The Burren, St. Mary’s Club was formed in 1924, although there had been teams in the area for some years previously. A Junior County final was reached in 1928 and while success was not to be the order of the day on that occasion as they were defeated by Drumnaconnor, the club only had to wait two further years to collect silverware, when a victory over Rathfriland secured the first county title (Junior) for the club.
The forties were a difficult period for all and in the harsh economic climate the small rural club disbanded. A number of Burren players played for neighbouring clubs during this period and in this time John McClorey (who was playing for Warrenpoint) became the first Down player to play for Ulster in the Railway Cup and Jimmy Heaney (who was playing for Derrylecka and who was later to serve three terms as Chairman of Burren GAC) was corner-forward on the first Down team to win the All-Ireland Junior Football title.
The club was reformed in 1949 and in 1952 the club won the Down Junior Football Championship for the second time. The following year Burren reached the Down Senior Football Championship final for the first time and what a bizarre contest it turned out to be as Burren fell to neighbours Warrenpoint on a 1-0 to 0-1 scoreline, with Warrenpoint failing to score as their goal was scored by a Burren defender who deflected a ’50’ into his own net.
Three consecutive minor county titles from 1958-60 inclusive was to prove the stepping stone for a first Senior Championship win in 1966 and a first All-County league title followed a year later.
In 1975 Burren became the first GAA Club in Ireland to install floodlights and this additional night time lighting was to prove extremely beneficial during the 1980’s which was a golden decade for the club when they won two All-Ireland, five Ulster Club football titles and a record six in a row of Down senior Football Championship titles.
Burren’s first experience into the Ulster Club Championship scene came in 1981, after they captured their second senior county title by virtue of defeating Saval after extra time in a replay. With the County Title under their belt it seemed as if a millstone was lifted from Burren’s necks – they won Down league’s in the 1970’s but the Championship had proved elusive – and they reached the Ulster Club final by virtue of victories over Erne Gaels (Fermanagh) and the mighty St. John’s of Antrim.
However a wait of almost five months (yes, five months) between the semi-final and final proved costly and Ballinderry (Derry) were worthy winners when the Ulster Club Final was eventually played. But Burren didn’t have to wait long to secure Ulster Club silverware as in 1983 they defeated reigning champions St. Gall’s (Antrim) to lift the Seamus McFerran Cup for the first time. Two more were to follow in consecutive years as Burren achieved a notable three-in-a-row of Ulster Club titles.
Defeat to Walterstown (Meath) and St. Vincent’s (Dublin) only whetted Burren’s appetite for All-Ireland glory and when Burren won the Ulster title in 1985 thoughts turned immediately to the All-Ireland semi-final away to Portlaoise in February 1986. However the club was rocked by the sudden death of tremendous club stalwart Sean Murdock just days after Christmas 1985 and when Sean was laid to rest on New Year’s Day 1986 football was the last thing on people’s minds.
However manager Ray Morgan was able to instil a focus and determination in his players and by the time the All-Ireland semi-final came about there was only one thing in the players’ minds and that was “to win the All-Ireland for Sean.”
Although underdogs in most peoples’ minds Burren ran onto O’Moore Park with only victory in their minds and in one of the greatest ever performances in the history of the club they demolished the home side by 2-13 to 0-6 and in the All-Ireland Club final on 16th March in Croke Park, Burren defeated reigning champions Castleisland Desmonds (Kerry) by 1-10 to 1-6 to become all-Ireland champions.
It was a proud Burren captain Tommy McGovern, who five years earlier had captained Down to an Ulster Senior Football title, who had the honour of lifting the Andy Merrigan Cup on the steps of the Hogan Stand as a parish, a community, a county and a province united in a chorus of celebration. The little club whose initial ambition when re-formed in 1949 was to beat their great neighbours down the road in Warrenpoint had come a long way…..their remarkable journey was complete.
Further Ulster Club titles were secured in 1987 and 1988 and earlier in 1988 a second All-Ireland Club title was annexed. This time Burren travelled to Cork to defeat the mighty Nemo Rangers in the semi-final (which was played in Midletown) and Clann na nGael (Roscommon) in the final. The Westerners got revenge the following year when they defeated Burren by a single point at St. Mary’s Park as both sides reached another All-Ireland semi-final. This game was remarkable as it was played in blizzard like conditions and at times the snow was falling so heavy that it was hard for players and spectators alike to see what was happening on the field of play.
Burren were to appear in two further Ulster Club Finals but both were to end in disappointment as they lost out to Lavey (Derry) after a replay in 1992 and to Crossmaglen Rangers in 2011.
Paddy O’Rourke, Down’s All-Ireland winning captain of 1991 is a member of the club and he was joined on that team by Brendan McKernan. Gavan Murdock was a panel member of the Down 1994 All-Ireland winning side and Gary Walsh won an All-Ireland medal with Donegal in 1992 while playing with Burren.
Club player Kevin McKernan has represented Ireland in three International Rules series versus Australia and numerous club players have achieved national honours at inter-county underage, colleges and university levels. Three club members, Paul Fegan, Declan Morgan and Kevin McKernan, have had the honour of lifting the Hogan Cup.
Long serving Ulster Council Secretary Danny Murphy was a great stalwart of the association and he was Honorary Life President of the Club when he died in December 2016, less than two months before he was due to officially retire as Provincial Secretary.
Remarkably he has been succeeded as Provincial Secretary by another Burren man Brian McAvoy – who served as County Secretary in Down during the 1990’s – and to have two Ulster Council Secretaries serving back to back is a remarkable honour for the club and community.
Brian was the second Burren man to have the honour of being county Secretary, the first being Peadar Barry who held the office from 1926 to 1956 and was Honorary Down GAA President when ‘Sam Maguire’ first came to The Mournes in 1960. In 1991 when Down won ‘Sam’ for a fourth time Danny Murphy and Brian McAvoy served as County Chairman and Secretary respectively.
Club members Jim McGivern, who succeeded Danny Murphy as Honorary Club President, and Ann Cassidy have been honoured with GAA President’s awards, while Sean Murdock (RIP) was the Ulster GAA Volunteer of The Year in the GAA’s Centenary Year.
The club has always prided itself of a great underage structure and in both 2010 and 2011 the club won the Ulster U-21 title in the tournament won by the Creggan Kickhams Club. In 2014 the club won the Ulster U-16 Club Tournament (Paul McGirr Tournament) and followed this up by annexing the Ulster Minor Club Tournament (organised by St. Paul’s in Belfast) to become the first club in Ulster to win provincial titles at U-16, Minor, U-21 and senior levels. An All-Ireland Feile Peile na nOg U-14 title was also secured in 2013, and more recently in June 2017.
In 1999 a second full size club pitch was officially opened – the main St. Mary’s Park field was opened in 1966 – and recently the club has secured land to develop a further pitch to service the needs of the boys and girls form the area. A new Social Club was officially opened in 1989 and it has had the honour of hosting the Ulster GAA Convention in both 1990 and 2017. In keeping with the club motto of ‘Ar Aghaidh le Cheile’ plans are also well advance to develop a new community recreation facility to replace the Youth Club which was opened in 1978.