Sporting Rivals: Book reveals historic Derry-Donegal sporting links

A packed Brandywell photographed in the early 1930s during an Irish League game involving Derry City FC.

A packed Brandywell photographed in the early 1930s during an Irish League game involving Derry City FC.

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The close sporting links which existed between the city of Derry and Co. Donegal a century ago are chronicled in a new book.

Conor Curran’s ‘The Development of Sport in Donegal: 1880-1935’ is the first book to offer a full length examination of the rivalry that existed between organisers of Gaelic football and soccer in an Irish county in the early years of the 20th century.

It also assesses the reasons for the slow development of the GAA in Donegal and examines why Gaelic football did not become properly established until the 1920s.

Of particular interest to local readers will be the influence that Derry’s soccer fraternity had on the spread and reach of the game in both Inishowen and north-east Donegal during the era.

Conor Curran writes that the foundation of Derry City FC in 1928 only added to this interest with its fixtures in the Irish League attracting “much attention” from people in Donegal.

Indeed, the appeal of Derry City FC was, says Curran, a source of concern to some Donegal GAA writers.

He reveals in the book: “This relatively nearby attraction, which held a higher standard of soccer than that offered locally, was noted by one GAA writer in 1933 who felt that too much interest was being shown ‘by large numbers of East Donegal people, some of them, I am sorry to say, Gaels’.”

He writes that, the following year, another commentator on GAA affairs stated that “here in the east, the maiden city, and its horde of soccer fans, is the attraction.”

It was, therefore, concludes Conor Curran, in the 1920s and early 1930s that the popularity of soccer was really “cemented” in north-east Donegal and in Inishowen.

The book also looks at the social background of players, organisers and supporters of the GAA, soccer and cricket within Donegal society.

The role of sport within the Protestant community is also assessed and attempts to develop the ‘minority’ sports of cricket, hockey and rugby are examined.

The book illustrates that the slow development of the GAA in Donegal had less to do with political identity than has been presumed by a number of GAA historians and writers.

‘The Development of Sport in Donegal: 1880-1935’, by Conor Curran, is published by Cork University Press.