“Even in the ordinary way of life he was outstanding in the ranks of men. He was a man of ideals and principles and he was prepared to suffer for those ideals he held in high honour. And, in fact, he did suffer and suffer dearly for the ideals of the national cause . . .”
Those were the words of Fr. F O’Hagan, speaking after Seán Dolan’s death in St. Mary’s Church, Ardmore, in late autumn of 1941. Seventy years on his name remains synonymous with GAA in Derry City.
During the early part of 1940, Seán was one of a number of Derry men arrested under the ‘Special Powers Act’ and interned aboard the prison ship, ‘Al Rowdah,’ where he remained until his removal to the notorious Crumlin Road Gaol. As a life long republican the life of a felon was nothing new to Sean and he had previously served a six-month sentence on a charge of possession of illegal documents.
However, the degrading and humiliating treatment he received failed to break his spirit. He was unconditionally released 14 months after his internment due to failing health and on release the condition of his health continued to deteriorate. A number of weeks later he was admitted to the Waterside Hospital where, on October 28th, 1941, Sean sadly passed away at the age of only 28.
The sorrow which greeted the news of his death was evident throughout the community but particularly within the Gaelic Athletic Association. As a fluent Gaelic speaker, keen Gaelic musician and playwright, he had became well known as a competitor in Feis Doire Colmcille.
During the ‘20s, when Gaelic Games were at low ebb in the city, Seán was a driving force behind Irish language and culture.
While serving as secretary of the City Board he was also on the Derry County Board and was largely responsible for the establishment of the Patrick Pearse Gaelic Football Club, Waterside, a club which he represented quite frequently on the playing field.
The club is honoured to be the ‘oldest city club’ still in existence, founded by Sean’s team-mate, John McChrystal. The club founded in 1941 was originally named ‘Pearses’ but after the untimely death of Sean Dolan, the club took the decision to change its name. The founder members were two John McChrystals, both cousins, Tommy O’Hara, Tommy Jordan and Lexie Smyth,
The club won the City Championship in 1943, 1945 and 1946 but their first outing under the new name was in the City League in 1943.
They contested the County Senior Final in 1946 but were unfortunate to meet Magherafelt who were arguably the greatest club team around at that time.
In 1955 they were in the County Final again, this time against the great ‘Gribben inspired’ Newbridge and again, despite a gallant effort, they were defeated. Prior to that, they had won the City Championship in 1950, 1951 and 1955. At that time the champions of the City - North and South - met in the county semi-final on a rotational basis with one club going through to the final.
John McChrystal and his family moved across the river to the Creggan area with the new headquarters at Piggery Ridge.
In the late 60’s football was struggling in the City but Dolan’s resisted the temptation to amalgamate with other clubs and continued to field their own teams throughout the ‘troubles’.
Down the years the club produced many great players but none more famous than the late, great Mickey McNaught, one of the best midfielders Derry has ever produced.
He played alongside Roddy Gribben at midfield when Derry beat Clare by 2-9 to 1-5 at Croke Park in 1947 to win the National League.
This was the first ever national title to come to the Oak Leaf County.
McNaught played with Derry from 1943 to 1953 winning Lagan and McKenna Cup medals.
In recent seasons 2009 was one of the greatest in Dolan’s history with the club winning a ‘historical treble’ - the League, Championship and Neal Carlin Cup and in the process secured Intermediate football.
With numbers growing at the various youth levels and the club refusing to allow an arson attack on the clubhouse at Piggery Ridge to diminish their ambitions, the future looks bright for Dolan’s.
Tomorrow night in the Delacroix Inn Function Room, players and members from past and present will meet to swap stories of the past seven decades and raise their glasses to the next 70!