When The Moy Tír na nÓg premises were torched for the second time in seven months in April 2016, it threatened to rip the heart out of the Co Tyrone club that had only just completed building work to repair the damage caused by the first arson attack.
The first attack targeted the changing rooms. The second, a prefab shed, was home to Connell Donnelly’s personal training business. Donnelly has been unable to reopen the business due to soaring insurance costs. Nobody has been brought to justice for either attack.
Within the club they had feared exhaust fumes of the worst excesses of the sectarian conflict were blowing back on them.
GAA ties were reason enough to be fearful of your life in this area. In 1973, 33-year-old Francis McCaughey went to milk cows on the family farm near Aughnacloy when he entered the byre and a bomb went off. He died 11 days later.
Three suspects were arrested. One said the motive might have been because McCaughey had recently purchased land behind the local RUC station for use by the local GAA club Aghaloo O’Neill’s. Land that he said was “in a loyalist area”.
After all this was the area that two local priests, Fr Raymond Murray and Fr Denis Faul, had named the "murder triangle" for a series of killings during the mid-1970s.
As detailed in Anne Cadwallader's book, Lethal Allies – British Collusion in Ireland, the 1970s were a bloody time for the area. Writing about 1974, Cadwallader states; "Moy, from then on, became the centre of a six-year-long series of sectarian killings. Twenty-six people were killed within a ten-mile radius of the village. The gang, and permutations of it, responsible for these killings are believed to have operated out of three centres…"
The gang she refers to were the feared Glennane Gang.
It all seems so long ago now as The Moy prepare to head to Croke Park this Saturday for the All-Ireland Intermediate final against Michael Glaveys of Roscommon.
“In The Moy itself there was never any issues, never any trouble,” reflects club chairman Francie McQuade now on everyday life back then. “It might have been something like a ‘silent barrier’ that existed, where people did their own things.
“There is a good work being done there to unite the community but there has been a scar left there on the community. The Troubles have left a scar.”
The shooting of Bellaghy chairman Sean Brown in 1997 as he locked up the clubrooms forced the club to review its security. Nobody would be left alone as they locked up.
Sean Cavanagh grew up in Coalisland until he was eight years of age, at which time he moved to his father Ted's village of The Moy in 1991. Ted was full-back on the last team to have won the Tyrone Intermediate Championship in 1982.
The year they moved back was a dreadful time. Protestant student Robin Farmer was shot dead by the INLA in his family shop. Soon after a reprisal came with the murders of Kevin McKearney and his uncle John in their butcher's shop.
Set aside the recent arson attacks and there is no question but life in the North is far more tolerant now in the post-ceasefire era. Involvement with a GAA club no longer carries a risk.
"There are guys on our team who obviously are not from a Roman Catholic background at all. That's class. That to me is the new GAA," says Sean Cavanagh.
“It’s very much a harmonious place now, but this club run has really brought us together as a community...It’s class the way the GAA are bringing people together.”
First arson attack
When the first arson attack happened the club announced they would do a fundraising draw. An elderly Protestant woman got in touch with the club and made a £100 donation straight away.
They were in the middle of the draw when the second attack occurred. Emboldened, they went on to raise the sum of £235,000.
“I would say all through the Troubles certain things had happened in both sides of the community in the village. But there was never an issue down at the pitch. It was always open for all sides of the community,” says McQuade.
Old suspicions have melted away. A new world is emerging.
“At the moment we have a number of Protestants playing for us. We have done a lot of work in the community, rejigged the community and not necessarily to just gain players. But to offer our clubrooms for meetings and whatnot, getting involved in the local community group and trying to push events.
“You see The Moy is the only sporting club in the village. Our facilities are the only facilities. There are no open green spaces, no parks, there is nothing else in The Moy apart from our football club – it really is the hub of the community.”
The numbers in the stands during this run reflects that. “I would say there have been people going to the matches this year that haven’t seen a match in The Moy pitch,” says McQuade.
Nowadays The Moy village is the envy of others locally. The Ryandale Hotel has established itself as the epicentre of the Ulster country and western craze, full every Sunday night where people of all religions and none come together.
In their run to the All-Ireland final support has come from all over. The club advertised “good luck” signs at £50 a head. “We raised £10,000 from that, and there is no selling in them,” says McQuade.
“Protestant businesses came on board. We have a lot of pitchside sponsors from both sides of the community, but we had more people asking if they could come on board and they are absolutely delighted to see their name up supporting the club.
“That’s the kind of changes in people. You wouldn’t deny anyone a chance to be part of this. It’s something for everybody to experience, and we have waited a long time for it.”