It is hard to believe that almost five decades have passed since a group of Gaels gathered in the Conference room of St Bernadette’s Church and decided to establish a GAA club in South Belfast. On that October night in 1971, those men whose vision, foresight, determination and dedication set the ball rolling. They were history makers. They did not have a home, they did not have any knowledge of how to set up, start or run a GAA club. But what they did have was determination that it would happen and their efforts and foresight are there now for all to enjoy and see for themselves.
The nearest club was Ballyhackamore, which went out of existence later that year after the goalposts on their ground outside Dundondald had been cut down several times. Carryduff had not yet been established. So, there was a real void and above all a real need for a GAA club to be formed in the South Belfast area.
At the time, Matt Fitzpatrick was secretary of Ballyhackamore club and also the East Down GAA Board Secretary. Several times he had been approached by the late Frank McMullan RIP, the late Eamon Gilmore RIP and several other Gaelic minded people in the area about starting a club. They said they wished to play in Down and wanted to know the details about starting a club. Matt advised them to apply to the Down County Board. Consequently, as secretary of East Down and as the club would be in their area Matt was detailed to meet the members that evening in St Bernadette’s. As well as Frank and Eamon (a former Dromara player) there were Seamus Sammon, a brilliant administrator from Armagh and Fermanagh, All Ireland JFC winner James O’Keefe, Matt Morgan, Father Matt Wallace, Tony Bradley, Paul Hillen, Des Maguire, John Nugent, George Mc Crory, Jim Boyle, Patrick J Gribben, Michael Wilson, as well as several other Gaelic minded people.
Matt advised them on how to form a club, what was required, what applications were to be made, how to actually run a club and above all how to encourage participation by both GAA minded and non GAA people in the South Belfast area.
Firstly they had to decide a name for the club. After discussion Bredagh was agreed, being the old Irish name for the area. So there and then the Bredagh GAA Club was born.
After all the paper work was completed the club had to register club colours… again much discussion took place. Galway were the big guns at that time and eventually the maroon of the Tribesmen was proposed by the first Treasurer, Patrick J Gribben and so the Bredagh club was now up and running.
The club duly applied to East Down and was accepted and took part in the East Down JFL winning the title in their first year. They also reached, but lost, the all County JFC final. However, in later years the JFC crown would eventually come to Bredagh, as well as various East Down and All County League titles.
A pitch was obtained from the Sisters of Mercy on the Ravenhill Road. This was developed, club rooms completed including committee rooms and it looked like Bredagh had a home of their own. But in 1998 the ground was sold and Bredagh GAC was left without a home. For many years the playing fields at Cherryvale were used and, despite the lack of facilities, the club expanded. Now Bredagh has the largest number of members in County Down and on a Saturday or Sunday morning as many as 300 children can be seen in Cherryvale being coached in football, camógie and hurling.
It is particularly worth highlighting the contribution from the Bredagh Ladies team who were the first team from the club to claim a Senior championship in 2002. Two years earlier there were six representatives on the Down team, including Captain Jacqui Clarke, which won the All Ireland Junior Football Championship. In Gaelic Park New York the display given by Cathy Gallagher who overpowered the strong New York defence to set up attack after attack as well as taking several scores.
Bredagh has produced some excellent players who have worn the red and black of Down with distinction. Matt Fitzpatrick was Down Minor County team manager from 1970 to 1975 and in that time two Bredagh players came through to the Senior team. As Minors, John Wright and Damien Watson were magnificent. When Cavan beat Down in the 1974 Ulster final Dan Rooney one of the Down Senior county selectors spoke to management and said ‘where did you find that left half back?’ He was referring to Damien Watson who had an outstanding game and as everyone knows Damien went forward to captain the county Senior team with distinction and win a NFL medal with Down. John Wright too made the Senior county team as a corner back but work commitments saw him being unable to continue to travel to training. Since then Bill Gardner and Tommy White have also played Senior football with Down.