Throughout the early years of the twentieth century, in the South Derry area, Soccer was the form of football generally played and supported and Gaelic Football was slow to develop in terms of playing numbers. Arising from meetings in Magherafelt and National Hall, Maghera during March 1933, a South Derry GAA League, made up of eleven Clubs was initiated. From this the Maghera team, known as St Lurach’s came into existence to compete with other more established Clubs. From the early 30’s there was always a Gaelic Football Club in the town of Maghera, operating alongside their rural neighbours, Sean Larkin’s based in the townland of Lisnamuck.
There exists a copy of the report of an Ulster Junior Football Championship game played on 17th June, 1933 in Maghera between Derry and Antrim – won by Derry on a scoreline 4-3 / 1-4. Venue for the match was Walsh’s Field on the Tamneymullan Road (now renamed the Coleraine Road). For playing purposes, this field was named locally as St Lurach’s Park. Featuring on the Derry team that day was St Lurach’s player Frank Scullion, uncle of the renowned Derry ‘93 All-Ireland winning defender Tony Scullion. Later that year Derry beat Tyrone 0-04 / 0-02 also at St Lurach’s Park. In the mid-30s several Maghera players played for Erin’s Own, Lavey during their local team’s recession. They gained success with the Lavey club, featuring prominently on the team which beat Newbridge in the 1937 County final only to be stripped of their medals because Newbridge successfully lodged an objection under the infamous “foreign games” rule (R.27 O.G.) that a Lavey player had attended a soccer game. However, being still with Lavey in 1938, they successfully gained county medals by beating Pearses (Derry) at Dungiven. Thus the following Maghera players: Joe Burke (goals); Johnny “Peter” McKenna (right full back); Harry McNamee (centre half back) and Matt Convery (centre half forward) won County Senior Football Championship medals. In 1939, a resurgence of Gaelic football in the Maghera area saw these four prominent players return to bolster their local club. During 1939, St Lurach’s changed their name to “Pearses GAA Club” and had a good season, finishing in second place to a Newbridge team whom they had beaten earlier at Glen Park on a scoreline: Pearses 2-07 / Newbridge 0-07.
During the early 40’s, (war years) football faltered in the town resulting from a combination of constraints generated by travelling restrictions caused by War rationing of fuel and the ease of taking part in soccer games as a maximum of only eleven players were needed to make up a team. Soccer, (either playing or attendance at games) was still banned by R.27 and regular suspensions were imposed by the South Derry Board when such involvement was reported by any member of the “vigilance committee”. The names of quite a few Maghera-based players feature among that list of penalised transgressors of R.27. Thus the Pearses club generally had to field what would be considered under-strength sides in the various GAA competitions.
GAA activities weren’t confined to “the town”. Young men took up the game in the different adjacent town lands. Again travel constraints denied these players regular access to centralised locations In the townland of Lisnamuck numbers of players got involved in GAA as an enjoyable pastime but despite the fact that organised matches were 13-a-side, there weren’t sufficient to ensure being able to “field” consistently. Thus the competitive element was satisfied by competing in various “sevens’ competitions”. These were held throughout the summer when Clubs, on a rota basis, held their annual fund-raising Sports Day.
