Ballyhegan is the longest established club in Northern Ireland with a proud history of competition and overseas travel.
The first record of the club’s participation in local sports goes back to the mid 1920’s at a time when there was no central organisation. The sport made a resurgence towards the end of the Second World War but at that time several Ballyhegan men turned out for the neighbouring Kilmore team which were great rivals of the famous Diamond team, the latter having claimed All Ireland Championships in 1947 and 1948. These were, of course, unofficial as there was no Governing Body at the time but that was an era of great interest in tug of war in the immediate area.
Ballyhegan re-emerged in their own right in the 1950’s and were very successful in the Mid Ulster area for a number of years. After a few years in the doldrums the club reformed in 1968 and have played a full unbroken part in the sport ever since then. They have established a reputation as trail-blazers and have indeed “flown the club flag” widely throughout the world, going back a far as the European Championships in 1969, and virtually every year since then at either indoor or outdoor level.
In 1979 the club became the first since the Olympics of 1904 to travel to the USA to take part in a most successful series of competitions and coaching sessions throughout the Mid West. Warm and lasting friendships were established. In 1980 Ballyhegan members formed part of the squad which visited Australia. It was there that tug of war had its largest ever audience. The occasion was the famous Melbourne Cup horse racing event and 100,000 spectators witnessed the contest between Northern Ireland and the host country. The event was televised live across Australia during a break in the racing and was a most memorable occasion.
By 1988 Ballyhegan had began to focus exclusively on indoor competition and in the latter part of that year the club was invited, as one of two European teams, to take part in the Goodwill Games in Tokyo. Although they took home silver medals from Japan there was disappointment as the team was a very strong force at that time. In 1990 the club undertook a trip back to the USA but concentrated on indoor tug of war on this occasion.
In 2005 a team comprising Ballyhegan and Richhill members took on the Chinese national team in two test matches at Chengdu which is also the home of the Giant Pandas. This was a most enjoyable trip and the outstanding hospitality of their hosts was greatly appreciated.
The fortunes of the club have ebbed and flowed over the past decade with the inevitable turnover of personnel. It is a huge testament to club officials that the club has survived for such a long unbroken period and is currently showing distinct signs of becoming a significant force again at the top level.
Whilst Ballyhegan has had much success in the competition arena the club is widely recognised for the work done in spreading the tug of war message throughout the world. For that they have earned the right to be justifiably proud.