|1994 Bessie Rooney
The very mention of the name Rooney in Castlewellan and indeed the surrounding parishes conjures up the picture
of GAA, one name is synomnomous with the other, and that is the way it has been for generations in the
This hasn’t come about by accident, it is the result of dedication, hard work, and a passion for Gaelic games and
culture in the Rooney household, spanning 75 years and more of the Club’s 100 year history. The Rooney
contribution to the GAA and in particular to the St Malachy’s Club is unmeasurable.
Bessie Rooney the mother of seven sons who all played Gaelic for the town was King to her own name. Dan Rooney
eldest of the Rooney Brothers has often said that his earliest influence was his mother’s brother John King who won
a SFC medal with the town in 1934 and in the same year won a Feis medal in what was the first ever Feis Sevens.
So from an early age the young Rooney boys and girls were brought up on a diet of Gaelic football and a love for
Irish pastimes noutured by by their mother Bessie who was a deeply patriotic lady with a love and respect for all
Bessie became a lifelong supporter of the town Club and ensured that all her boys played Gaelic. She took great
pride in her sons turning out for the town and in the days before automatic washing machines and dryers and
although she had a large family Bessie would ensure that her sons playing gear was in prestine condition everytime
they took the field – which with seven sons was very frequently.
Encouraged by their mother 3 of her sons went on to make major GAA contributions not only for their Club but also
the County; Dan was Club Secretary 1947-1969 and Club Chairman 1976-1985. He was also a Down selector in the
1960’s including a selector of the All-Ireland winning side of 1968; Pat was referee in a record 8 Down SFC finals,
and his contribution to refereeeing was recognised during the Down Centenary Year when he was awarded a
centenary Spirit of Down Award. Frankie was Club Treasurer 1967-1982. In addition there are 8 SFC medals in the
Rooney household - Dan (2) – Pat (2) – Johnny (2) – Frankie (2), and both Dan and Pat won Ulster Junior Football
Championship medals in 1949. All four sons are recipients of St Malachy’s ‘Hall of Fame Awards’.
However Gaelic games and Gaelic ways were not confined to Bessie’s sons and she also encouraged her daughters
to play camogie and become actively involved in the Club. Her daughters Sally and Aggie played camogie for the
town during the 1950’s and Aggie later joined the town committee were she was not afraid to voice an opinion and
along with May Steele and Peggy Toner they resurrected a camogie team in the Club during the 1970’s. Another
daughter Bernie was also very heavily involved with organising Scor competitors to represent the Club during this
Rain hail or snow Bessie was ever present at every town game along with her lifelong friend Rosanne Corrigan
cheering on her sons and anyone else that wore the town jersey. They were also a permanent fixture on the town
bus along with Bessie’s daughter Dympna, from the time the first bus was purchased in 1954 until the town bus
eventually went off the road in the early 1980’s.
Regardless of what function the Club was running down through the years and if tea making and sandwiches were
required Bessie and her daughters were to the forefront along with the other faithfull town ladies. The same can be
said for Club fund raising or jersey repairing, Bessie could always be relied on to help out her beloved Club.
However Bessie will best be remembered as a loyal, true and vocal supporter of generations of Town teams,
standing with her loyal companions and daughters on the sideline in a huddle and often under umbrellas in appalling
weather roaring out support for the town.
It is indeed appropriate that Bessie Rooney should become the first female recipient of the St Malachy’s GAC ‘Hall of
Fame’ award.. Her legacy lives on and in the year of the Club Centenary her grandchildren and great grandchildren
are playing and coaching Gaelic for the town Club and many other GAA clubs as well.
1984 Dan Rooney
Dan’s contribution to Castlewellan Club since he first pulled on the green jersey as a 14 year old youngster in 1940
until he stepped down as Club Chairman in 1986 has been equalled by few and surpassed by no one.
Dan is probably best remembered in his later years as Club Chairman from 1976 to 1986. It was in this important role
that Dan’s diplomatic skills and steady hand at the tiller steered the Club through a time of great challenge, both
financially and physically. Gone were the days of the annual guest tea and treasure hunt as a means of raising the
necessary few pounds to keep the Club ticking over.
Dan’s chairmanship overseen the opening of the Social Club (first GAA Social Club in Down) in 1976, and the
transformation of the old ‘meadow’ into a purpose built playing pitch with the opening of Páirc Naomh Maolmhóig in
1978. Both these ventures were huge and indeed controversial undertakings at that time and involved plunging the
Club deeply into debt. It took steady nerves and a cool head at the top to see the Club through the difficult financial
years that followed. To Dan’s credit he remained in the chair despite mounting work commitments in his teaching
career until the Club was safely out of debt some ten years later.