In 1945, after several very successful years competing in the “sevens’ competitions”, becoming known and well respected throughout South Derry as the White Heather Seven, Lisnamuck players were organised as a GAA Club named Sean Larkin’s. It is remarkable to record that the Lisnamuck original approach to the South Derry Board to compete as “The White Heather Club” was rejected, hence the adoption of “Sean Larkin’s”. The man credited mainly with this Club formation was Jim “Jimpsey” McKenna. Their initial committee was Chairman: Joseph McCann; Vice-chairman: Gerry McNeill; Secretary: John A. McKenna; Treasurer: Dan Lagan. Despite their playing field being donated free by Jim Fullerton, funds were scarce but again local ingenuity came to the rescue. A Dramatic Society was formed and their well-attended performances helped secure necessary finance for purchase of items such as jerseys and a ball. The Club jerseys were blue and white hoops. After early forays in Jim Fullerton’s field the home venue was moved to a field in Fallaghgloon owned by John McKenna “Gorry”. This particular field features at different time spans as a Gaelic football venue becoming better known as “Gorry’s Park”. Despite initial setbacks, the following Sean Larkin’s players got their first success by winning the South Derry “B” League :- Paul Bradley; Tommy O’Doherty (Stout); Pat Lagan; Pat Madden; Pat Convery; Jack Cassidy; John Convery; Charlie McKenna (Fadje); David McKenna (Fadje); Willie McKenna (Bett); John Higgins; Dan Lagan; Charlie Donnelly
Eventually analysis of the local situation resulted in an amalgamation between the two clubs in the latter part of the decade and so games with other clubs in South Derry were even more closely contested. During the six months April - September 1947, the Maghera club was under suspension from the South Derry Board because they had fielded an illegal player (Joe Hurley- who was at that time, based in Maghera and seeking a transfer to Pearses from Lavey) in a friendly fixture. This harsh punishment proved to be the unlikely launching pad for Gaelic football resurgence as the club organised and ran a highly competitive local sevens tournament with teams based on streets’/ town lands‘ groupings. Interest flourished, more people played, more attended and the net result was that when the club had the suspension removed, the team was a real force to be reckoned with. Resurgence on Oct 4th as a League team, playing at Gorry’s Park saw Pearses totally dismiss the efforts of Kilrea on a scoreline : Pearses 5-04 / Kilrea 2-02, followed on Oct 11th by over-running Ballinderry - the final score being Pearses 5-0 / Ballinderry 3-01. Meanwhile Lisnamuck operated fluently to defeat Kilrea on Oct 18th Here the final score was Lisnamuck 3-03 / Kilrea 2-02. This was followed by yet another victory for Lisnamuck over Kilrea on 11th Dec on a score: Lisnamuck 2-03 / Kilrea 1-04.
Uniquely, the South Derry meeting when Pearses’ re-instatement occurred was the very same day (Sunday Sept 20th) that the famous Cavan V Kerry All-Ireland final was played in the Polo Grounds, New York, from where Michael O’Hehir pleaded with supervising authorities “for five minutes more” airtime so that his commentary on the gripping game could be recounted to listeners in Ireland. To help overcome the sporadic dissolution / resurgence of GAA teams in Maghera and surrounding area, it became obvious that an avenue of development and involvement for young players was necessary and a minor team was considered the way forward
Formation of this Club was driven by local publican Patsy (Peter) McKenna and a meeting, convened by Pearses GAA Club (the adult club in the Town) to form the minor club was held on February 28th in The National Hall. The Committee elected was:- Chairman : Patsy McKenna “Peter” ; Vice-chairman : Sean Conway ; Treasurer : Andy McRory ; Secretary : Sammy McKenna ; Committee : Philip McWilliams ; Eddie Moran ; John Mulholland ; Willie McKenna “Bett”. The name adopted for this new Club was that of Watty (Walter) Graham - a local Presbyterian (born and reared at Crew Hill) who inspired a local uprising against English rule and when captured, was duly executed in Maghera town on 16th June, 1798. Thus Watty Graham’s GAC came into existence and as their young players later matured, Watty Graham’s GAA Club, Glen functioned as a fully-fledged GAA Club. Surviving members of teams from that era are Dan Lagan, Freddie Joe Tohill, Davy O’Connor, Philip McWilliams, Eamonn O’Hara and Sean Conway. During the following years games were enthusiastically embraced and hotly contested with local rivalries and pride driving involvement. Maghera teams were always redoubtable opponents for any in South Derry but despite their commitment no titles were won in the championship cauldron
Watty Graham’s Glen won their first ever adult title on 8th Nov 1953 when they beat St John’s, The Mullan (Drummullan/Littlebridge) 4-03 / 4-01 to win the South Derry Junior League. Despite this League victory, the unenviable record of championship finals’ defeats at all levels from schoolboy through to adult grades, extended to the embarrassing number of twenty-seven! Eventually, this label of “under-achievers” ended with victory in the 1959 Junior Championship South Derry final: Glen 1-4 / Loup 1-2 followed by the County Final victory on September 30th at Ballinascreen. The scoreline on that day, forever embellished on the memories of Glen supporters, was: Glen 2-09 / Faughanvale 1-07. The history-making teams of that year were: Charlie Moran (goals) (RIP) ; Jim McGuigan; Sean Conway (Capt.) ; Paddy Joe O’Kane ; Liam O’Kane (RIP) ; Mick McKeefry ; Eddie Chambers (RIP) ; Pat Mulholland ; Louis O’Hagan ; Noel “Dickie” Bradley ; Joey O’Neill ; Frank Kearney ; Matt Regan ; Danny McKenna (RIP); Sean Devlin. For the County Final, changes saw John “Roddy” McCusker (RIP) come in at right back, Jim McGuigan move to right corner forward with the earlier unavailable Sean O’Kane (mid-field) replacing Pat Mulholland who couldn’t get over from London where he worked. Other members of the squad included Colm McRory (RIP); Danny Otterson; Bishop Frank Lagan; Kevin O’Hagan.
