled how the hiring of ‘sleepers’ from the local railway station in order to create a stand for big matches. Mr Molloy referenced a picture on the display board which shows a commentary booth being built for the legendary Micheál O’Hehir. Mr Molloy also recalled the many events, other than GAA matches, were held in St. Coman’s, including the Roscommon Agricultural Show. He then unveiled the plaque on which the inscription, which is in Irish and English, reads:
“This plaque marks the site of St. Coman’s GAA grounds, ‘The Lough’, which was officially opened on 14th June, 1936. It was home to Roscommon County GAA and Roscommon Gaels GAA Club for many years. It honours those who passed through its gates, in particular, the players, volunteers, and fans of many generations who proudly dedicated their time and skills, to the establishment, promotion and preservation of our national games which play such an important role in our sporting and cultural traditions and heritage.”
The chairman of Roscommon Gaels, Philip Mullen, welcomed all those in attendance and spoke of the major role ‘The Lough’ had played in the history of Roscommon Gaels and Roscommon Town. Historian and local history tour guide, Marie Gillooly, provided a context of the role of Gaelic Games in Irish life even before the foundation of the GAA in 1884. She said the Lough was first used in 1889 and a hurling match between Roscommon and Castlebar took place there in 1902. In 1926 a group of locals acquired a section of the Lough grounds from the Land Commission for games. This ultimately led to the opening of the ground ten years later. Ms Gillooly outlined many of the landmark matches which had helped to copperfasten the status of St. Coman’s as one of Connacht’s leading GAA grounds for over 30 years. She also spoke of other major events held in the ground, including cycling, athletics, street leagues and ice-skating during the winter. In 1954 a crowd of over 20,000 came to ‘The Lough’ to attend a rally by ‘The Rosary Priest’, Fr Peyton.
Six players were chosen to represent all the great hurlers and footballers who had played in ‘The Lough’: legendary Leitrim footballer, Packy McGarty, who gave one of the great individual displays in a Connacht final in the Lough in 1958; Mick Hoare, captain of the 1965 All-Ireland-winning junior hurling team; Owensie Hoare, the first player to win All-Ireland senior football medals outfield and in goal; Jimmy Murray, captain of the 1943 and 1944 All-Ireland-winning Roscommon senior football teams; Gerry O’Malley, one of Roscommon's greatest-ever dual players who won his only All-Ireland medal in 'The Lough' in 1965, and Barry Molloy, captain of the 1951 All-Ireland-winning minor football team. Each of the deceased players was represented by members of their families. Citations were read detailing the illustrious career of each player.
The attendance also included the chairperson of Roscommon county board, Brian Carroll; past chairpersons of Roscommon Gaels; joint honorary president of Roscommon Gaels, Seamus Comiskey, and historian Tony Conboy. The Master of Ceremonies was Noel Fallon.