May 14, 2008
At the time of his death on May 4, Frank Lennon, at 99 years of age, was the oldest surviving former Castlewellan player and the last remaining team member of the club's famous 1934 and 1936 Senior County Championship teams.
Frank's introduction to Gaelic football came in 1914 when he was a young schoolboy attending the primary school in Aughlisnafin. Fr Erdley, who was the parish priest at the time, started a schoolboy team and the young Frank was picked as their captain. The next Gaelic team Frank played for was a Ballylough team and although only a young teenager, he also became club secretary.
In 1924, at the age of 17, Frank began his Senior football career with Drumnaquoile, a team organised by a man called Hugh McCann. In 1927 a team was organised in the Finn and Frank played on that team and was also team secretary. It was with this Finn team that Frank won his first GAA trophy in 1928, an East Down runners-up medal.
By 1928 Frank's football skills had come to the attention of the County Down GAA Board and that same year he was selected to play for the county. His first game was a challenge match against the famous Breffni Blues Cavan team, the reigning All-lreland champions.
The occasion was a fundraising game for the new St Patrick's memorial at Saul and the game was played in Smyth's field in the townland of Moneybot. Players then had to find their own way to games, and Frank recalled cycling to Saul from the Finn.
Tommy Steele from Castlewellan was another Down player on the team that day, as was Johnny Doherty from Ballykinlar (father of Paddy Doherty of 60s Down fame). As was expected Cavan won easily although Frank insisted that the young Down team gave
a good account of themselves against famous Cavan players such as 'Gunner' Brady, Tom O'Reilly, Jim Smith, and a sergeant in the Guards by the name of Devlin.
Bovril and Crackers
After the game the champions were treated to dinner in Hayes's Hotel in Downpatrick while the Down men received Bovril and crackers, before making their own way home. Frank also recalled playing for Down against Antrim in Corrigan Park, where they
were beaten, and against Armagh in the Abbey grounds in Newry a game which they won. Frank played with both the Down Junior and Senior team for a number of years.
By 1932, a new parish priest, Fr McAlea, had arrived in Castlewellan and he was anxious to form a Parish team. He approached the Finn men to join with the Town and a new St Malachy's team was formed.
Along with Frank came John O'Hare Seamus Lenaghan, Mick O'Donnell Hugh McMullan, and Hugh McClean and the new team soon established itself as one of the foremost in the county, going on to win two SFCs in 1934 and 1936.
In 1934 the team beat Ballymartin in the final after a replay as both sides drew 1-3 each in the first match. In the replay the Town won convincingly beating Ballymartin 2-5 to just 0-1. In 1936 the final was against Mayobridge and again the game ended a draw,
Castlewellan scoring 0-6 to 1-3. In the replay, the Town won 1-4 to 0-3. The successful 1934/36 team was Hugh Kelly Hugh McNabb (captain), Seamus Leneghan, John King, Paddy Steele Hugh McLean, Hugh McMullan John O'Hare, Tommy Hannity, Pat O Boyle,
Mousey Hanna, Tommy Steele, Frank Lennon, Peter Hawkins, Mick McDonald, James Maginn, Fr P J O'Hare, Liam Ferguson, Tom McCann.
Frank was also a member of the Castlewellan Sevens team that won the GAA Jubilee Year Feis competition in 1934, which was played in Thornton's field opposite St Patrick's Park in Newcastle.
Frank took great pride on this memorable title as it was in the semi-finals of the Feis Sevens against Kilcoo in The Meadow that he clinched the winning point for the Town to put them through to the finals on Feis Sunday.
Frank won a second Feis medal with the Town a couple of years later in 1936 and they also got to the final of the Sevens in 1937. He recalled that they should have won the final that year, which was against Ballymartin. The Town was winning when he was
brought down in a rough tackle resulting in him sustaining a broken
collarbone and the game continued with only six Town men, allowing Ballymartin the opportunity to get back into the game and take the lead before Castlewellan made a substitution.
By 1937 the team was still going well, having won the All County League in 1935/36. But by 1937, internal strife within the new St Malachy's club resulted in the team folding but not before they won the East Down League in 1937/38.
Asked to Help
In 1938, however, Frank had opened his first business - a grocery shop and animal meal store at Ballybannon, and he was asked to help form a new Auglisnafin team. The St Mary's team quickly developed football, hurling and camogie, as well as Irish dancing and a choir. A branch of the Gaelic League was also established, and Mrs Brendan Nolan ancd Mrs Dan O'Rourke (Miss Noonan) taught Irish classes in the old Finn School.
The St Mary's team went on to win a Feis medal that same year and although Frank was not a regular in the team, he stood in for Hugh McClean who was not available to play that day - thus Frank is the proud holder of three Feis medals (two with the Town and one with the Finn). The other members of the St Mary's Feis team were Owen McGeown (goals), Dinney and Willie McKibben, John O'Hare, Barney Trainor and Pat McShane.
Frank played for the Finn for a number of years until the club folded again, before finally ending his playing days for a Rossglass team (near Ardglass) who had asked him to help them out.
Frank also helped to form Annsborough GFC in the late Forties. He
remained with Annsborough GFC for a number of years and did a spell as club chairman before he finally retired from the club to concentrate his time and energy with Feis an Duin, which he had
remained faithful to since he was first asked to help on the gate by his uncle in 1928. He was later elected chairrnan of Feis an Duin, for two terms, from 1975 to 1978, and from 1982 to 1986.
After his playing days, Frank continued to follow the fortunes of the local Gaelic team and the Down team whenever he could, and remained a strong advocate of teams participating in the Feis Sevens. He was a familiar sight too at the many sports events in the Fifties and Sixties where he always made available his famous PA system.
Frank remained an active member of Feis an Duin, serving his second term as chairman from 1982 to 1986 when he was in his late seventies. After he retired from the Feis committee, he went on to form a local Mass rock committee whose aim is to identify and authenticate all Mass rocks in County Down. In the 1980s, Frank was honoured by Glor na nGael Caislean an Mhuilinn, when he was made president, and was presented with a Shield in recognition of his lifetime devotion and promotion of the Irish language, which he spoke with pride.
In 1993 St Malachy's GAC honorea Frank when he was inaugurated into their Hall of Fame, joining the ranks of former St Malachy's men and women who brought great honour to the club in their lifetime.
In the St Malachy's club, and indeed in the wider community, Frank is fondly remembered as a true and respected Gael who dedicated his life to the promotion of Gaelic culture and the Irish way of life.
In the tradition of St Malachy's GAC representatives of the club provided a guard-of-honour for their Hall of Fame recipient as his remains were removed from St Malachy's Church following Requiem Mass there last Wednesday.
The club extends its deepest sympathy to his wife Bridie, sons Brian, Frank, Seamus, Joseph and Laurence, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, and great grandchildren and entire family circle. His third son Pat, who also played Senior football for the St Malachy's club in the late 1960s, predeceased Frank in the mid 1970s.
May he rest in peace
Courtesy of the Mourne Observer
14 May 2008
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