Grinan used to be more than just a lake between Ballyholland and Burren.
Although there is record of Gaelic Football being played in Ballyholland in the 19th century, it was only in January 1954 that the present club, Ballyholland Harps, was founded by Fr. John Lynch, who became the club’s first chairman and first team mentor.
Other founder members included Sean McAteer (Mass Rock), Pat Keenan, John McAteer, Michael McGovern and Owen Murphy.
The first reference to Gaelic Football in the area takes one back to 1888 – just four years after the formation of the GAA itself – when a team from Aughnamsira participated in a local parish league. Details of football in that era are very sketchy and reports of matches usually only merited a few lines in the newspapers of the time. There is no record of this team having gained any honours or of it’s actual formation date. The next reference to Gaelic Football in the area recalls the formation of a Grinan team in 1907. This team later became known as Grinan Harps and they competed in the South Down and local parish’s league until their disbanding around about 1934. In 1937 this team was reformed but their revival lasted for just over one year before their eventual disappearance from the Gaelic Football scene in South Down.
Grinan Harps players had become disillusioned with their club and some were involved in the formation of a Ballyholland team in the late thirties or early forties. This team seemed to participate only in tournament games as the press of the time only makes occasional references to their endeavours. By 1949 this team had disbanded following an unimpressive and somewhat short-lived existence. Between 1949 and 1954 no football existed in the Grinan or Ballyholland areas – the only substantial gap from 1907 to present when neither townland had a representative team in local tournaments or leagues.
In 1950 a young curate by the name of Fr John Lynch was appointed to the Newry Parish with particular responsibility for the Ballyholland and Grinan areas. As a young man Fr. Lynch was a well known and dedicated Gaelic Footballer having won a county championship medal with his native Rathfriland team and having worn with distinction the blue jersey of St Colman’s College in all grades of college’s football. He must have been aghast at all absence of a team in the Ballyholland and Grinan areas and by 1953 he had already made moved to rectify the situation. He thought that a team drawn from the two areas would have great potential. In January 1954 a meeting of interested partied was held in Ballyholland Primary School and resulted in the formation of Ballyholland Harps GAC.
Immediately efforts were made to acquire suitable playing fields and a collection at the meeting raised in excess of £4 – a substantial amount for more than 45 years ago. Fr. Lynch was appointed chairman of that first committee and was the obvious choice for team mentor. The ‘home’ of the team in those days was a slightly sloping field known as ‘Collins Meadow’ and appropriately straddling the townlands of Ballyholland and Grinan it witnessed many memorable and exciting games.
Following the foundation of the club the senior team relied heavily on the youth of the area. This policy however paid handsome dividends when in 1963 the ‘Harps’ as they are affectionately known, stormed to a Down Junior Championship title – the first major title to be captured by a Ballyholland team. Many thought that promotion to the intermediate ranks, which followed junior Championship success, would prove to be too much for the Harps but in 1965 they were once again celebrating – only this time the cause for celebration was the winning of the South Down Intermediate League for the first time.
Players included: G Fitzpatrick, L McArdle, M Roe, L Boyle, W Cunningham, P Doran, M McGovern, K McGivern,I Kearney, J Doran, J Roe, P Campbell, P Murtagh, B Kearney, PJ Ruddy, S Sands.
Seven years elapsed before another major success came the way and this was the Down JFC title of 1972 when they defeated Clonduff in an All-South Down final in Fr. Petitt Park, Rostrevor. This team contained many young players and provided a backbone for the team that won the South Down Intermediate League again in 1976, losing only twice along the way.
Players included: S McAteer, S Campbell, T Poland, C Rooney, E Haughey, K Haughey, E O’Hare, P McShane, S O’Hare, P Campbell, B McParland, N O’Hare, N Quinn, P Murtagh(c), M Roe, S Mulholland, H O’Hare, R Taylor, F Keeley, T McLaughlin, T McAteer, E Campbell.
1977 brought brief hopes of glory in the Senior Football Championship when Ballyholland failed narrowly in their attempt to shake the Down football circles to its foundations when they were pipped by near neighbours and old rivals Burren. This achievement is as close as Ballyholland Harps have ever come to a senior football championship final, matched only by the class of 2000 who were beaten at the same stage by Liatroim Fontenoys. The 1977 team included 3 players, Brendan Loughran, Colm McAteer, and Tommy Bradley who won All Ireland Medals with the Down Minors the same year.
Away from the action of the field it soon came to be realised that more suitable playing facilities would have to be provided. As early as 1960 a motion was adopted at a Club AGM to acquire fields suitable for development but it was some eleven years before this became a reality when the present playing fields, originally five small fields with straggling hedgerows and stone ditches, were acquired from Mrs Clare Sands. Almost immediately the development began and by 1980 the playing pitch was completed and since then has always been recognised as one of the finest in County Down. These playing fields were officially opened, along with a new social club on the 5th of August 1984.