From the start of this season (1959) which began disastrously with successive losses to Greenlough, Magherafelt and Slaughtneil, the team marshalled its resources to embark on a confidence-boosting victorious League run beating Loup, Moneymore, Tirgarvil and Ballinascreen (twice). In the Championship, Lavey II, Greenlough and Bellaghy II were emphatically dismissed before the South Derry Championship Title was annexed by defeating Loup in a nail-biting finish when Noel “Dickie” Bradley hammered home the decisive goal. Finally Faughanvale were conquered by 5 points in the County Final at Ballinascreen and history was made when, for the first time ever a Glen team had taken a Championship title. Through the inspiration of Michael McKeefry, the ground for the current pitches was purchased in 1970 but development was slow due to further property acquisition causing severe taxing of funds. This was located in Tirkane Road at the edge of the town. Again it was the entrepreneurial vision of businessman Michael McKeefry who liaised with Tyrone man Patsy Forbes to acquire the premises, then owned by Inglis Bakery Ltd. Rule 27 was still inscribed in the GAA Official Guide and apart from forbidding any involvement with “foreign“games, also prohibited the organising of Dances as fund-raiser events. The dire financial straits facing the Club required solution and so as an expediency to help surmount the huge debts facing the Club, the Fairhill Youth Club was formed under the Chairmanship of Mrs Betty Noone -- a lady of remarkably driven ideals whose indomitable spirit and enthusiasm brooked no barriers. Leading “from the front”, she demanded and got efforts from the community to support the drive for these important community-enhancing facilities’ development. Under the aegis of the Fairhill Youth Club, Fancy Dress Balls and Dancing Carnivals were staged in huge marquees erected in the field behind John O’Doherty’s garage at the Fairhill / Glen Road junction. These highly popular carnivals were successfully run throughout the early 70s - the most turbulent and violent times in recent history. Because of society unrest of the times, the marquee was guarded nightly by members in groups of four or five on all-night vigilance rota. Stories of the nervous nights’ “on guard” were myriad and haven’t lost anything in the telling. Despite being hugely energy-demanding, fantastic camaraderie was generated among the whole Club with “ownership” of the fund-raising process being firmly established. They lasted several years and contributed significantly to the club’s capital developments. Priority was given to refurbishment and re-structuring of the Inglis Bakery building, as a Club Social Centre was visualised as having vital fund-raising potential to help pay for both the building itself as well as get the Mill Field playing pitch project then underway.
The Social Club was officially opened on 1st April 1976. In the years that followed, this Social Club made Watty Graham’s the envy of most other GAA Clubs -- Glen were again in the forefront of development as we now had a centre for some indoor training, committee rooms, dancing, bar facilities, weekly Bingo and monthly Senior Citizens’ socials. On Feb 22nd, 1980 the social Centre was the venue for the Ulster GAA Convention attended by all Ulster GAA dignitaries as well as Sean O’Siochain (Ard Stiurthoir clcg). It was a resounding success symbolising the arrival of Watty Graham’s Social Club as a major GAA venue. Following on from the Club’s Quiz team winning the senior Scor all-Ireland quiz at the National Stadium, Dublin in 1979 another activity which proved massively successful throughout the “eighties” was launched - weekly quiz sessions on Thursdays. For several years their popularity knew no bounds with unbelievably packed houses to watch / listen / take part in not only team quizzes but also the renowned “Mastermind” competitions. Teams travelled from all counties and the quality of participants may be judged from the occasion when in a special challenge match, the winners of the Watty World Book Quiz (Paddy Doherty select, Derry) took on and beat the Queens University team who were then the reigning University Challenge Champions of television fame.
