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A GAA life

Wednesday, 12th October, 2011 5:00pm

A GAA life

Dermot Ryan

A village put on the international map as the ancestral home of Barack Obama was the homeplace of an Athlone resident, who made his mark there as a hurler and footballer, and had further success over the past 30 years as an official of Garrycastle GAA.

Dermot Ryan's father, Seamus O'Riain was involved in all aspects of the GAA throughout his life, most notably as President in the late 1960s.

"My father was 51 at the time he became President of the GAA in 1967, and he was a national schoolteacher," said Dermot, who is a stalwart of Garrycastle GAA since shortly after its inception.

Dermot was one of ten siblings, made up of five boys and five girls, and he went to boarding school in St Flannan's in Ennis, where he played hurling.

"The tradition at the time was for boys from Moneygall to go to St Flannan's, although there was no free education when I went to school, but there was also no school transport, so I could have went to school in Nenagh, but it would have been difficult getting in and out," said Dermot. "We didn't win anything much there, but still hurling was the No. 1 game in the school."

Dermot played hurling for his native Moneygall as often as he could, and when he left school he went to the Civil Service in Dublin. It was the 1960s, and while he had the option to follow two of his brothers into UCD, Dermot wasn't really sure what he wanted to work at.

He started off as an Executive Officer in the Dept of Lands (Land Commission), and it was work he really enjoyed, and he made many friends there. He also met his wife, Rita, who is a native of Offaly, when she also worked in the Civil Service.

"My job was interesting, and I was involved in land acquisition, and dealing with land which lay unused for years, mostly belonging to old gentry, and the land commission had the authority to do compulsory purchases," he said. "But things moved slowly with land purchases, even in those days. It was an interesting time, and we were coming up to EEC membership, and farming was changing. 25 acre farms were becoming obsolete, and you needed 100 acres to make a living."

Dermot went to UCD at night to study for a BA in Irish, Economics and Philosophy, and played some hurling with the college for one year, until unfortunately he was told that night students weren't allowed to be on teams. This ruling was changed in later years.

He remained twelve years in Dublin, and in 1971, he moved from the Land Commission to the Dept. of Forestry, and he became a Systems Analyst. He had trained in a Civil Service college in Edinburgh, because there was no such education facility in Ireland at the time.

Dermot was an early computer user in the Civil Service, when he worked on a technological payroll for forestry workers.

The first ever decentralisation of the Civil Service happened in 1976, and Dermot was offered a transfer to Castlebar, but he and Rita had started a family, and were not happy with being so far away from their own families.

"Roads were also bad at the time, but still we were anxious to get out of Dublin, and then the following year, the Department of Education came to Athlone," he said. "I put my name in for it, and I'm here in Athlone since 1977, although I kept playing for Moneygall in the early years."

Ironically, Dermot, who played as a wing forward, as a hurler, admits that the biggest thing he won was in football.

"When I left school, I was on a good Under 21 team, and we amazed ourselves when we came to the County Final, and came up against Ardfinan, who had Babs Keating playing with them," said Dermot. "We won by a point, and I was only 18 at the time, and the second youngest on the team. We contested the county senior final the following year, but never won the county again."

As time moved on, with his job and his new family in Athlone, Dermot couldn't give the same level of commitment to sport.

"In Athlone, I met up with Phelim Finnegan, who asked me to go into a Southern Gaels meeting in Pairc Ciaran and I met the late Dan Hogan, Frank Young and Fr. Harte there," said Dermot. "Dan was a Toomevara man, which was four miles from my place, and he knew my father from years back."

Dan Hogan had come to Athlone in the 1930s and resided in Garrycastle. He came up with the idea that a second GAA club was needed in Athlone, because he believed too many youngsters were slipping through and not getting involved in sport. In 1981, the Westmeath County Board accepted Garrycastle GAA's application. "In the late 70s, I had played in street leagues with Dan's son Gossie, and Jack Veale, Martin Flynn, John Ledwith and the lads I got to know later on, but I didn't know them well at the time, and then Phelim Finnegan mentioned to me about the new Garrycastle club having started up," said Dermot. "I went to a meeting in Cornamaddy School, and while I wasn't a founder member, I got involved early on in setting up the street leagues for the kids. We had a patch of ground, and there was only football in the beginning, but that changed."

Dermot did an early coaching course in Mullingar, because he and many others didn't have experience in training young lads. It was one of the first such courses of the time.

"We had the pitch on Farrell's field at the end of Garrycastle, and it took in where the motorway is now, and the adults had a pitch near there, on a higher level, and junior football was played there," he said.

Dermot went to the Garrycastle GAA AGM in 1981, and he was made PRO, although he did nearly every office on the committee more than once throughout the years.

"In 1984, the GAA centenary year, I was secretary and Dan Hogan was Chairman, and he was a great chairman," said Dermot. "Then work on the bypass came along, and we went looking to buy a pitch off the council, but they couldn't do a deal with us, until the bypass was finished."

In the years that the club hadn't a pitch, they trained everywhere from Athlone GAA, Caulry, Tubberclair, the Marist, Castledaly and the Community College. Dermot went on see out four years as Chairman through the late 80s, and they secured the land in Garrycastle for an official pitch in 1989.

In 1994, he got involved in the club lotto, which is something he is still involved in to this day. Dermot's wife, Rita became secretary in the club for a while in the 1991 and 1992, when Dermot was caught up in work in Dublin.

He became Principal Officer with the Department of Education at the time, and remained in that position until his retirement three years ago.

Dermot returned to the secretary's role after Rita, and did eight years (1993-2000) in the office.

"The club is healthy, but we are feeling the pinch financially like all clubs, but membership is good," said Dermot.

Dermot and Rita have four sons, Diarmuid, Ciaran, Donal and Aidan and one daughter, Aoife.

Dermot had a second stint as Chairman of Garrycastle GAA from 2004 to 2007, all whilst working on the club lotto. "In the 17 years of the lotto, we have taken in well over €1 million."

Dermot is a member of the pitch committee these days, and he is also involved with junior football at Garrycastle, alongside Aidan Dunning, who manages the team. "I have huge praise for the Garrycastle senior team over the years and they have won five senior titles, in the last 10 years, and the players have shown extraordinary commitment," said Dermot.

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