The Social Club was a major challenge for the Club Committee of the time. A Committee that would be more familiar
with marking the pitch, putting up nets and running the teams, rather than trying to run a new licensed and
entertainment centre and all the teething troubles that this new venture brought. But Dan, although a life long pioneer
unfamiliar with the nuances of licensed premises never faltered and was always on hand to offer advice and to steady
committee nerves as each new crisis was encountered and finally resolved. He even found time to do a stint behind the
unfamiliar territory of the Club bar on busy Sunday nights washing glasses and stacking shelves, where he would
receive a fair amount of banter from former pupils.
The other major milestone that Dan’s Chairmanship overseen was the GAA centenary celebrations in 1984, and again
Dan played an active role in ensuring that the Club marked this occasion in a fitting and memorable fashion. It was a
huge success and the Club retains important video footage of this splendid occasion when all existing teams, from the
1930s to the 1980s paraded through the town from the Newcastle Road entrance of the Park and back via the Circular
Dan’s administrative role with the Club did not only commence however when he took the Chair in 1976, as he had also
been the Club Secretary from 1945 to 1969. In 1979 Dan was awarded the coveted Clubman of the Year Award for
outstanding service to the Club.
But like so many sportsmen Dan will probably want to be remembered more for his football achievements both on and
off the field rather than his administrative achievements, and there too his skill and abilities were well recognised and
In an interview in 1992 for the Club magazine ‘Over the Bar’ Dan recalled that back in 1940 when he began his playing
career it could easily have been with arch rivals Bryansford rather than with the ‘Town’. Dan explained that on that
fateful day there was to be a match in the old meadow between the Town and Bryansford. As it happened Seamus
Fitzpatrick asked Dan would he like a game for the Town and he duly accepted. Two minutes later Dan’s uncle, John
King, asked him if he would like to play for the ‘Ford’. Dan declined saying that he had already promised to play for the
Town although admits that had John King approached him first; he would have played for the ‘Ford’. Ironically Dan
marked his uncle during the match and much to the delight of the crowd bagged a handful of goals.
Dan continued to play with distinction for the town right up to the end of his career in the late 50’s and even made the
odd rare appearance up until the mid sixties. Dan played in the famous or infamous 1950 championship final against
Warrenpoint (the year of the Burst ball). Warrenpoint were hammering Castlewellan and at half time it was decided that
that the ball would have to be burst (hence match would have to be abandoned). After many attempts to drive the ball
against the barbed wire the ball was eventually kicked out of the field and out of view, and a pioneer pin did the rest.
When the burst ball returned the referee, Liam Froil (Belfast) had no option but to abandon the game. It was
rescheduled for the following Sunday and Castlewellan won handsomely. Dan is also very proud of the four Féis (Féis
an Dúin) medals that he won with the town, as well as Down Div 1. League winners medal in 1955.
Dan was also on the Down panel that won the All-Ireland J.F.C. in 1946. However there was to be a fortnights training
in Newry before the final in Croke Park, and because of other commitments Dan, who had played in the semi-final was
unable to attend training and was dropped from the panel and missed the final. Dan has also got Dr Logan Cup medal.
Dan was East Down Secretary between 1957 and 1962 and was there the County Vice –Chairman In 1964, ’65 and ’66
he was manager of the Junior and U-21 teams. He won Ulster titles with both in the same year only to fall in the All-
Ireland semi-finals both to Kildare, in the space of a fortnight.
During this same period Dan was also Club Secretary, and still made time to manage the senior team, along with Fr.
Sean Murphy, between 1963 and 1967. Under their management the ‘Town’ was Division 1 winners in 1964, and in
1965 won the County Championship.
In 1967 Dan became selector of the Down Senior team and was part of the management team which steered the team
to win the 1968 All-Ireland SFC, the National League, the Wembley Tournament, also winning in New York.
Dan was recognised for his contributions to the County and East Down in particular when .he was awarded the East
Down Hall of Fame Award in…… following in the footsteps of that other great Clubman John O’Hare.
Since his retirement from Club duties in 1990 Dan has played a less active role in Club affairs following a spell of ill
health. Thankfully Dan has made a full recovery and is always on hand to offer advice, and is a source of much valued
historic information relating to the Club. There’s nothing Dan enjoys more than recalling stories about much loved
characters and famous games in the Club’s past. With the introduction of this web-site and the forthcoming Club
Centenary in 2006 you can be sure he will be called upon again to provide much needed information.
