By Stephen Glennon © Kildare Nationalist, Friday August 3rd 2001
ONE of the enduring images of rural life in Ireland over the last century has been that of the village, equipped with its church, local hostelry, the local shop/post office, and of course, the GAA pitch.
The ideal of the village has been immortalised by Irish poets and writers, and romanticised by Hollywood gurus in films like The Quiet Man. Some believe though, that Ireland is increasingly losing its identity, with the Tiger chewing away at the very fabric of Irish society.
However, in Kildangan last Thursday evening, there were striking scenes to be observed as locals furrowed their way through the hedge gateway into the GAA field. Scenes of neighbours gathering to watch the local lads stretch their limbs against wily opponents, in the hope of garnering a victory, showed Ireland's core ideals has not been effected. This was the real Ireland, where togging out for the love, honour and glory of the parish was put way above any other concerns.
True, these scenes are common to many small rural villages and parishes around the country every week, and are often taking for granted, yet in Kildangan these scenes are a novelty. At least for the moment.
After 20 odd years in the wilderness, Kildangan has re initiated the GAA club, and has joined the ranks of Kildare clubs affiliated to the county board. The prodigal son has returned.
If ever the importance of GAA in village life was underlined it was in Kildangan pre-weekend. The local junior side, having completed both league and championship, were playing a meaningless challenge game, for nothing more than love of the game.
Amazingly, a large crowd gathered in support of their new starlings, showing a unity for the green and gold surpassing loyalty to the code. They had been starved of the joy of watching the local team play for over two decades, but now pride in the jersey has been restored.
At 6:30pm, an hour before throw-in, on an over-cast summer's evening, Christy Rowan Sr., and his son Christopher, attended to the needs of the pitch. The field was lined out, and the nets were erected.
There was a little nostalgia in the air, as Christy was among the last squad of players to line out for Kildangan in the late 1970s, while Christopher Jnr is the current goalkeeper in Kildangan's newest offering. In many respects, a generation has been lost in the interim.
In 1978 the club disbanded, as emigration ravaged and ultimately destroyed the core of the parish team. Hence, what players were left in the area took to Ballykelly, Monasterevin and Grange looking to ply their trade. It would be 20 years before a ball would be kicked among the senior players in the parish again, 20 years before the green and gold would be worn proudly across the chest.
With Kildangan benefiting through the country's financial prosperity, and new houses being built at every turn, present chairman Aidan Lawless informed that more people were coming to the area, and many more locals were remaining at home.
Lawless added: "We saw a lot of young lads doing nothing, hanging around. There was no GAA club in Kildangan, and it was something we needed." Although the Foot and Mouth epidemic stifled the club's rebirth initially, with the officers elected, it wasn't long before Kildangan became the venue for other junior sides around the county.
With players returning to the fold from Ballykelly, Rheban, Grange and Nurney, the team set about establishing routine, and cultivating and nurturing skills. For some players, they had not fielded since underage.
Con Christie was taken on as team manager, and along with Leo Hickey began putting the lads through their paces. The team was up and running.
To compliment this, Lawless, Secretary John Miller, Treasurers Thomas Kavanagh and James Miller backed up this good work by setting up sub-committees to fund raise etcStan and Bernie Worrell, of Bernie's Newsagents, took on the mantle of team sponsors, donating jerseys, while The Cross Keys Inn and Peter Boland supplied other necessities like goal posts. And so with a squad of 28 players and the club in operation, Kildangan under- took their league campaign, garnering four points in their first season.
Two Mile House and Ballyteague were defeated, with Lawless stating that they were unlucky not to have got a result from other matches against Robertstown, Maynooth and Ballykelly.
Indeed, the Ballykelly game was a thriller, with a large crowd attending this local derby of sorts. In the end, Ballykelly emerged victorious by 0-3, although Kildangan did show their potential.
However, all in the club know that it will take another year or so for this potential to be fulfilled, as the club is still in it infancy. This was brought home when they were defeated by Moorefield in the junior championship recently.
While many clubs' season ends with their involvement in the local competitions, not so with Kildangan, who are now in the throngs of a series of challenge games, Encouragingly, Lawless explained that every player has remained interested, leaving all concerned very optimistic about Kildangan's future endeavors.
Also, the average age of the squad figures at just 23, while players like Andrew Casey, Gordon Prendergast, Padraig Casey, John Miller, Robert Murray and captain Victor McCormack have improved with every game. The signs are definitely good.
These are the players which the local parish hope will emulate the fortunes of former players like Jack Sexton, Willie Sexton, Jack Donnelly and many more who proudly wore the Kildangan jersey in the past.
Pride in the parish has most certainly been restored in Kildangan, and the way the people from the locality have responded has borne testament to that.
No doubt, the GAA club has given the whole village a lift, with the talk of the town over a pint on the Sunday evening, or at work Monday morning being on the fortunes of their team at the weekend.
This is what GAA is all about. A unity within the parish, a common bond, a sense of identity.
Most assuredly, Kildangan has reclaimed theirs.