The founding father of St Peter’s dies aged 101

Members of St Peter's who visited Father Joe on the occasion of his 100th birthday. INLM3512-201con
Members of St Peter's who visited Father Joe on the occasion of his 100th birthday. INLM3512-201con
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THE founding father of St Peter’s GAA Club in Lurgan, Canon Joseph O’Hagan, passed away last week at the grand old age of 101.

A contingent from the club travelled to County Down last Friday where the priest lived to pay their respects to the man they knew better as Father Joe.

Members of St Peter's who sstood guard for Canon Joie, from left, Barry Derby, Jimmy Magee, Michael Starkey, Benedict Lavery and Gerald Lavery. INLM3512-213con

Members of St Peter's who sstood guard for Canon Joie, from left, Barry Derby, Jimmy Magee, Michael Starkey, Benedict Lavery and Gerald Lavery. INLM3512-213con

Born in Scotland, Father Joseph O’Hagan was ordained in Rome in 1936 and moved to Lurgan as an assistant priest in 1941.

Current St Peter’s President Benedict Lavery was only a young boy at the time but remembers the impact the newcomer made in the Freecrow area.

“We used to kick a ball - a hankie filled with grass - around the streets. There was nothing for us,” he said.

“Father Joe got some money from somewhere and bought a hut to form a GAA club. He named the club after the local church, St Peter’s.”

For team jerseys they used old flour bags that the women of Freecrow washed and scrubbed to remove the black lettering, hence the club nickname ‘The Lilywhites’ that survives to this day. However the Club didn’t have their own ground and for an annual fee of a few pounds, Father Joe arranged to hire a field from the local Convent some distance out of Lurgan. On match days the players would change in the clubrooms (The Hut) and walk or cycle to and from the field. For away matches the team would hire an old bus.

He then recruited members of the local community to form a committee and the club soon began to flourish.

“Realising that one man couldn’t build a club on his own he sought out those he believed could move St Peter’s club forward,” said Benedict.

“Father Joe was the first president and he helped St Peter’s win their first county championship trophy in 1951.

“He did a lot for the people of the town. He was a very charitable person who gave a lot to the poor and we all held him in high esteem.

“He was the first person inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame.”

Even when he moved on to another parish he was always in the thoughts of the members of St Peter’s.

On special occasions, such as 25 and 50 years in the priesthood, they would mark the special day with a presentation and he was asked to officially open the new playing pitch in 1990.

“Without him we would have had nothing,” said Benedict. “Now we have teams from under eight to senior level and ladies’ teams.”

To mark the milestone of Father Joe’s 100th birthday last year members of St Peter’s made the journey to his home at the foot of the Mournes.

They presented him with some gifts, including a special piece of Belleek pottery carrying the inscription - Canon Joseph O’Hagan, Founder of St Peter’s GAA Club - Le dea-dhuí ó bhaill idir óg agus aosta.

In making the presentation as Club President Benedict Lavery recalled some stories and events during Father Joe’s time as Curate in Lurgan.

This included the time when Father Joe was making house visits to a family near Francis Street where the picture of a rival GAA team hung in the hallway.

Each time Father Joe visited he turned the picture to face the wall. After about three or four visits, the lady expressed her fear that the house was haunted and told Father Joe about the picture.

His advice was to hang the picture in the kitchen and she would have no further trouble.

Although he retired as a Parish Priest in 1987 Father Joe did relief work, stepping in when a priest was ill or on holiday, and continued with his work until he was 90.

He died last Tuesday at his home at Sandbank Road in Hilltown.

His funeral was on Friday to The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Cabra, and he was buried in the cemetery of St John the Baptist, Hilltown.