Dan, his brother Pat and mother Bessie are all recipients of the Club’s highest award entering the Hall of Fame in
1984, 1989 and 1994 respectively. A magnificent achievement that the Castlewellan Rooney Clan can be truly proud of.
1989 Pat Rooney
When the club reformed in 1940 after a short lapse, one local family in particular was to become synonymous with
Gaelic games in Castlewellan and would play a pivotal role in shaping future generations of young Gaelic
footballers, and their local club, namely the Rooneys of ‘the cut’.
Pat Rooney, younger brother of Dan (see Hall of Fame) commenced his club playing career in 1945 developing
into one of the best if not the best scoring forward ever to dawn the green jersey for the town. The holder of 2
Down S.F.C. medals 1950/58 and a Division 1 league medal 1955 along with 4 coveted Feis 7’s medals, Pat as
one of the Rooney Bros. commanded the left wing not only playing for the ‘Town’ but also with Down in the less
fashionable days of the 1950s. While still playing, Pat took a keen interest in the rules of the game and became
the clubs official whistler. Pat went on to became one of the best respected referees in the County, and created a
record still unbeaten in Down by refereeing 8 Down Senior football championship finals. One rule not written down
in the referee’s rulebook that has become synonymous with Pat Rooney is ‘common sense’. Pat continued to
referee games up until the 1990s
When his playing career was over, Pat like so many other Hall of Fame recipients, joined the Club committee and
threw his body and soul into building and shaping the modern Club. Pat was one of the stalwarts involved in the
new Social club, which opened in 1976, and the new Park, which opened a couple of years later in 1978. He
immediately took on the many new duties that this new venture required, including the duties of doorman, during
those very busy years when the St Malachy’s Club was the only GAA Club in Down and was the main Mecca of
social entertainment for Gaels the length and breath of the County. Along with his club colleague and other great
hall of fame recipient Johnny O’Neill, Pat commenced and run weekly bingo sessions in the new social club on
Friday nights. This he did for almost twenty years, as well as being one of the callers at the Wednesday night
parish bingo over the same period. During the successful club festivals of the 80s Pat and Johnny also organised
and ran monster bingo sessions in the marquee, which proved very popular, raising much needed revenue for the
Club at that time.
Pat was also at this time one of the Club bus drivers and as well as transporting teams and supporters to the
various matches, the duties also included private hire, involving journeys throughout Ireland – all carried out on a
voluntary basis by the small band of club drivers.
When the Club’s All-Ireland invitation sevens commenced in 1980, Pat was called upon every year to organise top
class whistlers for this important competition, and was himself involved in referring games. On odd occasions down
through the years Pat would be called upon to referee games involving his own side. This was something all
Castlewellan players dreaded, as they knew his sense of fair play would always err on the side of the visitors.
Always the voice of reason and fair play Pat has served on the committee for over 40 years. In addition, in the
year 2000 Pat continues to represent Castlewellan on both the County and East Down Committee’s, and is
responsible for co-ordinating referees in the county.
The Club committee recently honoured Pat for his 50 years loyal service to the Club, by making a special
presentation in recognition, and in appreciation, of his lifetime contribution to the club. Then at the East Down
Awards dinner on Friday 28th February 2002 the East Down Committee honoured Pat for his life time service to
refereeing in the County and for his long service on the East Down Committee. In receiving this Award Pat became
the fourth Townman to enter the East Down Hall of Fame following in the footsteps of John O'Hare (1986), Dan
Rooney (1989), and Johnny OÂ’Neill (1991). Nobody deserves this honour more that Pat who has served the
Gaels of Down with distinction for over half a Century. His outstanding contribution to Gaelic games in the County
was also recognised by the Down County Committee in 2003 at the Centenary Presentation Dinner held on Friday
31st October 2003 in the Canal Court Hotel Newry when Pat was one of only 4 recipients of a prestigious one-off
“Spirit of Down Award” The Spirit of Down awards were presented in "recognition of outstanding personal
commitment to the Gaelic Athletic Association in Down over a lasting period, and reflecting the faithful contribution
of those whose dedication has fostered and enriched the Spirit of Down".
The awards were presented to;
Hurling David Bel, RIP received by George Bell,
Football; Sean ONeill,
Refereeing; Pat Rooney,
Administration; T P Murphy RIP, received by Mrs Josephine Murphy.
Pat’s son Patrick Og (former Castlewellan player), continues to carry on his fathers commitment to Gaelic games,
but on the other side of the atlantic ocean where he immigrated to in the mid eighties.
Since then an American born Rooney – Patrick Rooney iii has arrived and will hopefully continue the proud
Rooney tradition of promoting Gaelic sport, remembering of course that he is a Rooney from ‘the cut’.
