Lurgan Golf Club - founded 1893
Although 1893 is normally given as the year in which Lurgan Golf Club was founded, there is evidence that golf was played in Lurgan for many years before that. In ‘The Irish Golfer’ of June 27, 1900, it says:
‘It may interest our readers to know that there is a legend that Lurgan was the first place in Ireland where golf was played, but the evidence upon which this contention is based is not sufficiently strong to be accepted as conclusive.’
This legend may have arisen from the fact that around the late 19th century the household effects of the late Lord Lurgan were offered for sale in Brownlow House. These effects included ‘six or seven old golf clubs and some feather balls’. Also found in the House was an old 15 inch hole cutter which appeared to have been of a considerable age.
In ‘The Irish Golfers’ Guide’ of 1912 it reports that Lurgan Golf Club was founded in 1892. This may have referred to a Club forming itself and playing social golf before becoming affiliated to the recently formed Golfing Union of Ireland the following year.
The Golfing Union of Ireland was formed in 1891 and prior to its formation there were 28 clubs in Ireland. The years between 1892 and 1900 saw a further 97 clubs being formed, which begs the question as to why there was such a surge of interest in the game at that time.
One of the major reasons was the development of the golf ball.
Featherie v Guttie
“Browning, and other golf historians, commonly attribute this ‘golf boom’, beginning in the later nineteenth century, to the guttie, an object responsible for transforming golf from an insular diversion played mostly by the gentry to a leisure activity for the middle classes.”
(from ‘Golf Ball’ by Harry Brown, page 21)
For most of the 19th century, the golf ball used was made of a leather pouch stuffed with feathers, a very time consuming process. After some use the ball lost its roundness and it became soggy and wet in bad weather. The ball was known as a ‘featherie’.
The most prohibitive feature of the ball for the ordinary person was its price as each cost the equivalent of about £16 in today’s money.
Guttie (made from gutta-percha)
In the colonial expansion of the mid-nineteenth century, a natural latex called ‘gutta-percha’ was found in the Palaquium trees of Malaysia. This proved to be very suitable for manufacturing many items such as furniture, dental fillings and cisterns, and it wasn’t long before it was found to be useful in making a new type of golf ball. The new ball would retain its roundness and would not be affected as much by adverse weather conditions. The biggest change was that it was much cheaper and could be afforded by other than the gentry.
Gourlay, ball maker, said:
“The loss of revenue from ball making was far more than made up by the vast increase in the number of players taking up the game.”
Originally the ball was smooth, but players soon discovered that when the ball became scuffed after some use, it appeared to go further and move more consistently through the air. Players would then score a new ball in various ways before play and soon manufacturers began experimenting with the surface. Today’s balls have between 300 and 500 dimples over the surface.
Why was Lurgan among the early clubs to be formed?
From ‘The Book of Co Armagh by G H Bassett, 1888’
“With the single exception of Belfast, no town in Ireland has increased in population and wealth so rapidly as in Lurgan.
4600 in 1851
10135 in 1881
15000 by 1888
This process is entirely due to the development of the linen industry. A considerable number of houses belong to working men and are paid for out of their savings. At every side of the town expansion has been the order of the day.”
Other clubs formed at the time in Lurgan:
Lurgan Musical Society 1884
Lurgan Dramatic Society 1885
Lurgan Tennis Club 1880 (Three courts in Demesne)
Lurgan Chess Club
Lurgan Football Club (Rugby) 1876
Lurgan Ornithological Society 1880
At the time of Lurgan Golf Club’s formation, Lurgan was a thriving and rapidly growing town. The increased employment provided new opportunities for leisure activities which were reflected in the growth of new clubs and societies.
Linen Houses near the Golf Club
Bells’ House, Solitude, beside the 13th fairway. When the Golf Club was formed this house was inhabited by Samuel Bell. After he retired from the family linen business in 1906, he moved to Donaghadee and his son Edward George Bell moved in.
Johnston’s house, The Demesne, beside the 11th tee. This house was built for Thomas B Johnston in 1910. He was a partner in the large linen company Johnston Allen.
Edward George Bell. His 2-cylinder Darracq must have been quite a sight in the town.
Formation of Lurgan Golf Club 1893
Belfast News Letter, 16 November, 1893
‘….. a club has been formed in Lurgan for the practice of the Royal and Ancient game, under exceedingly favourable circumstances. The number of players almost reads one hundred, and sixty acres of excellent ground with numerous hazards has been secured in the demesne for links. The ground has been laid out under the personal supervision of the Captain, Mr H G MacGeagh, who has taken much interest in the foundation of the club the links were formally opened on Saturday last by Mr James Malcolm D.L., President of the club.’
The meeting at which the club was formed was held on 8 September in the rooms of Mr N G Leeper at 44 Market St., currently a vacant space.
