2021 marks the 130-year anniversary of the first recorded account of Gaelic games in Wellington and we celebrated in style on Saturday 12 June.

Ever since the first Irish person arrived on these shores, Gaelic games weren’t far behind. Here in Wellington, the earliest recorded mention of the ancient sport of hurling dates back to a New Year’s Day game in 1891. 130 years on, we’re still playing Gaelic games in the world’s southernmost capital city. Read on to see how we celebrated this milestone.

Celebrations at Hutt Valley Irish Society
130-year anniversary games

Celebrations at Hutt Valley Irish Society

A great night of celebrations was had at Lower Hutt’s own little piece of Ireland on Saturday 12 June. Club members past and present were in attendance, along with members of the Wellington region’s wider Irish community. Irish Ambassador to New Zealand Peter Ryan and his wife Teresa were guests on the evening, with Ambassador Ryan also being in the thick of the action earlier in the day having refereed some of the anniversary games.

It was a night enjoyed by all and míle buíochas to everyone at the Hutt Valley Irish Society for once again going above and beyond for this special occasion. The hospitality was second to none; I’ve scarcely seen thicker slices of ham or drank creamier pints of Guinness in all my days. As a thanks to the society for being a such a committed supporter of the club, our President Denise Durkin presented the society’s President John O’Toole with a 130-year Wellington/Hutt Valley commemorative jersey.

Also recognised on the evening for her outstanding contribution to our club over the years was none other than our patron Anne O’Carroll. Anne and her late husband Austin were instrumental in reviving Gaelic games in the Wellington region in the 80s and 90s. Anne continues to be a great supporter of the club today.

Anne O'Carroll with flowers and a plaque

Anne O’Carroll was recognised for her outstanding contribution to Wellington/Hutt Valley GFHA at our 130-year anniversary celebrations in early June.

If you’re having FOMO for what was one the great social nights of the year, there is some consolation as you can view photos from the night as well as recordings of some of the speeches through the links below. Thanks to Bryan Mulligan, Publicity Officer at HVIS, for capturing these photos and videos.

130-year anniversary celebrations at HVIS – Flickr photo album
130-year anniversary celebrations at HVIS – YouTube playlist

A trip down memory lane

In the months leading up to the anniversary celebrations, we trawled through the club archives to build a picture of Gaelic games in Wellington over 130 years.

The film below, premiered on the evening, is the result of hours and hours of research – and traces the history of Gaelic games in Wellington, from that first poc of a sliotar in 1891 to the present day. We hope you enjoy it.

And that wasn’t all. Also shown that evening were a collection of messages from some past members on their memories and experiences at the club down through the years. More than one or two great yarns!

130-year anniversary games

It wouldn’t be a proper celebration of Gaelic games without playing, well, some camogie, football and hurling. The anniversary celebrations commenced with four games at an unusually sunny Awakāirangi Park in Upper Hutt. Reports of four action-packed games can be read below. And some stunning photos from the games can be viewed through the following links. Thanks to Paul Hodgson of Paulo Pics NZ and Bryan Mulligan of HVIS for the action snaps.

Paulo Pics NZ – women’s football game Facebook album
Paulo Pics NZ – Wellington/Hutt Valley vs Canterbury hurling game Facebook album
Paulo Pics NZ – past vs present men’s football game Facebook album

Bryan Mulligan – 130 year anniversary games Flickr album

By Eilís Ní Chaiside

The women's footballers of Wellington/Hutt Valley GFHA kicked off the 130-year anniversary weekend in great fashion with an intra-club game. Awakāirangi Park welcomed a few delicate heads early on the Saturday morning, but the girls got stuck in from the outset following the gentle incentive/blackmail from coach Paul O'Hare (anyone that hadn't scored by the end of the game would have to buy a round of drink for their coach at the Irish society later that night.)

Tiaré Verenitani (green) breaks away from Laura Byrne during the 130-year anniversary women's football match.

This may or may not have raised the standard of football, but the game was played in great spirits and all players thoroughly enjoyed the run out. The Remutakas provided a picturesque backdrop for the women in the green and yellow, who can now be considered part of the history books in the life of Welly Gaelic games. Thanks must go to our dedicated coaches who were a great support for us over the last season and we look forward to what's to come in the near future.

Players:
Laura Byrne, Catherine Davis, Fiona Kennedy, Sarah Barry, Heather Williamson, Maeve Magennis, Rachel Kirby, Bronagh Doherty, Aisling Monagle, Emma Blyth, Aine O'Brien, Carol Carmody, Chloe Rahui, Rosie McDonagh, Tiaré Verenitani, Éiméar Rodden, Jolene McLaughlin, Aoife Kerrigan, Kerry Gourlay and Fiona Fitzsimons.

By Eilís Ní Chaiside

It was a quick turnaround for many of the footballers who continued the 130-year celebrations with a game of camogie. With helmets on and a camán in hand the women took to the pitch for what would be an event-filled, yet light-hearted, clash of the ash. From screaming Ozzies to Scottish lassies swinging their sticks, the entire globe was well represented in the thirty minutes of game time in Upper Hutt.

