It all began in 1972 in a predominantly Unionist area – founded by Barney Clarke and brothers Tony and Joe Swail with help from their mentor and club chairman the late Harry McEvoy.
”Well I was 19, Joe was 18 and Tony was slightly older. We played for other clubs outside our area but we felt that we would like to play and represent our own community. And with the help of our mentor, Harry McEvoy we got started,” Barney told UTV.
He admitted it was difficult to get a pitch in the early years and it is only with hindsight he and his friends realised the challenges they would encounter starting a Gaelic club at the height of the Troubles.
”Through the early years it was difficult to get a pitch. Looking back there was Internment and the Ulster Workers’ Strike so there were difficulties. We didn’t really think things through, but it came home to us when we were threatened and put off our first pitch. I suppose our parents worried more than we did, but we got around the obstacles and that’s where we are today,” he added.
Kate Connery – the first woman to become Chairperson of the Club – remembers the difficulties they encountered even into the 1990s.
”It’s not a traditional Gaelic area and our eldest son would have been playing in the 90s and you would have put a jacket over your jersey,” she said.
”You wouldn’t have gone to a supermarket – Forestside or it might have been Supermac – in your Gaelic gear, it just wasn’t acceptable living here. You would have been inviting a little bit of trouble. It was a challenge. It really was a challenge but thankfully that’s all changed.”
The founding members were inspired by the success of Down winning the All-Ireland three times in the 1960s – the first club from Northern Ireland to do so, with further success in the 1990s.
But as Paul McConville, the Club’s Irish Language and Cultural Officer, said it would take a further three decades before the club would have a pitch of its own.
”That breakthrough in 1960 with Down – the first Northern Ireland club to bring the Sam Maguire across the border, the whole county was alive with that. And then the further success in the 60s. We had lean years in between but the nineties the impact that had. That success spurred us on to do the fundraising, to put a field here in Carryduff. People got behind it because that energy was infectious,” he said.
With the new pitch came the advent of Women’s Gaelic Football as Kate Connery explained: ”I just remember one day going -why can’t the girls have this? So I made moves to start Ladies’ football in Carryduff and it did take a while. It was a challenge. There were objections but we got there in the end and it’s gone from strength to strength.”
Barney Clarke says one of the reasons behind the success of the club is the diversity of the area.
”I look back to our own club and it was not founded in any tradition of Republicanism or religion. There are no Saints or Scholars associated with Carryduff. It didn’t matter what creed or class you were if you wanted to play,” he said.
”That’s true to this day. I recall in my time as Registrar having to convert various names from a Middle East origin or from Polish to Irish and it just shows what a diverse club we are – like most of South Belfast, I would suggest.”
Reminiscing about founding the club Barney Clarke said it came above all else from a love of the sport:
”First and foremost we loved to play Gaelic football. We played soccer and cricket and whatever else during the summer to keep us occupied. But our first love was always Gaelic football,” he added.