By Ray O’Hanlon
So here’s a story that is both sad and uplifting.
Ballinderry Shamrocks Gaelic Athletic Club in County Derry is to be found in a spot that straddles the East Tyrone border and is in close proximity to Ardboe and Moortown, on the shores of Lough Neagh.
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The club is in its 90th year since its formation in 1926.
And, as Queens, New York resident, and club member, Eamon Devlin puts it, the club has had many great days having enjoyed numerous successes during the ninety years, a testament to the many hardworking men and women who throughout the decades have dedicated their time voluntarily to ensuring that the club grows annually from strength to strength.
Says Eamon; “During the summer of 2014, Uachtaran CLG Liam O’Neill cut the ribbons to mark the official opening of our new pitch, an initiative that had taken many previous years of acquiring land, planning and fundraising.
“This was a special time for our club.
We moved with hope and anticipation to 2015. However, on 30th July 2015 everything changed.
“It is a day that will be remembered as one of the darkest days in Ballinderry Shamrocks G.A.C history. It was the day we lost our 23-year-old talent Aaron Devlin to a sudden serious strain of meningitis.
“It was the day our senior footballers lost their esteemed team mate, their friend, a day that Ballinderry Parish lost a young, vibrant man, but, more importantly, a day that Eugene and Carmel lost a son and Ronan, Coilín and Anna lost a brother. “As a community we united in grief, truth be told, we still are.”
Eamon continues: “Aaron was more than just a brilliant GAA footballer. He was academically gifted as well, having just completed his Masters in Physiotherapy and secured employment in Mid-Ulster Hospital, Magherafelt, where he was held in high regard by those he attended and by his colleagues.
“Early in 2016, our club executive committee made a decision to consider a long lasting legacy to Aaron’s skills and talents, something which will be special and everlasting.
“In consultation with the family and our members, the decision is to construct and dedicate a new 4G synthetic grass pitch, including a skills area, incorporated into the structure. The entire facility will measure 80 meters x 40 meters and will be central to the future development of our youth for generations to come.
“Our club will be hosting an ‘Ulster Club Golf Tournament’ at Killymoon Golf club, Cookstown, on Friday 8th July 2016, with all proceeds going towards the completion of our proposed floodlit 4G Synthetic Pitch. Once completed, the facility will be formally unveiled as ‘THE AARON DEVLIN PITCH,’ a lasting legacy to Aaron.
“The family are well pleased and have worked tirelessly over the past few months, helped by friends and golfing colleagues to organize an ‘Ulster Club Open’ golf tournament at Killymoon Golf Club, Cookstown, County Tyrone, on Friday 8th July. Competing GAA clubs are coming from all over Ulster and even further afield, like New York, for example.
Eamon Devlin is Aaron’s uncle. He has been living in New York for 29 years.
As he says himself, when he left home he did give up football.
He would be both a player and manager at senior level for Tyrone in New York.
He recently re-entered the world of football coming out of retirement to coach both the U-16 and U-18 teams for the Shannon Gaels in Queens.
Eamon will be travelling to Ireland with his wife Anne Marie, and their two sons, Patrick and Christian, to participate in the golf tournament.
He says that he appreciates all that the Ballinderry Club has done, and continues to do, both in the “sendoff” they provided for Aaron and the support that they lend to Aaron’s family on a daily basis.
“Aaron’s club were really good to the family in their time of need,” he says.
“They provided a dignified, sincere and inspirational response to the death of Aaron.
“To now decide to construct this complex, to be used by the youth of the local community, and name it the ‘Aaron Devlin Pitch’ as a lasting legacy to Aaron is a gesture that will memorialize Aaron, bringing comfort to his family, and will provide a place for the children well into the future.
“In short, it will keep Aaron’s memory alive in a way that nothing else could.
“The Devlin family at home and abroad want to do all we can to help the Shamrocks complete their project.”
He says that anyone wishing to contribute or sponsor the golf event can contact him and he will accept on the family’s behalf.
Checks should be made payable to Ballinderry Shamrocks G.A.C. and mailed before June 30 to Eamon Devlin, 35-12, 169th Street, Flushing, New York, 11358.
Anyone seeking further information can e-mail Eamon at [email protected], or call a club representative, Pádraig McEochain, in Ireland at 001-7184452267 (landline) or 0019148048015 (cell).