A special shout out must go to the fierce Ulster contingent, led by the cheerful and energetic Jolene McLaughlin, a very proud Donegal woman. It must never be said that Co. Tyrone is not a hurling stronghold after Rosie Mc Donagh’s sterling performance in the back line. She was breaking out of defence as if she was born with a camán in her hand and causing general havoc for the forwards. All players finished with a smile on their faces and perhaps a few bruises on their shins, but it was all very much worthwhile. Ka pai Welly GFHA and here's to the next 130 years of our beautiful game in the country's capital.

Photo of Wellington/Hutt Valley camogie team

Camogie players following their 130-year anniversary game.
Back row (L-R): Aoife Kerrigan, Rosie McDonagh, Chloe Rahui, Emma Blyth, Sarah Barry, Rachel Kirby, Laura Byrne, Máire Nolan, Eilís Ní Chaiside,
Front row (L-R): Tiaré Verenitani, Jolene McLaughlin, Carol Carmody, Aisling Monagle, Éimeár Rodden, Heather Williamson, Kerry Gourlay and Fiona Kennedy.

By Patrick Dempsey

With Wellington/Hutt Valley claiming the New Zealand Championship for the fourth straight year in March, Canterbury were keen to make some amends by spoiling the hosts' anniversary celebrations. The Cook Strait Challenge cup, last played in 2014 (which Wellington/Hutt Valley won under suspicious circumstances), was also up for grabs at Awakāirangi Park. (Editor's note: Patrick Dempsey was on the losing Canterbury side in 2014, which explains his bitterness.)

Due to heavy fog delaying flights from Christchurch and Queenstown, a few last-minute transfers were negotiated between Wellington and Canterbury. Barry Kinsella did arrive from Christchurch at half-time, but heavy traffic from the airport meant the Queenstown contingent didn't make it past Courtenay Place.

Before the game both teams observed a minute's silence as a mark of respect to the late Mike Fahy.

Great weather for hurling and a playing surface to match, the game started off well with both teams exchanging scores. Ivan Ward, playing as an extra half-forward for the home team, was moving well for Felim O'Leary's puck-outs, and was causing much confusion in the Canterbury back line. Shane Bourke and Darragh Corboy were working hard around the middle, setting up Peter Wall for a few well-taken scores, including the only goal of the first half. Mossie O'Sullivan, Dave Kennedy and Emmet Whelan were showing well for Canterbury and keeping the scores ticking over to keep in touch. The score at the short whistle was 1-10 to 0-8 to Wellington/Hutt Valley.

After a few inspirational words from Shane Bourke at half time, Wellington/Hutt Valley were ready to put the game to bed – so, naturally enough, Canterbury came out and landed the first five points of the second half to bring the teams all square.

The Avonsiders could have been ahead were it not for some great defending by Peter Hayes and Darragh Corboy. The home side slowly started to find their rhythm and midway through the second half were 10 points up. After a great delivery from Shane Bourke to Peter Wall, the Wexford man's rasping shot was thwarted from veteran goalkeeper Deccie Duggan, but Philip Byrne was quick to pounce on the breaking ball, smashing it into the net.

Patrick Dempsey (Wellington/Hutt Valley) tracking Mossie O'Sullivan of Canterbury in the hurling game.

The hosts should've seen the game out, but every man and his dog knows Canterbury are not a team to wilt. With the game drawing to a close, Dan Doyle, lining out in the red of Canterbury, made a rare burst into the opposition's half and stuck a 25-yard screamer into the top corner, giving the Pallaskenry custodian no chance. The Canterbury comeback was now on and the South Islanders, buoyed by their new teammate's goal, raised two more green flags in quick succession, leaving Wellington/Hutt Valley up by a sole point heading into injury time.

Inexplicably, the ref played eight minutes of injury time, but the home side should've put the game to bed by this point. Peter Wall tried his best to hit the corner flag three times when bearing down on goal. The chances were ultimately rued; Canterbury's Mossie O'Sullivan found some space in the dying seconds and, after seven previous wides, finally put the ball over the bar to snatch a draw – 3-16 apiece. It was another epic tussle between New Zealand's finest hurling teams and without a doubt hurling was the real winner on the day.

It was Shane Bourke's last game for the club before heading back to the Premier County. We wish Shane all the best on his return home. The Fitzgibbon Cup-winning captain and three-time Munster Senior Championship winner did say over a pint of porter in the Irish society that evening that playing for Wellington/Hutt Valley was probably the highlight of his career. We think so too, Shane.