2001 Frankie Rooney
Like his older brothers Dan and Pat Frankie Rooney has always been a loyal and true town man. For generations the
Rooney brothers have been cornerstones of St Malachy’s GAC, first and foremost as players on numerous victorious
town teams. However, Dan, Pat, Johnny, and Frankie Rooney were also valued and great club administrators moulding
and fashioning the club into the proud and successful club it has become in the 21st centuary. From the early 1950’s to
the close of the 20th centuary there has always been at least one Rooney brother on a Castlewellan GAC committee.
Frankie was Club treasurer from 1967 until 1982.
As a young boy growing up in the town Frank was introduced to Gaelic games by his uncle John King who was then a
great and skilful Gaelic footballer. Brothers Dan and Pat who were fast making a name for themselves on the Town
Team also influenced Frank. As a ten-year-old Frankie can recall Dan and Pat playing in the famous or infamous 1950
championship final against Warrenpoint (the year of the Burst ball), which the town won in the replay. Both Dan and Pat
were also holders of numerous Feis Sevens medals for the town as well as being selected to play for the County during
the 1940’s and 1950’s.
The pressure was on Frankie even before he kicked a ball for the town to live up to the reputation of his brothers. It
wasn’t long however before Frankie showed his true pedigree winning his first medal with the town as a 13 year old
when the team won the Down u16 championship in 1953, and collecting his second U16 medal two years later in 1955.
He was also a member of the U18 team, which claimed the town’s first minor County C’ship title in 1957 beating Glenn
in the final. Success on the field continued with a senior championship medal in 1958 – ‘B’ League medal in 1963 – ‘A’
League medal in 1964 – and a second SFC medal in 1965 along with numerous 7-a-side and tournament honours.
While still at the height of his playing career Frankie, like his brothers Dan, Pat, and Johnny (who was also a notable
town footballer) joined the Club committee in the late fifties holding such posts as Assistant Secretary and Assistant
Treasurer before becoming Club treasurer in 1967 a post he held with distinction for 15 years. During this period his
brother Dan was Club Secretary from 1945 to 1965 and then chairman from 1976 until 1986. While still a regular
member of the town senior team in the early 1970’s Frankie held the important Club Treasurer post at a very important
period for the club which overseen the development of St Malachy’s Park and Social Club. During this period the
Rooney brothers worked tirelessly along with many other great Club men and women to turn their dream of a modern
St Malachy’s Club complete with new pitch changing rooms, and a social club into reality.
It was in this latter venture that Frankie’s bar experience proved to be extremely important to the town club. In the mid-
seventies no other GAA club in the County had a licensed social club, but with Frankie’s guiding hand it wasn’t long
until the fledging GAA social club on the Circular road found it’s feet. The standards and work methods, including stock
control introduced by Frankie were adapted by the club committee and ensured the survival of the social club through
lean years of the 1970’s and 1980’s when high interest rates led to the closure of many licensed premises and clubs. In
later years the success of the club continued to grow thanks to the strong foundations Frankie helped to lay. His
contribution to the success of the bar didn’t end with his guiding roll and advice. He helped organise voluntary bar-
teams, including experienced bar staff such as his employee’s sons, the Maginn brothers. He also did more than his
share of voluntary shifts behind the bar, a task he continued for many years after the social club was firmly established.
Like so many dedicated town players Frankie donned the second’s jersey in the twilight years of his football career and
continued to play for the town well into the seventies. As well as organising, overseeing and working shifts behind the
bar during this busy decade he also made time to undertake numerous other tasks on behalf of the club. Frankie was
one of a small band of Club bus drivers that drove the club bus all over Ireland not only ferrying club teams but school
groups, parochial bodies, scouts and guides and anyone else that wanted to hire the club bus. This group of drivers
give their services entirely free often taking time off work and at week-ends do this important club work.
In 1982 with an extending family and increasing workload Frankie stepped down from the Club Committee. A few years
later he opened his own pub in the town – the ‘Fountain Bar’ at the lower end of the town’s Main Street. Frankie soon
made the bar into a popular meeting place for Gaelic fans from all of the neighbouring Clubs and for County fans on
their way home from games. During many heated football arguments he never wavered from proclaiming to be a true
town-man. In the less successful years for the town team in the early 90’s Frankie accepted the mantle as official senior
team sponsor and remains a generous benefactor to the town Club.