Those present were:
Joseph Hay Vint - UlsterBank Manager
Nathaniel Greer Leeper - Ulster Bank employee
Thomas George Menary - Solicitor
Harry G MacGeagh - Linen manufacturer
Courtney Johnston - Solicitor
Francis Megarry - Linen factory manager
Thomas Faloon - HKP manufacturer
William Thomas Kirkpatrick – Headmaster, Lurgan College
H Lee - (Details unknown)
‘Not all of them knew golf as a game and it was natural, therefore, that Mr MacGeagh, one of the pioneers of golf in Ireland, should be elected Captain.’
Belfast News Letter, 3 August, 1923
Not all of those at the meeting were golfers but were there for their expertise in other areas. Mr Vint, for example, was most likely there as he was the Bank Manager. In those days of personal and commercial expansion, bank managers were extremely important members of the community and would have been held in some awe.
Each of the men had interesting lives, but one story of particular interest appeared in the papers a few years later regarding one of the lesser known founders, Mr Francis Megarry.
Belfast News Letter 18 January 1887
SKATING INCIDENT AT LURGAN
‘Mr Fred Lindsay skated onto thin ice and sank. Constable Moorehead ran to his assistance with a pole and had Mr Lindsay partly out of the water when Mr S A Mackay, solicitor, ran up with a lifebuoy which he threw to Mr Lindsay and then, the ice giving way, he too precipitated into the water. Mr Frank Megarry, son of Mr Henry Megarry, Northern Bank, promptly appeared with a second lifebuoy to which a rope was attached, and to the commendable courage and decision of this young gentleman the direct preservation of more than one life is attributed. He threw the lifebuoy to Mr Mackay and having lay down on the bending and rotten ice, in which he embedded the heels of his skates, he pulled out successively Mr Lindsay, Constable Moorehead and Mr Mackay. Constable Moorehead is an expert swimmer and of him it may be said that he exhibited the greatest coolness, directing Mr Megarry to attend to the other young man; but there can be no doubt that Mr Megarry is the person who rescued the three from the most imminent danger. Already Mr H G MacGeagh and other gentlemen have taken steps to present Constable Moorehead with a chain and medal, while the gallant and meritorious conduct of Mr Megarry will be brought before the Royal Humane Society in London.’
Mr Megarry was subsequently awarded a medal for bravery from the Society.
Mr H G MacGeagh
Mr MacGeagh was the most prominent founder of the club and was Captain in 1893, ‘94’, ’95 and ‘1899. The first course was 9 holes and it was laid out by him in roughly the same place it is today. He and his wife Josephine had 4 children and in the 1901 census it is recorded that they were living at 51 High St, Lurgan.
They later moved further along High St but little now remains of that house.
Although little remains of the house, we can get some idea of what it was like inside from a report in the News Letter of what must have been one of the biggest ‘society’ weddings of the day. Mr MacGeagh had died in 1925 and at the wedding of his daughter in 1931 his place was filled by his son.
News Letter, 4 December, 1931
‘…..The bride is the elder daughter of the late Mr H G MacGeagh DL, and of Mrs MacGeagh, Lurgan, whilst the bridegroom is the second son of the late Sir Robert Liddell, DL, and of Lady Liddell, Donacloney.
The home of the bride’s mother is in the main street of Lurgan and only a stone throw away from the Parish Church. Here the reception was held, and to this only family and intimate friends were invited. The house is an old one with a good deal of oak panelling and brown ceilings, which are most effective.’
When you look at the remains of the house now it is hard to imagine its past grandeur.
Irish Times, 21 August, 1921
‘Mr H G MacGeagh, Deputy Lieutenant of Co Armagh, died yesterday at his residence, High St, Lurgan. Mr MacGeagh had been managing director of the Lurgan Weaving Company. For many years he was a member of the Lurgan Urban Council, and during his chairmanship he was instrumental in procuring the handsome public park which was opened by Lord Aberdeen as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1904. Mr MacGeagh was a keen yachtsman, and it was he who introduced the game of golf to Lurgan.’
Mr H G MacGeagh, founding member and first Captain of Lurgan Golf Club.
History of the Club
1893 The club was officially opened on 18 November, 1893, and the first competition played on the same day. It was won by Mr Thomas Dickson from Royal Co Down G C and he was the Irish Amateur Golf Champion at the time.
Thomas Dickson, winner of the first official competition held at Lurgan Golf Club.
1898 The move to Gracehall
In 1893 the Brownlow Family, who owned the Demesne where the Club currently is, sold the land, lake and Brownlow House to Lurgan Borough Council for £2000. The Borough Council subsequently sold Brownlow House (Lurgan Castle) to Lurgan District Orange Lodge in 1903. In 1898 the Golf Club was informed that the land in the Demesne was no longer available which caused considerable consternation among the members.