Awareness of the centrality and importance of these premises as a focus in the local community has in recent times been considerably enhanced by Watty Club member Paddy Heaney (Irish News) eulogising them as “the Club” with it’s now traditional “mecca” for local and returning youth on Christmas night. On this annual occasion, sometimes long-lost friendships are re-forged as memories are re-awakened. Closer links were thus established within the local community with all sectors being provided for in the promotion of social and cultural activities, epitomising all that is good in GAA and community interaction. In recent years very successful pantomimes involving the complete spectrum of age groups from Primary School to Senior Citizens have been staged. Alongside this, regular fund-raising events are regularly promoted in aid of local charities. Energies now focussed on grounds development at the Mill Field, Fallagotreavy Road and June 13th1982 saw the opening of Watty Graham Park. Paddy Buggy (Uachtaran clcg) performed the honours. Other members of the platform party included Gerry McEldowney (Club Chairman), Fr B. McMenamin P.P. (who performed the pitch blessing), accompanied by Tommy Mellon, Derry County Chairman, Peter Harte Ulster Council President, Patsy Mulholland Derry County Secretary, Paddy McFlynn (former GAA President) Roisin McManus, National Camogie President, Eileen Crampsie, Derry Camogie Chairperson and Marie Convery Club Camogie Chairperson. Derry played Armagh in the opening challenge game with Derry captained by Glen player, Larry Cudden. Following on from that, development has been a continuous “living” process with dressing rooms, terracing, a floodlit practice pitch (1998) and a covered stand of capacity 3,600 being added (2003) to the facilities
With aid from NI Sports Lottery, ground alongside the main pitch was purchased and a second full-size pitch was developed and opened for use in 2009. Situated immediately alongside the main Belfast to Derry (A.6) road, Watty Graham Park is recognised as Derry’s Grade B County ground and one of the premier playing facilities in Ulster with a SportNI assessed capacity of 7538. On 3 different occasions the benefits of the central and easily accessible location of the Park was demonstrated by record attendances at the Senior Championship finals staged here in ‘88, ’95, and ’04. Various inter-county fixtures have been played here, the last being the 2009 NFL game between Derry and Galway.
On the cultural side Watty Graham’s are acknowledged as one of Derry’s prime promoters of Scor both at junior and senior levels. Strong commitment to cultural ideals have resulted over the years in winning County, Ulster and All-Ireland titles, at both Junior and senior levels, in Ceili and Set dancing, music, solo and group singing as well as a Senior All-Ireland Quiz title. Alongside football, Camogie has flourished in Maghera and in latter years Female Football has been successfully established. The Camogie club has won both leagues and championships and are currently blossoming with their youth policy becoming very evident. The female football team, formed in 1995, have played in 12 successive County Finals, winning 10 and going on to annex 2 Ulster titles and progressing to the 2007 All-Ireland Junior Final where they lost out by a single point. Louise Glass has featured in the 2007 TV programme “The Underdogs” for Ladies Football and Club mentor Joe Lagan has been a prominent administrator at National level. This sector of the Club have also developed a much-vaunted under 14 team and won the Derry Feile County Champions’ title in 2010. This team took part in the Feile Festival 2010 hosted in Co Derry. Plans are well progressed to merge all aspects of these three sports into a totally integrated Club but progress is being hindered mainly by differing associations’ fees and insurance provision.
Translink Ulster GAA Community Support Award 2021
Club Maith Platinum Award 2014
Irish News Volunteer award 2008 awarded to Bronagh Mulholland.
Irish News Outstanding Club of the Year Award 2004
Past players are Bishop Francis Lagan (Auxiliary Bishop of Derry diocese) and Rev Fr Seamus O’Neill, Superior General of St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Kiltegan. Both won Junior Championship medals with Glen during extended playing careers. Very Rev. Canon Bob Fullerton PP, VF (Down & Connor Diocese) was also a stalwart player of the early days.
Watty Graham’s Club members have served the GAA community well over the years at administrative level. The involvement of Maghera men was initiated as far back as Jan 21st, 1934, when local curate, Fr Anthony O’Doherty C.C. was elected County Chairman at the annual county convention held in Magherafelt. Sean Bradley held the office of County Chairman and Murty Higgins, Gerry McEldowney and Frank Kearney all distinguished themselves as County Vice-chairmen. Frank Kearney also served as Co Registrar for several years as well as being County organiser and administrative officer for the GAA general fund-raising initiative “Ciste Gael” throughout its 10 years’ lifespan during the 1970s. Current Club Trustee, Jim McGuigan was a highly esteemed County Treasurer for 30 years as well as serving as Ulster Council Treasurer. Alongside these, Mickey Moran was Derry’s Central Council representative for several years and Sean Gunning was County PRO in 2009/2010.