Virtually every sport has its standard bearers and in tug of war the Aghadowey team of the 1960’s and early 1970’s is still revered as the team which achieved standards and success still unequalled to this day.
Aghadowey came into existence at about 1963 and followed on from the Ballylagan team which also brought much success to that general area of Northern Ireland. The Barr family, who were also famous ploughmen, were inextricably linked with the Aghadowey team and, with other committed members, played a major part in its success.
After many victories at home the Aghadowey men won the right to represent Northern Ireland at the inaugural European Championships in London in 1965. These was the first ever Europeans to take place and followed the formation of the Tug of War International Federation in 1960 when representatives from Sweden and England formed the new Federation at a meeting at Victoria Station, London. It was a big step for the local men but they acquitted themselves more than well by taking the silver medals at the 720 Kilo class behind the famous Wood Treatment team which was representing England. No championships took place in either 1966 or 1967 but when they were scheduled for 1968 the Aghadowey lads were determined to try again. The venue this time was Burcolo in the Netherlands and the weight category was again 720 Kilos. Despite being well under the maximum weight the Aghadowey men again finished second behind their old adversaries, Wood Treatment of England.
In 1969 the Championships took place in Fermoy, Co. Cork, but preparation had not gone well leading up to the event and the result was a disappointing middle order finish.
When 1970 came along a special effort was made, the Northern Ireland Championships were won and an entry made to the 640 Kilo class in the European Championship which was again due to take place at Crystal Palace, where it had all began five years previously. The 640K had become the most highly prized weight class and most competitive as it attracted an increasing number of countries. There was a belief among the Aghadowey men that this could be their year. Training had gone well, everyone was at peak fitness, and there was a realisation that there might not be too many more golden opportunities after this.
In the event everything seemed to click on the day and every opponent was successfully overcome. There were no easy victories and England in particular was very difficult opposition. It became apparent that the gold medals would go to whoever came out on top in that contest as both teams were on maximum points at that stage. After two pulls the match was all square with no quarter being given or asked for. The third and deciding pull was a cliff hanger but the Aghadowey lads, having got so close, were not to be denied. Showing great endurance and determination they wore down their opponents and achieved the victory that was so deservedly theirs, particularly having came so close on two previous occasions.
That victory was remembered last week when a special celebratory dinner was held at the Brown Trout restaurant. It was attended by members of that European Championship team of 1970 and former club members from the years previous to that, including Stanley Irwin and David Hull. A special presentation was made to Mr. Hugh Barr to mark the contribution he made to the club in that era. Hugh’s brother, Andy, was a stalwart of the club for many years and another brother, Joe, actually coached the gold medal winning team of 1970. Although 41 years have elapsed since then the events of that day are still crystal clear in the minds of team members and were remembered with great joy last week. It is also a remarkable fact that Aghadowey still remain the only team from Northern Ireland ever to have won an outdoor gold medal at World or European Championship level. Others have come close but none have actually gone the whole way.
Although some members continued to compete for other local teams the Aghadowey club stopped competing and effectively ceased to exist in 1971. A golden era had come to an end but a legacy had been established, one that would endure for as long as tug of war takes place.
Cathal Mc Keever. MBE
Tug of War International Federation.
31st October, 2011.