There has always been a rich Gaelic Games tradition in Bristol that goes back to 1947 when the forerunners of the Western Gaels, St Kiernan’s, were formed. Canon Norris, Mick Sullivan, and Tom Costello were amongst the founders. Bill Barrett was the football coach with Father Gerry Rodgers amongst their hurling trainers. St Kiernan’s were amongst the founding members of the Gloucestershire County Board and it was not long before they started collecting silverware. They claimed the footballing double (league and championship) three years in a row – 1955, 1956 and 1957.
Responsible for that rich vein of success was a great panel that included former Kerry star Mick ‘The Bomber ‘ Sullivan, Jerry Hasset, Paul Driscoll, Sean Dowd, Bill Barrett, Harry Jennings, Jimmy Biggins, Paddy Flood, Henry Farrell, Paddy Mulreid, Paddy Qualter, and former Roscommon star Harry Penny.
Two successive hurling titles were also won during the 1950s before, like many other clubs of the period, St Kieran’s folded. Some of the players joined Newport’s Pride of Erin or teams in Birmingham.
But the phoenix rose from the ashes in 1961 when Patsy Byrnes, Ben Gorman, Tony Griffin and Mick Mulrooney, launched Iar Gael, named after a club in Limerick.
Success came two years after its foundation with Western Gaels, as the club had became known, claiming both their first football and hurling championships. In 1964 the footballing crown passed to St Mary’s, but the Bristol men retained the hurling title – the year Mick Carey first joined the club.
St Kieran’s veteran Jimmy Biggins took the footballers under his wing with the Gorman brothers, Ben and Jimmy, running the hurling side. The committed panel of players also had a great motivator in Harry Jennings, another prominent figure in the club.
During the mid 1960s Patsy and Nora McCarthy and the O’Loughlin family became involved with Western Gaels. Regular players included Donal O’Connor, Patsy Gillespie, Tony Burns (Dublin), Tom Mellot, Paddy Herbert, Vince and Phil McCafferty, Larry McTiernan, Gergie Blackburn, brothers Tom and Paddy Ford, and Billy Loughlin, better known as ‘Silver’.
This was an era during which many players were fluent in both codes – a talent that could be tested in successive games on a Sunday.
Western Gaels rose to the challenge when under age football competition was introduced in Gloucestershire with the youngsters keen to match the achievements of the senior team. The club claimed titles at all levels with a ‘grand slam’ in 1984 – the year they won the Under 12s, Under 14s, Under 16s, Under 18s, Under 21s and the senior titles in a single memorable season.
The 1980s was a glorious era for Western Gaels and St Nicholas (their newly-formed sister club that fostered Hurling and Camogie). Liam Woodcock was involved as both trainer and player with both outfits.
Micky Curran, the O’Loughlins (Billy, Patrick, Tom, John Tim and Michael), Eddie Lawlor, the Biggins (Jimmy senior, Jimmy junior and Owen), Martin and Jimmy McLoughlin, Father Pat Carolan, Declan McManus – captain of the triumphant 1984 senior football championship side, Mick McAnerney, Joe Malee, Sean Grant, John Tobin, Tom McCarthy, Pat McCarthy, Chris Carey, , Tom Ruddy, Eddie Shearn and the stylish John Agnew were the amongst those responsible for the club’s continued success.
Behind the scenes Patsy McCarthy had taken over the chair with able assistance from Tom Fitzgerald –Mick Carey became secretary and Nora McCarthy looked after the money, whenever any was available after financing the fielding of five teams – one in every County competition. Not surprisingly, a lot of fundraising was needed. Mick later took over as chairman when Patsy stood down.
Competition within Gloucestershire became more intensified during the 1980s, thanks to the re-emergence, in Cardiff, of St Colmcille’s and St Patrick’s – their main rivals at juvenile level.
But it was Swindon Shamrocks that would end their six-year winning streak as Football champions in 1988.
At the start of the 1990s there was a new challenger in Gloucestershire – Southern Gaels. They provided the opposition for the Bristol men in September 1991 as Western Gaels triumphed yet again.
That winning Bristol panel included Patrick McCarthy, Tom McCarthy, John McCarthy, Eugene McCarthy, Declan McManus, Martin McLoughlin, Jimmy McLoughlin, Billy O’Loughlin, Tim O’Loughlin, Micheal O’Loughlin, Patrick O’Loughlin, Pat Reilly, Liam Woodlock, Steve Meecham, Chris Carey, Kevin Kennedy, Kevin McDonagh, Martin Crawford, William O’Loughlin, Jim Biggins, Pat Henness, Paul Farley, John O’Loughlin, Jim Geaney, Neil McGuinness and Peter Wall.
That defeat for the Poole outfit then spurred them on to seven successive titles before Western Gaels got their name once more inscribed on the John F Kennedy trophy.
The O’Loughlin father and son combination (Tim senior and Tim Junior), Killian Morgan (Armagh),Mark Cunningham, Pat Condron (Offaly), David Gregory (Louth), Adrian Kenny (Carlow) John Doherty (Cork), Kildare duo Ger Kiely and Mick Quinn, Peter O’Hagan (Leitrim) and Bristol-born quartet Michael Hayes, Nigel Condron, Damien Green and Damien McManus were members of the winning panel. Chief mentor and club secretary, John McGuinness, had only taken control of the senior squad at the start of the season. But he had a successful prelude to that epic victory with many successful under-age squads – many of whom had grown up with him before graduating to the senior panel.