THE FOUNDING OF DUNMANWAY RFC: 'Between us, we pitched in enough for Frank Casey to purchase a rugby ball'

May 4th, 2023 12:30 PM

By Southern Star Team

Dunmanway's Darren Sweetnam pictured making his full debut for Ireland against Fiji in a November 2017 international at the Aviva Stadium. He has three international caps to his name.

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Mick Hegarty, then a bank official who was transferred to Dunmanway in 1971, recalls how he got involved in starting the local rugby club


BACK in 1971, I was based in Dunlavin, a small West Wicklow village, and when I announced to my employers, AIB, that I was engaged to be married, I was immediately transferred to Dunmanway, 200 kilometres away.

I remember arriving on the road from Bandon on a cold, wet, dark December evening in 1971 and meeting the ‘bright lights’ of the town. By the time I found the house of the guy I was replacing, Denis Barry, way out the Bantry Road, I thought Dunmanway was a metropolis compared to where I had left.

Dunmanway Rugby Club started because two young guys were evicted from their lodgings by their landlady for late night antics in early 1973. The two lads were Gerry Heffernan and Frank Casey, both bank clerks working with me in the AIB. As they were then homeless, I took pity on them and persuaded my wife that it was a great idea to take them in, on a temporary basis, until they found fresh accommodation.

Helen and I were very young (19 and 23 respectively) and just married. We were renting a large house called ‘Woodlands’ at Coorycullane. Gerry and Frank had both played rugby at secondary school in PBC and CBC in Cork city. I was hugely passionate, but had not played the game, however my father had played for Garryowen and Munster and, though I grew up in small towns with no rugby clubs, my six brothers and I had all learned to kick and pass a rugby ball. One day, I woke up with the idea of starting a rugby club in Dunmanway – not the easiest of tasks in a hotbed of fanatical GAA followers and the Dohenys club in the hometown of Sam Maguire! It was early in February 1973, over lunch, that I threw out the idea to the two boys who responded enthusiastically. Within a few days we had arranged to hold a meeting in the Bostonian Hotel (Parkway now) and had made and distributed posters around the shops and pubs in the town advertising the fact. 

My recollection is that seven people turned up: us three plus Sam Beamish, Edwin Patterson and the Jennings brothers, Sam and Edwin. Those additional people had experience of playing rugby with Bandon Grammar School, but the most noteworthy thing about that first meeting was that there was a much larger group of Doheny ‘vigilantes’ sitting in cars outside the venue monitoring who was attending it!

Our next meeting, on 30th March 1973, was attended by about 20 young men and we voted to form a club. Between us, we pitched in enough for Frank Casey to purchase a rugby ball on his next visit to Cork city and to price a set of jerseys. 

We agreed on the Doheny colours of green and white, which was probably a bit cheeky, looking back. Frank returned with a Mitre ball with a plastic coating, which none of us had ever seen before, the significance being that it would not soak water like the traditional leather ball. 

Edwin Patterson kindly offered a field on their land where we could train and we started our first training session in Pattersons’ field in front of our house at ‘Woodlands’ a few weeks later. I took on the role of secretary, treasurer, selector and general factotum and I had a ‘to-do’ list, which included finding a suitable playing field, seeking affiliation with the Munster Branch of the IRFU and assembling a team for a first match, as well as finding an opposition.

I contacted John Field of Skibbereen RFC and he readily agreed to give us a game as soon as evening light permitted a midweek fixture. We agreed on Thursday, April 12th, and with the considerable assistance of Sam Beamish and his local knowledge, we gradually put a fifteen together. 

The team sheet for Dunmanway RFC's first-ever game on April 12th, 1973.


Frank Casey captained the side, playing at outhalf, though he was naturally a flanker. The first team to line out for Dunmanway RFC was, as follows: 1 Sam Jennings, 2 Noel O’Connell, 3 Con Downing, 4 Finn Mannix, 5 Mick Barry, 6 Liam Crowley, 8 Edwin Patterson, 7 Jerome O’Donovan, 9 Henry Culbert, 10 Frank Casey, 11 Sam Beamish, 12 Sean Crowley, 13 Mick Hegarty, 14 John O’Donovan, 15 Gerry Heffernan. Subs: Edwin Jennings, Geoffrey Buttimer, Jerry O’Brien, Denis O’Donovan, Cecil Beamish, Denis Barrett and Michael Tiernan.

Apart from our subs, there were two spectators at the game in Skibbereen. Dermot Newsome, a rugby enthusiast and assistant manager at Bank of Ireland, Dunmanway, supporting us, and John O’Lehan supporting Skibb. Edwin Patterson dislocated his shoulder and never played again. We were beaten 16-4, with Sam Beamish scoring the first ever try for the club, his first of many.

I then had discussions with the Munster Branch. We would need a playing pitch and a full list of friendly fixtures for the following season to show the executive that we were serious before we could be registered as a club and allowed into competition.  I gingerly approached Robin Atkins, the most prominent local businessman who was head of the big local hardware store, and offered him the presidency of the new club. At the same time, I suggested we were looking for a playing field and he offered us Droumleena Lawn for our use, unconditionally, which was very magnanimous. My great friend Mick Barry (sadly RIP), who had played in that first game, provided the goal posts. We were given permission by Munster Rugby to attend the fixtures meeting of the South Munster Branch in Musgrave Park that summer. Sam Beamish (who became a club lynchpin) and I attended.  Soon we had our fixtures sheet filled with 18 matches for the 1973/74 season. We were up and running.

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