Keys of a new £600k clubhouse at Clan na Gael have been handed over - another huge marker in the clubs illustrious 90 year history.
Taking just six months to build, it houses state-of-the-art facilities which would be the envy of many sports clubs.
Overseen and project managed by Greg Seeley, a consultant engineer, and built by Russell Brothers, the two storey clubhouse boasts two full size, disabled-friendly changing rooms with showers.
There is even a separate changing room with showers for visiting referees.
Upstairs, which is accessible via a lift, there is a well-fitted kitchen and function room with a superb panoramic viewing gallery over the pitch.
A new committee room plus office space and plenty of storage facilities finishes off this splendid new building.
Every angle appears to have been thought of and it is envisaged that the new clubhouse will be a comfortable hub for the local community as well as club members and players.
The club hopes to be able to cater for parties and group functions as well as for visiting teams. “We are looking at catering for all our members and the wider community,” said Joe Lavery, who is on the Clan na Gael committee.
He explained that the club received £500k from the Department of Social Development - now the Department for Communities. “We had to match-fund it ourselves to help pay for professional fees and other outlays,” said Joe.
He said the community rallied round and the club sold ‘bricks’ to help pay for some of the work. “We sold well over 300 bricks,” he said, adding that they will be placed on the foyer wall.
The club ran a lot of community events to help raise funds for the new club including a ‘Cow Clap’ contest on the pitch. “We also got some support from the GAA as well,” he said.
The old building, which houses the function rooms, changing rooms and stores, has been there from the 1970s and was not suitable for a modern thriving GAA club.
“There were only two changing rooms in it and to get to the shower rooms you had to walk across a corridor with both teams using the one shower room,” said Joe. ‘We would hope that these will be refurbished in the coming years to help meet our needs.’
“We have increased our number of teams over the years now. We have boys teams from under 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 minor teams, B-teams and senior team. And girls have the same number of teams. Plus we have camogie as well. It is something like 19 teams involving hundreds of children.
“The girls have become increasingly involved over the past few years,” he said. “And we have to cater for all the visiting teams as well.”
“We are very proactive with links to schools nearby. We have a programme whereby coaches go into St Francis’ Primary School and we support St Ronan’s College in that they use our facilities here including the 3G pitch and the gym.”
And Clan na Gael are not about to stop at a new clubhouse. Plans are afoot to create two covered stands at both sides of the pitch to bring Davitt Park back to its glory days.
In the 70s and 80s many of the county matches would have been played at Davitt Park as it is the secondary county ground for Armagh after the Athletic Grounds in Armagh City. Hopes are that the ground will cater for county league and McKenna Cup matches.
“But ultimately we are trying to cater for Clan na Gael teams,” said Joe, adding that the kids are the future built on a strong past full of great achievements.
Clan na Gael were the first club in Ulster to win three Ulster Club championships in a row from 1971-73. They have had many famous players such as Jimmy Smyth, Jim McKerr, Colm McKinstry who played on the 1977 Armagh team, Diarmuid Marsden and Barry O’Hagan in the 2002 Armagh team, Ronan Austin on the All-Ireland under 21 winning team of 2004 and at the minute Stefan Campbell on the County team.
Though the fortunes of Clan na Gael have been mellow recently, the club, who are in the Intermediate division, have high hopes for the future.
“We have been putting a lot of emphasis on the youth this last number of years to help rebuild and regenerate the team,” said Joe. “The club is a big part of the community and really the only major green space in this area,” said Joe adding that, while there is a groundswell of traditional Clan na Gael stock in Shankill and Taghnevan, more and more players are coming from the new developments popping up around the area.
“The girls football has brought a lot of new families and new faces into the club which is great and with this new facility we are able to cater for them.”
Joe reckons the club might need an extra pitch as every evening after 5.30pm the grounds are packed with children and young adults training. The original clubhouse has been restored by volunteers and serves as a gym.