Kilbeggan Shamrocks GAA

Founded 1884

Co. Westmeath

Club History

This is the unique story of Kilbeggan Shamrocks GAA football team (who won seven Westmeath Senior titles, between 1919-1935) winning some titles during one of the most difficult times in Irish history from 1918-1922. At least seven of the players, who won their first championship in 1919, were on the run, raided, or their houses broken into, while they played for the team. Kilbeggan’s team names varied over the years from their first recorded game in 1890, from the Nationalists to Wolfe Tones and many more. The McManus family provided the pitch for the early matches and coincidentally, a descendant John McManus had been leader of the 1798 rebellion in Kilbeggan, which took place on the main street.

In September 2019, the GAA President John Horan attended the celebration in the Parish Centre for the 100th anniversary of Kilbeggan winning their first title in 1919. They beat Kinnegad St Patrick’s on 2nd November 1919 by 1-7 to 1-1 in front of 3,000 people. One paper mentioned Kinnegad “had a reputation of unbroken success”, while Kilbeggan “had little or nothing to recommend them” but the Kilbeggan youths proved too much for them, with an easy win.Family members from all over Ireland came to represent the 17 players, who were involved in the maiden success and they were presented with specially commissioned medallions by the GAA. The victory heralded a golden era for Kilbeggan, who captured seven senior championships between 1919 and 1935. They contested nine finals and only lost two, winning in 1919, 1921, 1926/27, 1930/31, and 1935. Matches were restricted in 1920 and 1922, because of the political situation or they would have won more.


Many local families were well represented on the teams over the years like four Guilfoyles, three McGuinness’s three Ryans, two Coughlans, and two Seerys. In 1919 seven of the successful team had joined Sinn Fein -Sean, Frank, and Jim McGuinness, Joe Rourke, Jack Guilfoyle, Jack Langan and Joe Guilfoyle. John McGuinness was Commanding Officer of the Offaly Number 1 Brigade I.R.A. He invited Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington to a public meeting in KIlbeggan in August 1919 just two months before the team’s first championship success in this era. She was one off the most important women in Irish history and tragically, her husband Francis Sheehy Skeffington had been murdered in 1916. She refused financial compensation and fought for an enquiry, which led to the conviction of the murderer. She was assaulted by the police in Kilbeggan and injured at the time. Not for the first time Sean McGuinness had to make his escape on that occasion. He was sent to Crumlin Road in 1918 and also served time that year in Mountjoy Jail in a cell with Joe McDonagh, Kevin O’Higgins, and Terence McSweeney. The Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries came to Ireland in 1920, and with all the troubles, no football championship was completed that year, and a number of players were taken away by soldiers and the RIC. In spite of this, five of the Kilbeggan panel played for Westmeath in the Leinster Football Semi-Final in August 1920, when they were narrowly beaten by Kildare. The All Ireland Championship was not concluded for 1920 because of the Troubles.
In January 1921 at around midnight the McGuinness family home and shop on the Main Street, was burned down, while Sean, James, and Frank were on the run (the family dog was also shot in the house!).Sadly, some family members watched the destruction of their home from a neighbour’s house across the road. On a lighter note, John McGuinness managed to turn up for one match in Rochfordbridge, while on the run. The word spread amongst the crowd that McGuinness was going to play and luckily, he escaped before the end of the game but all agreed that the final score was “McGuinness 1 and the Auxilaries nil”. (mentioned in one paper). McGuinness took the Anti-Treaty side in 1922 and was elected TD for Laois /Offaly in 1923 but never took his seat. The best moment for the McGuinness’s and many others was the taking possession of the Courthouse in the Market Square from the state, who handed it over on behalf of the British Government.

Kilbeggan’s greatest rivals were Rochfordbridge in this era and in 1921 they defeated then 3-5 to 2-1 in the final and between 1924 and 1931 they beat them in four more finals. No championship was completed in 1922 due to the Civil War, with fellow Gaels and old friends on opposite sides Many of the Kilbeggan star’s played for Westmeath during this period and later four of them were on the Westmeath Junior team that won the All Ireland Final in 1929 -John Coughlan, Joe Guilfoyle (complimented by Dinny Breen, Rochfortbridge Warriors as “a hard root”) Frank McGuinness, Captain and Tommy Seery. Kilbeggan have not won the Westmeath the championship since 1935 to illustrate how extraordinary these men were in this era.

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