Ballyhegan, one of the oldest and proudest clubs in the county”, said an enthusiastic Gerry Arthurs, one day in the 70’s when I had reason to call on him.
A fact we never lose sight of in Ballyhegan.
We are ever aware of carrying on a tradition and willingly accept it. The club is based in the Parish of Kilmore which has two ends, Mullavilly and Stonebridge.
Thankfully, down through the years it has remained one complete unit.
Football was first played in Ballyhegan in 1902, mainly at the instigation of two men, Patrick Knipe and James Clarke, the latter being from Crossmaglen, matches were arranged with different town lands, and quite frequently the players walked as far as ten miles to fulfill an engagement.
As could only be expected in the circumstances, a very short period under such conditions saw the end of the game for several years.
In 1913 the present Davitt’s team was born, its original committee consisting of Charles Keegan, Harry Keegan, John Nixon, James Mc Atarsney and William Mc Keown.
The team was then selected from John O’Neill, George Murray, Tommy Keegan, Bob Mc Keown, Patrick Knipe, Joe Devlin, Jim Keegan, John Mc Keever, John Mc Donald and Ned Mc Ardle.
At that time, thanks to the generosity of Paddy Mackle, the team had a very treasured possession – a ball.
They traveled to away games by side-car, bicycle and on foot.
Things continued thus until 1919 when a sports meeting was held, and for the first time ever a Band, the Silverwood Pipes, appeared in Ballyhegan.
By 1920, the game was virtually wiped out, as were local efforts at the Irish language which has been running in conjunction with the football.
This happened as a result of harassment by the Tans and Auxiliaries but over the next twenty years, football was slowly yet surely restored by a determined and close knot community.
A return to something like normal conditions saw a spasmodic revival, but it needed the impetus of a visit by Master O’ Neill of Middletown to set the club on its feet.
He brought a team which, as well as playing a match, presented the Davitt’s with a set of jerseys, and since then the Davitt’s have never looked back.
Playing periodically in the North Armagh and Mid – Armagh leagues, 1941 was the first outstanding year for Ballyhegan.
Then they beat Sarsfields / Tones selection to win the McOscar cup for the first time and were only beaten 0-10 to 1-02 in the final of the Armagh County Championship by Camlough.
In 1941 they also won the North Armagh League and the Trodden cup which they held for three years.
The 1941 panel consisted of: Charlie Keegan, Tommy Frank Mc Keever, Tommy Keegan, Patsy Mc Keever, Brian Fearon, Jimmy Keegan, Joe Mc Keever, Johnny Mc Cann, Jimmy Mc Keever, Pat Mc Keever, Sean Keegan, Jimmy Mc Gill, Henry Mc Keever, Jimmy Murray and Gerard Cullen. Some of the committee members in the 1940?s were Tommy Hughes (snr), Donald Mc Neice, Jimmy Kerr, William Kerr, George (young) murray, Dan Mc Keever, James Morgan and Seamus Hagan.
With the appointment in 1944 of Fr. Malachy Coyle to the parish came new life for the Davitt’s and the start of a very vibrant association between the curate in Stonebridge and the club – Fr. Pol MacSean, Fr. Mc Manus, Fr. Sweeney, Fr. Watson and Fr. Peter Campbell.
The 40’s were a glorious decade with several players gaining county honours, capped of course by having three players on the 1949 All-Ireland Minor winning team ? Eddie Mc Cann, Paddy Joe Mc Keever and Brian Mc Grane.
In 1950 the Davitt’s reached the junior final and drew with Netownhamilton 1-2 each in Armagh on October 22nd. Netownhamilton won the replay 2-5 to 1-6 on November 5th. They didn?t have long to wait for success, capturing for the first time the Armagh Junior Championship in 1955 defeating Mobane on a score line of Ballyhegan 3-7 Mobane 1-3.
Our current president and Chairman, Tommy Hughes and Pat Mc Grane were members of that winning team.
The team that beat Mobane which hailed from the Crossmaglen area and included the famous Gene Larkin was: Tommy Hughes, Thomas Hughes, Patsy Mc Atarsney, Vincent Dalzell, Stan Woolsey, Paddy Joe Mc Keever, George Davidson (R.I.P), Paul Woolsey, Eddie Mc Cann (R.I.P), Joe Mc Grane, Ambrose Mc Keever, Fr. Pol Mac Sean, Pat Mc Grane, Jimmy Keegan and Brian Mc Grane. Subs – Peter Woolsey, and John Murray with Fr. Tom Woolsey(R.I.P) unable to attend due to studies at Maynooth.
