Dr. Hyde Park: 50 years of memories!

This Sunday, June 20th marks 50 years since the current Roscommon GAA county ground was opened in Roscommon town. Here, Seamus Duke looks back on the history of the venue simply known as ‘The Hyde’…

 

On the 20th of June 1971, a further chapter began in Roscommon GAA when a new county ground was opened in Roscommon town. Built in 1969 and named after Roscommon native and the first President of Ireland, Dr. Douglas Hyde, it was called Dr. Hyde Park.

The first Connacht SFC game played at the new venue was between Roscommon and Sligo and it didn’t live long in the memory as a Mickey Kearins-led Sligo beat Roscommon by 0-10 to 1-5.

In fact, the first-ever competitive game played in Dr. Hyde Park was the curtain-raiser that day, an U-14 county final between Roscommon Gaels and St. Michael’s. The player to have the honour of being the first to score at the new venue was Roscommon Gaels player Greg McCrann who scored a point early in that final. Greg went on to win an All-Ireland U-21 medal with Roscommon when they beat Kerry, also at Dr. Hyde Park some years later in 1978.

The land where Dr. Hyde Park now stands was known as ‘Raftery’s Field’, owned by a man called Brodie Raftery from Glenamaddy. The field had seen some GAA action in the past and the 1943 county final was played there between St. Patrick’s and Strokestown.

The Roscommon county GAA grounds had been located at St. Coman’s Park in Roscommon town. However, that pitch regularly flooded during winter and after it was determined that it could not be drained, a local committee sought to buy land in the town to develop it as a county ground.

Raftery’s Field was purchased in 1969 for a sum in the region of 3,000 pounds. A local committee had been set up to raise the funding required and to develop the ground.

This writer can vividly recall, that as schoolchildren attending Roscommon CBS, Brother Dwyer and Brother Coffey, both of whom were heavily involved in the GAA, brought us all out to Dr. Hyde Park on a regular basis to pick stones from the new pitch. I remember Dick Hughes and Ned Casey driving the tractors as the pitch was prepared.

The surrounds consisted of three grass banks and a bank of concrete seats – which are still there. The dressing rooms were situated in the Hyde Community Centre and the players had to walk a couple of hundred yards through the crowds to get to the pitch on the day of a big game. The present dressing rooms were only built in the early 1990s.

There has been plenty of drama and excitement at the venue over the years, both at club and county level.

  In terms of the county scene, my own personal highlights were the 1977 Connacht SFC final win against Galway, which was Roscommon’s first senior Connacht win at the venue.

Winning the 1978 All-Ireland U-21 title at Dr. Hyde Park was a day that no one who was present will ever forget either as Roscommon overturned a highly fancied Kerry team in front of a large crowd.

The Connacht SFC wins in 1990 and 1991 (replay) were very special days too. In 1990 (versus Galway) it was Roscommon’s first senior title in ten years while the following year, to beat Mayo in Hyde Park in a replay was especially sweet.

The replayed Connacht final against Galway in 1998 was also a very special day. The atmosphere that Saturday evening was something I shall never forget as both teams went hammer and tongs in a very high quality game. A goal from Michael Donnellan in extra-time settled the issue, but it was some occasion.

However, the win for Roscommon against Mayo in the 2001 final was probably the most dramatic and exciting day that I can recall at Dr. Hyde Park. A beautiful day, a massive crowd, and a last-minute goal from Gerry Lohan to win the match by a single point – it doesn’t get any better than that! Indeed, it’s hard to believe it but that’s the last Connacht senior title that Roscommon have won at ‘The Hyde’.

The facilities at Dr. Hyde Park have been upgraded over the years but most people would agree that a further major overhaul is well past time at the moment. Terracing on three sides was added in the 1990s while in the early 2000s a 3,500-seater stand was built. In addition, a new pitch was laid in 2017 and, after years of problems with the surface, it is now recognized as one of the best in the country.

However, with strict ‘Health and Safety’ guidelines in place, the capacity of Dr. Hyde Park has been reduced from 30,000 to 18,500 in the past five years, hence the urgent need to upgrade the facilities at the stadium. The ease of access and its ideal central location makes it a fantastic venue for big games all year round.

The responsibility for the upkeep and the running of Dr. Hyde Park now rests with Roscommon County Board following an agreement drawn up with the Roscommon Gaels club. This writer spent over 20 years on the Hyde Park Committee and I know about the huge efforts that have been made over the years to keep the stadium running.

The venue has been part and parcel of the fabric of Roscommon life for 50 years now and with the Connacht semi-final coming up between Roscommon and Galway on July 4th, that legacy is set to continue.

We have seen the greatest players in Gaelic football over the past 50 years play there and some great hurlers too. The park has brought great excitement and drama to Roscommon town in that time, not to mention badly needed business on the weekends of big games. Sadly, the pandemic has put a temporary stop to all that but hopefully things will be back to normal very soon and crowds can return to The Hyde.

The people involved on the Hyde Park Committee from 1969 to 1972 and who were responsible for the purchase and development of Dr. Hyde Park were: Barry Molloy, Dr. Donal Keenan, John Joe Fahey, Frank Lannon, Michael Mulry, Michael Cassidy, Paddy O’Connor, Paddy O’Donovan, T.S. O Dolain, Seamus Hunt, Willie Gilmartin, Seamus Duke, Jimmy Costello, Brother Coffey, Brother Dwyer, Gabriel Keating, Mick Hoare, Michael Stephens, Tony Robinson, Jackie Brennan, PJ Oates, Paddy Walshe, and Bernie Hoare