Irish Golfer, 6 December, 1899
‘The Club had been obliged to give up their links in Lurgan Demesne where a capital nine hole course had been laid out by Cpt Greer and Mr H G MacGeagh ……. A great deal of anxiety had been manifested by the members when they were informed they would have to give up the links in the Demesne but happily …….. they had been able to obtain ground at Gracehall, the owner of which gave members every facility for enjoyment of the game.’
Irish Golfer, 27 June, 1900
‘….. Gracehall is an excellent course consisting of 9 holes and being 2500 yards in length.’
Gracehall is currently a popular wedding venue and the fields around it are still referred to as ‘the links’.
There appears to have been a growing feeling that Gracehall was rather far from the town and some members supported the idea of relocating to a site on the Lough Rd in the area known as Woodville. A meeting of the members was convened at which the proposal to relocate was proposed but defeated in a vote. Notwithstanding that defeat those in favour of the move proceeded with the necessary arrangements and the new Woodville Golf Club was officially opened in November, 1918. Lord Lurgan became its first patron.
Opening of Woodville Golf Club November, 1918
It would appear there may have been some bad feeling among golfers in the town and the clubs may have been seen as rivals. The Captain of the new Club, Mr Thomas Faloon, had been a founding member of Lurgan Golf Club and he referred to this in his remarks at Woodville Golf Club’s official opening.
Captain, Mr Thomas Faloon’s address:
“We had hoped that it might have been possible to have had an amalgamation of local clubs interested in the ceremony, but this had not been effected. There could not be any question with regard to the necessity of the Club for the accommodation of the people of Lurgan. Most of them had played at Gracehall and no doubt the links there were excellent, but they are a busy people and many of them found that Gracehall was at such a distance from the town that they could not take advantage of the course there…………………………”
Woodville Golf Club
Site of the first tee at Woodville Golf Club as it is today.
The competition for new members is reflected in these features placed by the clubs in the Northern Whig in April 1919. Each stresses the convenient location of the respective clubs.
Northern Whig April 1919
Lurgan Golf Club
The Lurgan Golf Club links are situate at Gracehall within easy reach of the town ………………………………
Membership 120 50 Ladies 70 Gentlemen
Woodville Golf Club
The Club was launched in November last and the membership is now 119. 34 Ladies 78 Gentlemen 7 Juveniles
The links and clubhouse are situate at Woodville, 3 minutes’ walk from Lurgan railway station, and the club’s prospects for the coming season are most promising.
Club’s Patron: Lord Lurgan
Captain: Mr Thomas Faloon J.P
The club has been affiliated with the Golfing Union of Ireland.
Return to the Demesne
In 1923, Lurgan Golf Club was informed that the land they had previously occupied in Lurgan Demesne was once more available and the Club returned in that year.
(New course in Lurgan)
The 30th AGM of the Lurgan Golf Club was held in Shankill Buildings on Monday, 29 October.
Mr Thomas Watson, President of the club, occupied the chair.
On the motion of Mr Menary, seconded by Lieut Col Sir William Allen, DSO, MP, it was agreed to acquire new links in the Demesne and to erect a new clubhouse. Through the generosity of Mr T B Johnson and Mr George Bell, the Club had acquired 74 acres of land suitable for a 9 hole course of 3,239 yds and, if necessary, for a 12 hole course. The new clubhouse would be erected on rising ground overlooking the lake in Lord Lurgan’s Park, and would be within 5 minutes’ walk of the centre of the town.
Opening of the new clubhouse of Lurgan Golf Club, 1925. It sat on the site of the current clubhouse.
From 1923 there were two clubs very close to each other in Lurgan and there may well have been a close rivalry between the two. Some gentlemen had been founding members of both clubs, and each club’s efforts to grow and develop had probably caused friction between them.
(From ‘Lurgan Golf Club 1893-1993’, compiled by Mr Larry Magee)
‘In 1928, conversations between the then Captain of Woodville G C, Mr Cecil Brown, and the Lurgan G C Captain, Dr C J Boucher, led into more detailed discussions between the Councils of both clubs about the desirability of amalgamation. One has only to read the account of the Special General Meeting of Woodville Club to sense the conflicting emotions laid bare at the meeting.
The speakers paid tribute to the loyalty of the members, many of whom had been involved with the Club from its inception; there was obvious pride in the achievement of founding and maintaining the Club and amalgamation should not be seen as capitulation; the Club could continue as before and would no doubt flourish, but the consensus view was that in the general interest of golf in the district the amalgamation should go ahead. The Lurgan Golf Club had previously unanimously decided in favour. In 1928, the Woodville Golf Club ceased to exist and became an equal partner with Lurgan Golf Club at the Demesne.’