It is a fact that Castlebar’s first soccer team was established in 1924 but there is a question mark over whether it was called Castlebar Celtic or simply Castlebar. It is a tribute to the dedication of those men who founded the team that the roots of soccer were planted in the town and has sprouted, grown and flourished to such a degree in the intervening 7 years. It was a haphazard start and games would have been few and far between. It took until 1928 before any organisation was brought into the team with the arrival of players such as Tommy McDonald, Tommy Leonard and Tommy Kilfeather. Games were played in the Fairgreen, while they would be later played at Niland’s Field, situated behind the local Bacon Factory.
The first secretary of Castlebar Celtic was Charlie Hanley. Others involved included Peter O’Malley, Robert Kilkelly, Michael Heverin, Paddy Gilligan and Hugh McGartland. The team of the thirties had a group of naturally talented players whose skill and dedication put the club on a firm footing in the town. Competition was very limited. There was no Mayo League as such in those days and Westport was the only other soccer club in the county.
It took until 1947 for Celtic to win their first major trophy, the Connaught Cup, when they defeated Galway Rovers at Maryland Park, their home since the early forties.
An event in the 1920s which was to have far-reaching and lasting effects on soccer in Castlebar, and indeed Mayo and Connaught, probably went unnoticed at the time. It was the arrival of Hughie McGartland from Omagh. No mean player himself, he was endowed with a talent to motivate and bring the best out of others. He also possessed organisational skills and farsightedness that was to influence the club and game to the present day.
He was club secretary for almost 40 years and was a key figure in the purchase of Flannelly’s Field, now known as Celtic Park, still the home of Celtic. With a committee consisting of himself, Michael Heverin, Robert Kilkelly, Chas Guthrie, Tommy Leonard, Paddy Gilligan and Andy Leonard. They purchased Flannelly’s Field in 1954 for £1,879. A sum of £123 was spent on drainage and a further sum of £400 was spent on renovating a premise in Market Square as a clubhouse. Two old C.I.E. buses were bought for dressing rooms, to bring the total expenditure to £3,000. Running a series of carnivals and dances raised the money.
The first match played in Celtic Park was on the 4th May, 1958. This was a challenge game between Castlebar Celtic and Castlebar A. The first competitive game in the ground was between Castlebar Celtic and Westport United the following Sunday in the Mayo Area Final of the Connaught Cup. Celtic won the game 1-nil, with Frank Roache scoring the winning goal.
The Celtic team that day was: Joe Foy, Dessie Ainsworth, Patsy ‘Bisto’ Feeney, Sean O’Loughlin, Josie Feeney, J.J. Mullen, Charlie Garavan, Brian O’Loughlin, Peter Duke, Wally Tighe and Frank Roache.
That game was to herald a golden era in Celtic’s history, an era that was to see them win three Connaught Cups, four Mayo League Championships and reach the semi-final of the F.A.I. Junior Cup.
The club had come a long way in 40 years since a group of young men had decided to form a soccer team in the town.
The Birth of Schoolboys Soccer in Castlebar
The following article appeared in this weeks edition of the Connaught Telegraph. A meeting was in Tom Ketterick’s home, Barrack Bridge, Castlebar, on February 14, 1950, for the purpose of forming a schoolboys soccer club in Castlebar. Schoolboys soccer had been played in Castlebar for many years prior to this but the meeting in Tom Ketterick’s house put the underage game on sound footing and the new club was launching pad for many of Castlebar Celtic outstanding players. The players who emerged from this era were later to play leading roles in many of Celtic’s major achievements, as well as starring for Mayo, Connacht and Ireland. Tom Ketterick was elected chairman of the club and Paddy Gilligan became its first secretary. Paddy Gilligan, who gave a lifetime of service to Castlebar Celtic, passed away some years ago. He was one of the foremost referees in the West of Ireland for many years. The indestructible Tom Ketterick, now living in Ballina and aged 93 years, is the current President of Castlebar Celtic, a man who loves Celtic and the game of soccer. In those early days, Tom’s wife Trisha washed the team’s jersey each week. She came from a great Westport soccer Family, the Scotts. Sadly she passed away some years ago. Members of the committee elected at the meeting in Tom Ketterick’s 58 years ago were Vincent Coyle, Station Road, now a doctor in the US; Noel Murray, Lucan Street; Jimmy Foy, McHale Road, now living in Dublin; Mickey Garvey, Barrack Bridge, who now lives in Chicago; Johnny Mee, McHale Road and St. Bridget’s Crescent and a current Director of Castlebar Celtic; Frank Fergus, McHale Road, now living in the US. Also in attendance at the meeting were Joe McDonald, Castle Street; Frank Scully, Roy Lindsay, Paddy Clarke, Tommy Fallon and Sean Fallon, all McHale Road.