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Developers Face Angry Protests From Maghery

01 April 1971


The Sean MacDermott Gaelic football club in Maghery - on the Armagh - Tyrone border - and the Craigavon Development Commission are on a collision course. Indeed, if the vesting order - recently applied for against the club and seeking a portion of the embankment surrounding St. Mary's Park - is not withdrawn, a confrontation at national level between the Association and the Commission is 'absolutely inevitable.'

In an exclusive interview yesterday Mr. Alo. Mackle, a club trustee and chairman of the Field Committee laid it on the line for the Commission in a no-holds-barred condemnation of the vesting proposal which he described as "bereft of logic, lacking in diplomacy and guaranteed to completely alienate the local people and the Craigavon developers."

Mr Mackle told me "Candidly the people are seething and to say that the plan will be resisted is a complete understatement of the current feeling. The recent 'unanimous condemnation' of the Commission at a specially convened meeting of the club has spilled into outright hostility. Nor will this be fought as a local issue. The Armagh County Board is already involved while, of course, the Ulster and Central Councils are also interested parties as the park is vested in the Association."

Boating facilities
Basically the Commission wishes to vest that portion of the embankment surrounding the playing field and running down to the canal on one side and the river at one end, for the development of boating facilities.

Declared Mr. Mackle: "This idea of seizing the property to cater for a minority interest from outside the area is really sticking in the gullet. We welcome many of the Commissions proposals for Maghery, including those for boating, but the prospect of having something seized in which there is so much local pride and which has done so much for the long neglected youth of the district is simply not on.

Would it not be totally irresponsible for us to hand over property which may well be needed for club development later by way of a pavilion or stands? Is it not even more irresponsible for the Commission to suggest that we should do so?"

Being reasonably familiar with the area I can well appreciate the pride of the Maghery people in the efforts for the youth made over the years, particularly since 1955 when - led by the late Fr. William McKnight - the club purchased the field and at considerable cost - but without any assistance from local or central Government funds - developed it into one of the best grounds in the country. The efforts made will not quickly be forgotten.

Lack of courtesy
Now the residents point out that they are being asked to forfeit this work in an attempt to boost one of the most expensive sports and which has virtually no appeal for the local young people. Particularly galling it would appear is the threat to the shelterbelt of trees which were planted when the embankment in question was landscaped.

First hint that there was trouble in the air came in 1970 when, according to Mr. Mackle, members of the Field Committee learned that a representative of the Craigavon Estates Department had discussed plans for proposed acquisition of portion of the grounds with other people, and had given a map showing the proposed development to some of these people.

A meeting of the Field Committee was summoned at that time and members condemned the Commission for what they considered to be a serious lack of courtesy in not acquainting the trustees first of all about the proposed development.

On January 5, 1971, the Commission summoned a meeting in Maghery at which their officials outlined plans for what they termed Stage 1 of a phased development in the area.

Mr. Mackle added: "At this meeting no mention was made of St. Mary's Park and those who attended will verify that the maps produced did not include the park or any portion of it. On March 17, however, the trustees received notice of application for a vesting order.

Alienate district
"We consider this an insult to the Gaelic Athletic Association and indeed another example of very bad public relations on the part of the Craigavon Development Commission. We are determined to resist any attempt to interfere with the amenities provided by the local people for the youth of our area and if the Commission persists it will alienate the entire district. We have been offered no discussions or alternative proposals in this high handed example of bureaucracy at its worst."

At its meeting on Thursday evening the executive committee of the Armagh County Board "viewed with alarm" the proposal in respect of the Maghery club.

Said County secretary Mr. Gerry Fagan: "I would prefer not to make a full statement at this stage, but you can take it that we will be intervening. I am giving away no secrets when I say that the executive committee was alarmed that the club's amenities should be tampered with in any respect and the matter will appear on the agenda for next Wednesday's full meeting of the County Board."


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