2004 Johnny Rooney
Johnny Rooney was born into a family steeped in the true G.A.A. tradition. He got his inspiration firstly from his uncle
who won a senior championship medal with the Town in 1934 and then from his two older brothers who repeated this
feat also with the Town in 1950. Because of his date of birth he always seemed to miss out on the clubs under-age
success in the early 1950's and possibly could be termed as a late developer in terms of team successes with the
Town. He made his senior league debut for Castlewellan in 1956 in the away fixture to Cabra in his favourite role as a
right corner back, with his two elder brothers featuring in the forward line. But it was the year 1958 that he would
sample his first major successes at club level, firstly when he played on the winning Town Feis 7 who defeated
Ballykinlar in the Feis final and followed this up later in the year by starring in the Castlewellan defence on the team
that captured the club’s fifth Down senior football championship title by beating Clonduff in the final at Newcastle. In
the same year the team was denied the treble by Glenn when they had to settle for runners-up spot in the All-Co. 'A'
League. This was followed by another senior championship final appearance in 1962 when he was then the clubs
vice-captain, but on this occasion Glenn proved to be a major stumbling block. He was a member of the successful
'B' league and 'A' league teams in 1963 and 1964 and then collected his second Down senior football championship
medal in 1965 when the Town defeated Clonduff once again in the county final.
With his playing days coming to an end he joined the club committee in 1967 and for the next fifteen years he served
the club with diligence in whatever capacity he was required, whether as field marker, gateman, umpire and when we
opened our social club in 1974 he had no difficulty fulfilling the unenviable role of doorman which could be a most
daunting and difficult task in those pioneering social club days. But it was with the club bus where he devoted so
much of his personal time, whether as a driver, mechanic or cleaner that he is fondly remembered not only by club
teams, and county supporters alike, but also by the Legion of Mary, on their many trips to places like Knock in Co.
Mayo or boy scouts and girl guide troops, school outings and trips or wherever the need arose often traveling the
length and breadth of Ireland returning home in the early hours of the next day.
His team mates and mentors have all described him as a solid, honest, dedicated performer, regardless of his size or
posture who was forever fearless in the tackle, and in the interest of Town teams played in numerous positions
whenever the need arose. In later years he has remained true and loyal challenging any outsider with anything
derogatory to say about his beloved Town team, and always fit to hold his corner in a good argument.
Johnny Rooney is a most deserving recipient of the prestigious 26th Hall of Fame award taking his place along side
brothers Dan, Pat, and Frankie not forgetting their mother Bessie. A truly remarkable and dedicated town GAA family.
Hall of fame left to right Kevin Bell Chairman Down County Committee, Aggie Hardy (hall of Fame recipient 2007)
Ciaran Crilly Chairman St Malachy's GAC, Pat Rooney ( who received a special Club Award for his long service as
Club rep on the East Down Committee with special Guest and former GAA President Sean Kelly.
Born into a Castlewellan family, steeped in the true GAA tradition, Aggie is only the 3rd female to receive the Club's
Hall of Fame honour since the inception of this prestigious award back in 1979. The first female was her own mother
Bessie in 1994. In 2005 Aggie was the only female recipient of a special Centenary Spirit of St Malachy's GAC
Award for outstanding services to her club during her lifetime.
Growing up in a family where Gaelic traditions were handed down by her uncle and then kept vividly alive by her
elder brothers it’s easy to see how a female can so easily become so passionate about the fortunes of future ‘Town’
She herself was no mean sportsperson and was the inspirational figure on the Castlewellan camogie team in the
early 1950’s, never shying out of any tackles and always leading by example. One can only wonder how
Castlewellan teams would have faired back then if ladies football had been around with such an inspirational figure
to lead them.
When her playing days were over she answered the club call once again in whatever capacity was possible,
committee member, jersey washer, tea maker, cleaner, fund raiser and along with others town ladies helped with the
formation of a Camogie Club in 1973 which ran very successfully right through the 1970's culminating in the
camogie team winning the junior league in 1976 and and the Down Junior Championship title in 1979. The Camogie
Club's Irish dancing team also won an All-Ireland CCD title in the same year.
In the early 1990's Aggie was again involved with the formation of the first ladies football team in the town.
In keeping with her proud family tradition her own 2 sons have represented the ‘Town’ over the years with distinction
at various levels in both football and hurling and there were two very proud moment for the family when one of these
sons captured an All-Ireland minor medal on that famous hallowed turf of Croke Park and the other captained the
‘Town’ to their 10th Down senior football championship title in 1995.
She has been a loyal supporter of Castlwellan teams for over 50yrs. and keeps that great family tradition alive by
becoming the 6th member of the Rooney family to be enrolled in the Club Hall OF Fame.