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Ballyclare Primary School

50 years of National CnmB: Barney Herron

18th Jul 2021

 

BARNEY HERRON

 

Barney Herron was principal of Primate Dixon PS, Coalisland, from 1971 until his retirement in 1995.

 

One of the first principals of Primate Dixon PS, Coalisland, was a man called Peter Kelly who came from Draperstown. Peter was, at the time of his appointment, secretary of Dún Uladh of the Gaelic League, and during his time at the school set up both Brackaville and Coalisland GAA clubs. It was said to me that anything that was Gaelic or nationalist about Coalisland was the work of Master Kelly. He promoted GAA in the school and some of his teachers at that time were county players. One of the teachers, Master Gavin, had a very important position on the Ulster GAA Council, and was therefore very influential in the area. Another teacher in the school, Columba McDyre, had a son who went on to represent both Donegal and Cavan.

 

When I attended Primate Dixon PS as a pupil in the 1940s, Peter Kelly had been replaced by Pat Looney. Pat also had an interest in promoting GAA and immediately set about organising internal GAA leagues. Matches among the pupils were held in the evenings and even over the summer break. Fr Tom McCann, the parish priest, had, in 1935, provided a double -sided handball alley for the school so Pat organised handball competitions for pupils in the evenings and at the weekends throughout the year. My classmates included Tom Sullivan. Eddie Devlin and Liam Campbell - all future Tyrone stars.

 

 

When I joined the staff in Primate Dixon PS in 1956, I immediately took over the school teams and also took charge of the underage teams in the Fianna Club. As we moved into the 60’s there were a number of teachers who were involved in GAA within the neighbouring schools. Master Frank O’Neill was principal of Annaghmore PS. John McQuaid was the principal in Edendork PS and Paddy Cullen was a teacher in Cookstown PS. They were all members of The Tyrone County Board and also members of the Ulster Council. Future Tyrone GAA Chairman Jimmy Treacy was in Annaghmore PS and later in Aughamullan PS. Iggy Jones, the renowned Tyrone and Ulster player, taught in the Presentation Brothers’ school in Dungannon and he was later followed by Bertie Foley. Aidan Conway, in Annaghmore PS, had for many years kept a supply of players to Clonoe O’Rahillys. Jim Cavanagh was promoting football in Brocagh PS and later in Aughamullan PS. These schools were a source of supply to the local clubs’ underage teams so there was a lot of interaction between clubs and schools. When there was no one in Donaghmore PS who was interested in GAA, a draper from Dungannon, Vinnie Hamill, organised teams until Pat O’Neill, (who would later go on to set up Powerscreen) took up a teaching post there and took over the school team. It was at this stage that we set about forming a league for schools to compete against each other. Frank O’Neill was to be the chief organiser and would provide the schools with fixture dates etc. Games between schools were problematic due to differing enrolments. It was unfair to pitch small schools against larger schools as they usually ended up a one-sided affair. Frank attempted to solve that problem by combining the four schools of Clonoe parish. Presentation Brothers PS, Dungannon and Primate Dixon PS went on their own while Donaghmore PS and Galbally PS combined to make one team. Soon there were enough schools to have a league. We didn’t have any meetings in schools at that time so it was left to Frank to inform each school who we were to play. He made out a programme and the schools played the matches when it suited. The referees for these was often a player from the local club. The matches were played on big pitches because none of the schools had pitches of their own. Where it was too far to walk to the pitches, parents or friends were cajoled to putting large numbers of children into their cars whilst breaking all the legal limits of the time!!! One thing I will always remember was when Dungannon came to play our team they would put a ring of players around one player to try to stop him playing. Not only was he an exceptional footballer but he was also exceptionally strong and an Irish Champion at 100 metres. This made Dungannon’s task of containing him even more difficult. His name was Damien O’Hagan!!!

 

I would like to put on record someone for whom I had the greatest admiration. Our matches were always played on Friday afternoons. A man, a painter by profession, travelled to his work on a bicycle. He left his work at 2pm, cycled to where the game was being played, refereed the game like it was an All-Ireland Final and then cycled home to Donaghmore. Ever since that I have the greatest respect for Sean Faloon who was and still is a very true Gael.

 

The Primary school football, when it had got up and going, formed the basis for the underage teams which were starting up in each club around that time. Everything was going well until the Intermediate schools opened in the mid/late 60s. The school leaving age went from 14 to 15 and then to 16 in a few years. The opening of the Intermediate school in Coalisland adjusted the primary school population and when the pupils reached 11 years of age they transferred to secondary education. The teachers in charge of the school teams decided that despite this they would, with the agreement of the secondary schools, continue to use the pupils who had now left primary, in their school teams, up to the age of 14. This remained in place for a number of years until it was decided to revert to current pupils only. Unfortunately, the League was short-lived as Dungannon were proving to be too strong for everyone. This led to them withdrawing and it petered out soon after that. For the next number of years until Cumann na mBunscol was organised in the county, matches between schools in the area were on the large part arranged friendlies between schools. There were however Skills Days organised by Mickey Harvey where schools sent the ‘best’ boys to play in arranged games where pupils would be selected to represent the county at half-time games in the Ulster Final or All-Ireland semi-finals.

In the Primate Dixon Seamus Bradley took up a post in the school. Seamus was a long serving member of Stewartstown Harps GAA club who has also represented Tyrone in the late 60s. Seamus, along with another new recruit, Kevin O Neill, took charge of the school teams from then and over the years enjoyed much success. Many of the players they coached also progressed to play for Tyrone. Ciaran Corr had the honour of captaining the 1995 Tyrone team in the All-Ireland Final. In 2003, Peter Donnelly was the first Primate Dixon pupil to be presented with an All-Ireland Senior Championship winner’s medal.

 

 

There were a lot of talented players in the Primate Dixon teams during my time coaching them and many of them went on to represent Tyrone. My memory is not what it was, but the names coming to my mind are John Early, Aidan McMahon, Tommy Woods, Seamie Graham, Richard Thornton Damien O’Hagan, Paddy Scullion, Sean McNally and Peter Donnelly.

And of course Dennis Taylor, future world champion snooker star, was a talented a very determined member of the school team.

 

I recall our team competing in the Mini 7s competition in Pomeroy. A pupil, who had left our school in P3, won the competition on his own for his then school, St John’s Moy. His name was Sean Cavanagh. When he was at our school the family lived in Annagher but when Sean was in P3 the family decided to move to this father’s home town of Moy. I recall telling Ted (Sean’s father) that he was taking a great footballer from Primate Dixon as Sean was already showing his potential at that early age. Also, shortly after Bertie Foley had moved from Dungannon PS to become principal of Ardboe PS, he brought his team to Coalisland to play a challenge against Primate Dixon. He told me he had two brothers who I would enjoy watching. Their names were Brian and Tommy McGuigan who of course would go on to win All-Irelands for their county.

 

 

And finally in the year of my retirement in 1995, I was proud to be present as Seamus Bradley’s school football team beat Crossmaglen PS to win the Ulster schools McGreevy Cup. It was a fitting end to my career in the school from when I first went there as a pupil and the memories of that day will live long in the memory. Indeed, it was one of many memories I have in my time in the Primate Dixon PS! I had a wonderful career there, met so many people and made friends that have lasted to this day. Gaelic Football continues to thrive in the Primate Dixon under the current principal Seán Dillon. I look forward to seeing all the stars of the future...

 

 

                  Barney Herron