Saturday, 7 March 2009


FACT: When the club was first opened it had the biggest indoor pitch in Ulster


The Aileach Youth Club in Burnfoot is celebrating 25 years of offering recreational activities to the young people of the area. The club was officially opened on March 9th 1984, marking the completion of years of hard work by a voluntary management committee. Situated between the Garda barracks and Burnfoot cottages, the youth club is one of the best sporting facilities in the county, and this is thanks to the continuing graft and determination from volunteers, committee members and the support of the local community.

I am meeting with Dennis Donaghey, currently a committee member but who has been involved with the club right from the beginning.

“The Aileach Youth Club started back in 1976. The idea came from Father James Chesney, who was the chaplain at Nazareth House in Fahan at the time.” Dennis begins. “He thought that Burnfoot needed a sports facility of its own as local children had to go to parochial halls in Burt, Fahan and Inch. Even then they couldn’t play outdoor football as there were no full sized pitches.”

At the time of the official opening (the date of March 9th was chosen as a tribute to the late Fr James who had died on that date four years previously), the facilities were being well used by adults as well as children. There was indoor football, Irish music classes, dancing, bowling, keep fit and karate.

“The club was up and running for a few years before it was officially opened as the upstairs was done first, and the downstairs floors, and facilities like the showers, were fitted when the money was available. So it took about 5 years from classes starting until the tape was cut.” Dennis explains.

The first class was a Karate class and Dennis was there. “I was about 21 and we used to train upstairs and when we started we had to throw ourselves about on a concrete floor.”

The club cost £180,000 when it was built and the local community raised all but £40,000 of the money. “We had loads of local fundraising events,” says Dennis. “There were raffles, bingo, sports days to name a few. The original committee members included Brigid and Brian Donaghey, Tom Patton, William McLaughlin, Joe Hegarty and James McLaughlin.” Dennis pauses thinking back. “There were also other members and I apologise if I have left any-one out as every-one involved did a great job with the organising and fundraising. I would like to acknowledge everybody. It was hard going.” Dennis smiles wryly, remembering. “There was a lot of door-knocking and ticket selling.”

Thinking back to the old days reminds Dennis of a story “Father Chesney decided to book some music for the opening of the club and he chose a relatively unheard of band at the time called the Boomtown Rats. By the time the barn dance was to happen, they had had their number one hit in the UK and Ireland and their fans would not fit into the marquee that was ordered to put the show on. They had to cancel.” Dennis looks at me with satisfaction “Fr Chesney could spot a winner and the same goes for the club….”

Speaking of winners the club has produced its fair share of all Ireland champions over the years. The football team won the All Ireland final a few years back. The traditional music classes have produced Irish Champions and the old time and modern dancers have won a few competitions in their time. Not content with being the best in Ireland, some of the club members are going one step further and taking on the world. Denise Donaghey and Dean Barron are heading over to the Ukraine to compete in the karate world championships. Members have also competed in Romania and Italy.

Dennis is teaching karate and he is not the only original committee member to be involved in the club. Brigid Donaghey and Willie McLaughlin still have a lot of contact and input and are both involved in the indoor bowling.

Over 600 people a week use the facilities in the club. There is an after school club, football on the two all weather pitches, indoor hurley and drama with Emma Porter. There is also music, dancing, bowling, karate and judo (which is taught by Manus O’Donnell, a teacher from Tooban National School who also use the facilities for after school activities).

“The club is proud of the fact that it is open to all religions and has a lot of cross border football games,” Dennis continues.

Tribute must surely go to all the volunteers who over the years have worked so hard to provide the club with all its recreational activities for young people and the community.

“We do have a loyal team of volunteers looking after things.” Dennis agrees. “We have come on a lot over the years and we can look back 25 years later and celebrate our achievements.” So what about the next twenty-five years? “There are no plans to expand at the moment.” Dennis admits. “We are fully booked and happy to continue to provide the same high level of training and course. We still have fundraisers for maintenance and equipment. We have even raffled cars,” he smiles.

Next week the Karate Club are hosting training sessions with Bobby Morton, the National Irish Coach and Karate World Champion Gordon Smith.

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