In 1956 Ballyhegan competed in the senior championship only to lose out to Keady by one point.
In 1959 they reached the Junior Final again losing out to Silverbridge on a score line of Silverbridge 1-5 Ballyhegan 0-5.
In 1961 the Davitt’s were back in the final again beating Culloville on a score line of Ballyhegan 2-3 Culloville 0-6. this team consisted of Peter Mc Cormack, Fr. Seamus Mc Manus(R.I.P), Vincent Dalzell, Brendan Woolsey, Aidan Courtney, Tony Murray(R.I.P), Edmund Woolsey(R.I.P), Bob Toner, Stan Woolsey, Dermot O’Hanlon, Gerry Lavery, Jackie Keegan(R.I.P), Seamus Gallagher, Ambrose Mc Keever, Aidan Nixon, Peter O’Hagan and Terry Mc Keever.
John Murray, George Murray and Pat Keegan were unable to play as their grandfather John Rafferty, had died the morning of the final.
Paul Woolsey was also a big miss as he suffered a broken collar bone in the semi – final against Derrynoose.
As a direct result of the growing number of clubs in Armagh and the gulf that existed between junior and senior clubs, the intermediate championship was first introduced in 1964.
Ballyhegan Davitt’s reached the final in that year and fell gallantly to Madden on a score line of Madden 1-8 Ballyhegan 0-8.
At this stage Ballyhegan began competing in tournaments throughout Armagh, Tyrone, Antrim and Louth, winning quite a few of them.
In 1966 league football was first organised on an All county basis ? there were four divisions. Ballyhegan achieved success immediately winning division 3.
By 1969 they were back in the intermediate football final again losing out to Sarsfields on a score line of Sarsfields 2-8 Ballyhegan 0-9.
Playing in division 2 of the All County league in the early 70’s things began to happen for the Davitt’s.
They won their division of the All County league in 1973 and gained promotion to division 1 but the intermediate championship was still proving to be elusive.
In 1975 saw a double victory.
The intermediate championship was secured at last after a replay with Oliver Plunkett’s (Mullaghbawn / Forkhill) – Final score reading Ballyhegan 0-13 Oliver Plunkett’s 0-6.
The Ballyhegan line-out on that famous day in the club?s history was as follows:-
Peter Keegan, Christy Hughes, Jimmy Mc Keever, Brendan Mc Cormack, Martin Murray (0-1), Arthur Mc Keever, Kevin Keegan, Noel Marley, Gerard Mc Neice, Domnic Murray (0-2), Joe Marley (0-3), Captain Charlie Mc Keever (0-2), Fr. Kevin Cullen (0-3), George Murray, Malachy Morgan.
Peter (wee) Keegan, John Courtney, Joe Murphy.
The B Championship final saw Ballyhegan do battle with the might of Crossmaglen but when the final whistle blew it was Sean Mc Keever who raised the cup for Ballyhegan on a score line of Ballyhegan 4-6 Crossmaglen 2-5.
The team reads as follows:-
Malachy Cullen, Paddy Graham, Gerard Mc Namee, John Morgan, Eamonn cullen, Sean Mc Keever (captain), Kevin Morgan, Michael Hughes (1-1), Martin Keegan (0-1), Kevin Rooney, Tommy Keegan (0-1), Joseph Mc Keever, Seamus Nixon, Bob Graham (2-2), Donal Mc Keever (1-1)
Colm Mc Keever, Gerard Murray (R.I.P), Denis Nixon, Eamonn Mc Neill, Eamonn Hughes, Eugene Mc Cann.
The Ballymacscanlon Hotel hosted the dinner dance of 1975 and upwards of 450 guests had a night to remember.
The Davitt’s reached the semi-final of the senior championship in 1976 only to fall to Maghery.
After re-entering the Intermediate championship they were back in the final in 1982 losing out to Culloville on a score line of Culloville 1-7 Ballyhegan 1-6.
The big event of the 80’s was purchasing and developing of our new pitch which by sheer co-incidence is situated in the town land of Ballyhegan.
The eight acre site was bought from Dr. Mc Cabe, Derry and developed in 1986 – fine field by any standards.
The first match incidentally took place between the two ends, Mullavilly U-12’s V Ballyhegan U-12’s.
The 90’s seen another glory era for Ballyhegan as they first won the Junior championship in 1995 and went on two years later to win the intermediate championship in 1997. That team included two of our county stars in Paddy McKeever and Paul McGrane, who went on to become multiple Ulster winners and of course All Ireland winners in 2002.