THE RISE TO GLORY
On a bitterly cold St. Patrick’s Day in 2006 Portumna senior hurlers captured the All-Ireland club title by defeating Cork’s Newtownshandrum in the final at Croke Park. The victory provided Portumna supporters at home and abroad with their greatest ever cause for sporting celebration and represented the culmination of years of hard work by a large number of dedicated club members and players past and present. In winning the Tommy Moore Cup, the biggest prize in club hurling, Portumna became the fifth Galway club team to lift the trophy.
Many GAA clubs in Ireland boast of a long tradition in the promotion of gaelic games but Portumna is not one of these. Due mainly to the controlling influence of the 15th earl of Clanricarde, a harsh and powerful absentee landlord, Portumna lagged behind neighbouring parishes in the promotion of gaelic games in the early years of the fledging Gaelic Athletic Association. A set of hurling rules had been drafted in nearby Killimor in 1869, a full 15 years before the setting up of the official Association in Thurles. The scant early records make no reference to the existence of a GAA club in Portumna before 1888 when a football team featured but there is no mention of hurling in the parish before 1910. It was 1914 before the club won a county junior hurling title and it would not repeat that feat again until 1982.
Being a peripheral parish on the edge of the county with little outside investment in industry it has seen much outmigration of its youth down through the years. The 1920’s and 1930’s were particularly lean years for the GAA in the parish although hurlers from the club began to feature on county minor and junior teams. In the middle decades of the century Portumna’s underage hurling teams achieved notable successes but the scourge of emigration robbed the club of its supply of quality players. As a consequence of this the club struggled to survive for much of the last century, its adult teams often performed poorly, and on occasion the club actually disbanded altogether.
Portumna was seen more as a venue for hurling matches rather than for the playing of the game. The development of one of the first hurling pitches in the county at the Castle grounds in Portumna in 1930 facilitated the playing of inter-county matches there. The most significant of these was the National League final of 1931 in which Galway beat Tipperary.
The arrival of Fr. Walshe in the parish in 1942 gave a great boost to hurling, especially at underage level. Under his guidance three East Board minor titles as well as a county title were secured in the latter years of the 1940’s. The club’s juvenile hurlers won a string of East Board titles and a number of county titles in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Fr. Walshe also served as East Board and County Board chairman during his time in Portumna. It during this time also that the second-level schools promoted the native games; firstly the Vocational School, opened in 1939 and St. Molaisses College, opened in 1956.
Fr. Solon, a native of Whitegate and Clare hurler, arrived in the parish in 1966. He served as chairman of County Board until 1968 and is credited with driving the underage hurling policy at county level and with the development of a first class hurling pitch in Portumna which was opened in 1968.
However, the Portumna club went into serious decline and in 1973 it failed to field any team. Many of its players lined out for neighbouring clubs but returned to help the club win an East Board Junior title in 1974.
With a strong emphasis on underage hurling in the 1980’s, success was achieved at every underage grade over a ten-year period. These unprecedented successes laid the foundations for the club winning an intermediate county title in 1992 progressing to the senior ranks. The club contested its first senior county final in 1995 but had to wait until 2003 to make a successful breakthrough. Since then a further four senior county titles have been added along with three much-coveted All-Ireland club titles.
Although not regarded as a football area, the club has had teams competing at various stages down through the decades with notable successes being achieved in the late 1980’s. A concerted effort to foster gaelic games in the primary schools in the parish
has met with great success with each of the three school winning its fair share of silverware over the years. Camogie too has prospered in the primary and second level sectors. The girls in Portumna Community School have enjoyed remarkable success over the past decade winning a string of Connacht junior and senior titles.