Wellington/Hutt Valley scorers:
Peter Wall 1-3
Eoin Norton 1-0
Phil Byrne 1-1
Shane Bourke 0-4
Dean McMahon 0-1
Patrick Dempsey 0-7

Canterbury scorers:
Tom Cunningham 1-1
Liam Barron 0-4
Dave Kennedy 0-3
Dan Doyle 1-0
Graham Enright 0-2
Emmet Whelan 0-1
Mossie O'Sullivan 0-5
Colm Hogan 1-0

Wellington/Hutt Valley:
Felim O'Leary, Stephen Coleman, Peter Hayes, Mike Keegan, Michael Archer, Patrick Dempsey, Michael Callan, Darragh Corboy, Michael Lawson, Eoin Norton, Shane Bourke, Dean McMahon, Ivan Ward, Peter Wall, Phil Byrne

Canterbury:
Declan Duggan, Paddy Harrington, Patrick Hickey, Daniel Doyle, Mark Whelan, Damien Dunne, Enda Costello, Mossie O'Sullivan, Finlay MacMillan, Graham Enright, David Kennedy, Emmet Whelan, Colm Hogan, Liam Barron, Tom Cunningham.

By Davey Rynne

The whiff of deep heat was strong in the air as the the past team, ably captained by Hutt Valley Irish Society President John 'O Toole, lined up to face the might of the current New Zealand senior champions, led by Conor Tierney.

Having survived the warm up with no major injuries, the past players, AKA "Legends team" started off in impressive form repelling countless attacks from the young guns. With John O'Toole in goals, marking his fifth decade representing Wellington/Hutt Valley, and a full back line of Davey Rynne, Donal Kavanagh, and Graham Hamill, what they lacked for in pace, they made up for in determination.

Rolling back the years in the centre of defence was Garry Dillon, staving off attack after attack. Thanks to some wayward shooting from the current crop, the self-described "Legends team" stayed in the game in the opening 20 minutes and managed to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

With the pressure of being current NZ senior champions weighing heavily on the present team, and facing a game plan not seen since the early 90s of 'letting the ball do the work', the game remained firmly in the balance at half time.

The second half started brightly for the auld lads with Seamus Flood, Angus Howden, and Damien Farrelly getting on plenty of ball in the middle of the field. Opportunities were opening up for the powerful full forward line of Seán Lake, Liam Gannon, and Mossie Hartnett. Donal Kavanagh, having relocated from full back, was causing mayhem in attack. Paul O'Hare and Ger McDonagh were linking up well and Tony Ling with a licence to do as much running as he could kept the ball in the right areas of the pitch and prevented the NZ champions from getting easy ball out of defence.

Not to be outdone, the current crop started to make their chances count with a flurry of points and a well taken goal from Eoin 'Brick' Norton. Michael Keegan, Enda Costello (who is fast approaching eligibility for the "Legends team"), and Rónán McIlvenny were beginning to make their superior fitness count, and the current team soon edged into the lead.

Having replaced Brian Gahan as referee in the second half, Irish Ambassador Peter Ryan took the reins and kept the game continuing in the good spirits it started in.

As the game entered its final stages Seán Lake launched a final attack for the past team and in the ensuing goalmouth scramble, a long, shrill blast from the referee's whistle indicated a penalty for the auld lads.

Action from the past vs present game.

Who else to take the penalty only Donal Kavanagh, ex club President, and future hall of famer. With the crowd agog at the scene unfolding, up stepped the Dr Crokes stalwart who, in a style exactly the opposite of clubmate Colm 'Gooch' Cooper, sent the ball sailing off somewhere towards the Hutt River.

Luckily enough, in their excitement to get a closer view of a club legend, the young lads encroached beyond the white line as the penalty was taken, and the Ambassador decided it was to be attempted all over again.

This time Liam Gannon, sick of losing finals, grabbed the football and placed it on the spot. Facing fellow Mayo native Ronan O'Malley in goal, there was to be no mistake this time as Gannon slotted the ball past his fellow county man. Moments later, after intercepting the present team's kickout, Treaty county man Seán Lake struck over a lovely point from what must've been 60 yards (and counting) to put the "legends" a point to the good.

With the auld lads finally ahead, the referee hastily blew the final whistle, ending a great joust between the sides. It was a "well-deserved" win for the veterans who showed that there's life in the old dogs yet!

Past ("Legends team"):
John O'Toole, Graham Hamil, Donal Kavanagh, Davey Rynne, Bryan 'Badger' Downes, Garry Dillon, Paul Mordaunt, Seamus Flood, Angus Howden, Damien Farrelly, Finbarr Murray, Paddy Harrington, Dan Doyle, Ivan Ward, Seán Lake, Maurice 'Mossie' Hartnett, Liam Gannon, Tony Ling, Ger McDonagh, Paul O'Hare, Emmet Whelan, Declan Duggan.

Present team:
Ronan O'Malley, Mike Lawson, Michael Keegan, Solomon Copplestone, Tim Courtney, Chris McKibbin, Michael Archer, Jim Brogan, William O'Connor, Niall Heeran, John McCabe, Peter Wall, Phil Byrne, Antoine Óg Ó Mainín, Conor Tierney, Rónán McIlvenny, Eoin 'Brick' Norton, Enda Costello.