THE DUP Mayor of Ballymoney, Cllr Ian Stevenson - who created history by attending the All-Ireland Hurling Club Championship match in Dublin involving local kingpins Loughgiel - has revealed he will be back there this Saturday in support of the Shamrocks.
The Mayor will be at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day as Loughgiel battle for glory in the final of the prestigious competition.
He has been given an official invite by the Shamrocks club and now he has unearthed a hidden GAA family history.
The Mayor has confirmed his grandfather Sam O’Neill, a member of the Church of Ireland from the Magherahoney area near Loughgiel, once hurled for the Shamrocks in the 1920s.
Said Mayor Stevenson: “I said when I was Mayor I will be Mayor for all in the borough and I will be back on St Patrick’s Day to attend the Loughgiel game. When I went to the semi-final it was by invitation from Alderman Harry Connolly and this time the invite is from the Loughgiel club.
“It is good to see a team from the Ballymoney Borough doing so well in sport and yet another example of the high level of sporting achievement in the Borough and in Northern Ireland as a whole.”
And he joked: “Some people described me as a ‘lucky charm’ after the semi-final win but I believe in God’s providence, not luck, and have to say they are very skilful players in their own right. I wish the Loughgiel Shamrocks team well.”
And Mayor Stevenson revealed that he was told his family has a link to GAA and to Loughgiel in particular.
“I was told my grandfather on my mother’s side, the late Sam O’Neill, who was a member of the Church of Ireland played hurling for Loughgiel in 1926-27. Only after investigation have I been able to confirm this but I also found out that I have further out relatives associated with the the current camogie team in Loughgiel, who I met earlier in the year” said the councillor. “I believe it was because it was the only sport that the young people of the area were playing so that is why he got involved,” I would be surprised, after many centuries together, if many people, even the staunchest ones, didn’t find a few surprises in their history.”
There has been much debate in recent times about DUP politicians attending GAA games and Sinn Fein politicians attending Northern Ireland international football games.
First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP attended a GAA game and Sinn Fein Sports Minister Carol Ni Chuilin was at Windsor Park but on both occasions both entered the stadiums after anthems played at the grounds were over.
But when Mayor Stevenson attended the Loughgiel semi-final he was there when the Irish National Anthem was played and he intends to be present when ‘The Soldier’s Song’ is played at Croke Park.
Cllr Stevenson said: “I have been to France at the Somme recognising the role of the 16th Irish Division and stood for the Irish National Anthem there, as I did for the French National Anthem and the UK national anthem for the 36th Ulster Division. Whatever country I am in I will respect their National Anthem just the same way I would expect that a nationalist in Northern Ireland would stand for ‘God Save The Queen’, though they strongly object to it.
“At the end of the day, I am so confident in my own identity and belief that I should be able to respect others, even though I strongly disagree with them, so long as those beliefs are peaceful and are peacefully held. I believe that the same tolerant attitude should be applied when it comes to parading issues,” the mayor concluded.