On 3 September 2013 our Club was delighted to feature as the ‘Gaelic Life’ Club of the Week. Here’s what they said about us:
Nestled deep in the heart of the Tyrone countryside, it would be easy to dismiss Kildress as ‘just another rural GAA club.’ But the truth of the matter is that the Wolfe Tones don’t do anything by halves, and are at the very forefront of everything which encompasses the modern GAA club and everything it should stand for.
For example, they were the first club to launch a monthly contribution scheme in Cairde Chill Dreasa, the template of which has been rolled out since by so many clubs nationwide. They were also one of the first clubs to go through Ulster GAA’s Club Maith club accreditation scheme, which saw them gain a Gold award.
The Wolfe Tones are in many ways a typical rural GAA Club, strong and well-supported. If the club was removed from Kildress there would be a huge sporting, social, community and cultural gap left that would be impossible to fill. In fact, Kildress is evidently so typically rural that the Club was chosen as a local partner in a Joseph Rowntree Trust-led study into the effects of the recession on communities across these islands, the project using their local contacts/networks to help the Trust look at how the recession impacts on everyday life of a rural Irish community
Historically in Kildress there were Gaelic teams in Dunamore, Evishbrack, Gortreagh, Killeenan and Murnells. The current Wolfe Tones Club was founded in 1952: previous local teams included Dunamore Red Hand (1910s) and Kildress St Mary’s (1930s), with the Wolfe Tones building on the foundations set by these Gaels.
With a rural community of just 2000 people, emigration always has been and continues to be an issue for Kildress. In 2012 they had over a dozen club members in Australia alone, yet those at home continue to fly the club flag proudly.
Their last senior silverware came in 2011 when they secured the Tyrone Intermediate Championship in 2011, but they now find themselves back down at that level following relegation from the senior ranks.
In total the club has won five Tyrone Championship titles; Junior in 1966 and 1994, Intermediate in 1971 and 2011 and Ladies Junior B in 2012. Kildress players holding both JFC and IFC medals include Joe Gallagher, Paddy Heagney (RIP), Jimmy Loughran (RIP), Sean McCullagh (twice a winning Captain), Des McGarrity (RIP), Laurence Monaghan, Gerald Mulgrew and Matt Tracey.
Their rises and falls over what has been a relatively short history allows them to hold a pretty unique record though, in that at competitive adult level they have played against and beaten every club in Tyrone, a win over Carrickmore back in 2008 completing the set.
Although the Club focuses primarily on football, it also has a strong Rounders presence and in Una McGlinchey they have Tyrone’s only Rounders All-Star award recipient. The cultural side of the GAA and community life is also more than taken care of through strong Scor representation, where county titles have been collected for instrumental music, quiz and recitation.
The club’s hard-working and highly active cultural committee are also behind the organisation of a thriving music club, as well as the club’s annual ‘La Spraoi,’ a highly-popular and innovative camp held each summer which majors on the Irish language, dancing and music.
The club’s grounds at Gortacladdy are never an easy place for visiting teams to go to in search of a win. The club grounds were bought in 1967, on the back of the 1966 Junior Championship win, and now include two full-size pitches, one of which is a fully-floodlit sand-carpet field which boasts the best quality floodlights in Tyrone outside Healy Park. There is also a small youth pitch, car-parking, a spectator stand and pavilion, all of which have seen the club spend in the region of £0.5million since 2000.
Thanks to the fundraising efforts of club members and Sport NI funding, despite their outlay the club can boast to be one of very few who are currently debt free, which is allowing them to consider the next stage of their development plans which is to overhaul their existing changing facilities and club pavillion to cope with the ever-increasing demands of the club.
Part of the reason for such a high demand for facilities is because Kildress are a fully integrated club, fielding 16 different teams across both ladies and mens’ codes.
As if to make a statement of that intent, their current vice-chair is Donna Hagan, herself still a key player on the ladies senior side and someone who brings very much a youthful breath of fresh air to club administration.
Between playing, coaching and now the administrative side of things, the 28 year-old has plenty on her plate, but she recognises the importance of having an appropriate range of people in key committee posts.
“I suppose I was already very heavily involved with the ladies side of the club, so it was a natural progression to move into the club executive. I’m very fortunate to be working under Mark Conway as chairman, because he works so hard for the club in everything he does. I think that’s the biggest strength we have as a club, having strong characters and people with a range of skills involved in key positions.
“A few years ago, the ladies senior team was really struggling and we got relegated to Junior B level. There was talk of the team folding, of pulling out at senior level, but the overall club committee wouldn’t hear tell of it. They rallied round, and we got an awful lot of support to help keep us going and to get us back on our feet. They got management sorted, got players back out who had drifted away, and we started the process of rebuilding last year, winning the Junior B and getting ourselves back up the grades and competing again. That, to me, probably sums up how all-inclusive the club is.”
It’s all well and good providing football coaching for club members both young and old, but Kildress go well beyond that through their substantial promotion of Irish culture, language and music. In other clubs there may be a token gesture, but with the Wolfe Tones it is a very real and very meaningful attempt to boost Irish culture within their club and within their community.
“We find that it is a great social outlet. A lot of members of the music club are youth footballers, but there are also a substantial number who don’t take part in on-field activities but who are still very much part of the club through the music and the cultural side of things.
“It is an aspect of club life which really is prospering. For us, it’s about the whole community. Yes, of course, what happens on the field is important and is maybe what others will judge the success of the club on, but we know that there is amazing work being done in so many different areas, and helping to enhance the lives of so many different people.”