It takes quite something to obtain legendary status, but around the Killygordon area, there was no doubt that Hughie Gillespie was a legend.
This morning, Hughie, of 482 Curragh, Killygordon.
Below is an interview, conducted in 2011, by Chris McNulty, with Hughie Gillespie for the booklet released to commemorate the official opening of Red Hughs GAA club’s new pitch at Monellan:
Hughie Gillespie is something of a legendary figure around these parts.
He was one of the men that led the reformation of the club into its current guise in 1981 and five years later he played on the Red Hughs team that contested the county senior final.
In 1991, he managed the Red Hughs team that again reached county final Sunday.
Indeed, for a staggering 14 of the first 25 years of their ‘new’ existence after ’81.
Hughie was playing with Robert Emmets at the time when himself and George Callaghan got the ball rolling in getting Red Hughs up and going.
“He was 36 in 1981 and he always said that he’d come up and play Junior football with Red Hughs for a couple of years – I think he ended up playing for 16 years!” remembered his son Lyndon.
Hughie, along with the Gallens – Billy, Gerard and Joe – Ciaran Bradley and Seamus Callaghan were playing their trade in Castlefin at the time.
“It was hard enough to get it up and going at the start, but we got there,” said Hughie.
In their first year in existence they won promotion to Division 2 and then won the Junior Championship by beating Kilcar 2-14 to 0-4.
The following year, they won promotion again. Now they were in Division 1 – and as a result also back in the Senior Championship. In ’82, they reached the final of the Intermediate Championship, but a late, late point by John Farren scored Urris a 1-5 to 0-7 victory.
Red Hughs had a bit of a lengthy wait for their maiden voyage into the senior championship. A combination of Ulster Championship, Ulster U21 Championship, county U21 Championship and, since there were a few dual players in the Red Hughs team, the National Hurling League, Ulster Junior Hurling Championship and the Donegal Hurling Championship, August passed without their first round game – against their namesakes from Ballyshannon – being played.
On Friday September 2nd, Ballyshannon won leg one with the second leg fixed for three days later. A win for Red Hughs would have thrown fixtures list across the land into disarray, but the Gods stepped in and two missed penalties later for Red Hughs it was the Ballyshannon men who went through.
Before his involvement with Robert Emmets and then Red Hughs, Hughie Gillespie had played for the great Sean MacCumhaills team of the time.
“I played with MacCumhaulls for three or four years and played in a couple of Championship finals with them. There was a great team in MacCumhaills at that time, they had maybe 11 or 12 county players over those few years,” he remembered.
“Tom Pendergast had played Kerry and Sean Young played for Derry, then you had the Lavertys and the McFeelys. Seamus Kane was up there too and he had played for Tyrone. Seamus was a great player in his time.”
He played minor, U21 and senior football with Donegal and it is said that he played in every position bar goalkeeper and right corner-back.
Five years after they reformed, Hughie and Red Hughs landed themselves in the senior county final. The Kings of Gaoth Dobhair were dumped out in the first round before they beat Cloughaneely in the quarter-final (did Dabber’s goal cross the line – the question still remains!), and seven points by Marty Carlin defeated Kilcar in the semis.
The ’86 final paired them with Aodh Ruadh, Ballyshannon. It’s noteworthy as Hughie lined up in the starting team alongside his sons Lyndon and Chris. Hughie and Lyndon were the corner forwards either side of Bosco Reid with Chris at wing forward.
“You’d have thought nothing of it at the time, we just thought about going out and trying to win the match,” said Hughie.
“It was a big honour to play in a county final with the two boys. It’s a young man’s game now so you wouldn’t see that now at all. It was unusual.
“It was a big deal at the time to get to a county final.
“Aodh Ruadh were a very good team at that time. They had a lot of good players too.”
Sylvester Maguire captained a Ballyshannon team that bridged a 35-year gap for them as they took victory, 1-8 to 0-5.
Five years later, they were back behind the band on county final Sunday. Four Masters and Kilcar were beaten to tee up a big Finn Valley meeting with MacCumhaills in the semi finals. Ollie Reid hit seven and Marty Carlin hit five, with Joey Browne’s goal sealing a memorable win.
In the final, though, soft goals were conceded early on, Conor White and Rory McNelis scoring and Killybegs took the prize, 2-7 to 0-11.
Could have been. Should have been. The best team never to win a county championship, maybe? “It was,” nodded Hughie.
“We gave away two bad goals that killed us.
“It’s a big regret that we never won a Championship.”
Looking back, how close were they to bringing Dr Maguire back to the Crossroads?
Hughie said: “We were a kick of a ball from winning the Championship.
Former Tyrone All Star John Lynch came into the squad in 1992. They had Killybegs to the pin of their collar in ’92, until Lynch and John Cunningham were sent off. Red Hughs lost their shape and then the game.
“Lynch was a great man, he walked away from nothing” said Hughie.
A year later, they took Killybegs to a third game. On a Monday night in Ballyshannon, 2,000 people gathered such was the interest.
“We had that game won too,” he says with a regretful tone. “They got a goal late on. We had (Donal) Reid in nets because he had a broken jaw. The ball was scooped into square, punched to the net they won it by a point.”
Red Hughs won the Division 1 League title in 1994, but it didn’t make up for the near misses of the Championships that could have been. Hughie said: “It was an anticlimax because we were geared to the Championship. It was nice to win something, but the Championship was the big one.
In ’92, Hughie and co. watched with pride as one of their own, Donal Reid, helped Donegal to All Ireland glory. “It was great to see a man on the team and then go onto win it,” he said.
Quite a few fine players turned out for Red Hughs during his years, but there’s no need for a moment to think when asked to pick out the best.
He said: “Marty (Carlin) was the start player. He never made it the way he should have. It’s a great shame for a player like Marty not to have anything to show for it, he was a great player for us.
“He had a great left foot. I played with him too, he was great. He played for the county, but not as often or for as long as he should have.”
It all started in the pitch at Ballinacor in the early 80s. They went to Browne’s Field, the former home of Curragh Athletic, and now they’re in a splendid new home at Monellan. Men like Hughie Gillespie helped take Red Hughs to dizzy heights. Today’s a day for looking to the future and celebrating the present. None of that would be possible without the past.
When the history of Aodh Rua Cúil na gCuiridín is penned, there’ll surely be a chapter reserved for Hughie Gillespie.
Hughie Gillespie is survived by Chris, Lyndon, Aaron, Sonya and Bonita. Deeply regretted by his sons, daughters, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, extended family and very many friends.
His remains will repose at his home on Thursday December 7th from 7pm until 10pm and on Friday December 8th from 11am to 10pm.
Funeral leaving his home on Saturday December 9th at 10.30am for Requiem Mass in St. Patrick’s Church, Crossroads, Killygordon with interment afterwards in the adjoining Churchyard.
Family flowers only please, donations in lieu, if so desired, to the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, care of G. Mc Cool & Son,Funeral Directors,Ballybofey. Family time on the morning of the funeral.Tags: