Origins of the Club

The year 1889 marks a significant point in the history of Gaelic games in Cookstown and Tyrone. It was then that the first ever G.A.A club in the town was established. Cookstown Owen Roe's as they were subsequently called were the pioneer club in county Tyrone, paving the way for the spread of Gaelic games elsewhere. Looking back from a modern perspective this was undoubtedly a momentous achievement for Cookstown gaels. When set amongst the social and political backdrop of the time, the emergence of a G.A.A club in the town was even more remarkable. The Gaelic Athletic Association had been established on 1st November 1884, and gave birth to a rise of 'new nationalism' throughout Ireland. As the call went out for gaels to join the banner which had been hoisted by Cusack and Co, it was answered throughout Ireland and in Tyrone the first to align themselves to the fledgling association were from Cookstown.

In 1889 the prevailing political climate was one in which association with the G.A.A was not something to be sought. Numerous files from Dublin castle can bear testimony to this fact. Despite this it was Fr. John Rock, who during his curacy in Cookstown initiated efforts to form the Owen Roe's club, and they were soon to fulfil fixtures with teams from Armagh, Derry and Belfast. Indeed from the files of the magazine, 'Sport', comes an article which refers to a game between the Owen Roe's and Armagh Harps, played on St Patrick's Day, 1889. It is quite possible that this was the first competive outing of a team from Tyrone.

Toil and Trouble
In 1890 the membership of the club stood at forty - all of whom were described by the 'R.I.C as A.O.H suspects'. The year however was to prove an historic one. On October 12th that year, Owen Roe's represented Tyrone in the Ulster senior football final, thus earning for the town another first, as they were the first Tyrone side to compete in a provincial final. By 1891 however, the club had all but disappeared as political tensions swept throughout Ireland.

In 1905 the Gaels of Cookstown regrouped and out of the vacuum emerged a new force in Gaelic Football, know as the Brian Ogs. The new club played their first game against a team from Coalisland in what would prove to be controversial circumstances. Whilst travelling to the game, the club was attacked near Tullyhogue by a hostile crowd of about 300. Stones were thrown and a brake carrying Cookstown players was driven unto a fence injurying several players. The team eventually played the game in Coalisland where they spent the night and were only able to return after an urgent request to Dublin for police reinforcements, was answered when over 100 police escorted the Brian Ogs home the following day.

Despite such incidents the club continued to flourish and a minute book from the period 1907 to 1910, highlights the goings on at the fledgling club. The book still remains in the hands of the club and is the oldest first hand record of the early days of the G.A.A in Tyrone.

In 1907 the club went out of existence for a short period of time and this led to the emergence of a club called the Cookstown Emmetts, however by November 1907 Brian Ogs were back in business and continued to carry the standard in Cookstown for the next thirty years, becoming the dominant force in Tyrone football along the way.

The Double
Within ten years of its formation the new club defeated Kilskerry McDonaghs by 3-1 to 2-1 to capture the senior championship, the following year they were in the final once more when they defeated Omagh after a replay. The Brian Ogs thus earned another first for the town by becoming the first side to win successive senior titles.

Fr Rocks
In the 1930s another club emerged in Cookstown called the Geraldines. For the next few years the clubs existed side by side, boasting teams from all age groups. In 1928 however the end of an era drew to a close as following a suggestion from a local curate, Fr Taggart, it was decided that the two clubs amalgamate and on March 6th 1938, Fr Rocks G.F.C were formed. In the first year in existence the club qualified for the county final.

So just who was Fr Rock?

Fr John Rock was a native of Granemore, Co Armagh, and in 1889 he was instrumental in the formation of Owen Roe's GFC, Cookstown, the first club in the land of O'Neill of which he was vice- president.

Born in 1847, into a land suffering at the hands of a famine which was to rob it of millions of its people through death and emigration on the coffin ships. Fr Rock was soon to show the qualities which were to earn him a reputation as a 'devoted priest and sterling patriot'.

As a boy he received his early education in the primary schools of the Ballymacnab Parish and in every one he gave abundant proof of his more than ordinary ability and deep attention to his studies.

His interest in stories of times past was often remarked upon particularly as he sat enthralled listening to how his foregathers had defended their homes from midnight raids, house burnings and wreckings which earned for them the title of ' Granemore Defenders'.

His disposition to study and his piety were such that it was soon clear that he was destined for a life in the Church and accordingly he was sent as a sixteen year old to St Patrick's College, Armagh, and during his six years there he eagerly embraced the opportunity afforded him winning for himself, from both pupils and teachers alike the reputation of being one of the most gifted and brilliant students in the college at the time.

His great love of history, particularly Irish history and biography helped fuel the patriotic zeal which was to mark much of his work in later life and on completing his final examinations he was admitted to the Irish College in Rome.

Under the shadow of the dome of St. Peter's he once more showed himself to be a brilliant student attending Propaganda University where he was regularly amongst the first on the prize lists despite the attendance there of students from every corner of the globe, many of whom went on to wear the Roman purple but none of whom forgot 'Giovanni' Rock.

Following his ordination in 1874 Fr Rock remained in the Eternal City as secretary to Most Rev. Dr. Kirby, Rector of the Irish College, a fact which in itself spoke volumes for the esteem in which the young Irish priest was held.

A year later, however, he returned to Ireland where he was first appointed to serve as curate of Monasterboice, Co Louth. He also continued with his studies but in 1879 with the birth of land agitation he was to come into his own as he threw himself into the movement for the emancipation of the downtrodden tenant farmers.

He travelled throughout the country along with his parish priest, Rev Henry McKee, speaking at rallies and organising resistance to landlords to such an extent that they soon came under the notice of the authorities and was well aware that a visit to Kilmainham Prison was considered for him on more than one occasion.

Alongside his work in this regard he never forgot his pastoral duties in other areas and he was proud of the fact that during his time in Monasterboice he helped in the building there of one of the finest churches of the time.

It was now that he was moved to Cookstown where he continued his work both in the political and pastoral spheres.

Along with his parish priest, Very Rev. Canon Rice, he helped in the building of the magnificent Convent of Mercy and the school which is attached to it.

He also threw himself into the demanding work of registration where he toiled ceaselessly preparing submissions for revision courts and even attending courts so as to ensure that the nationalist vote in the East Tyrone Constituency was maximised. At the time it was accepted that his efforts were the reason why the seat remained in Nationalist control.

It was at this time too that his attentions turned to fledgling Gaelic Athletic Association which had been formed just five years previously in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

Through his advocacy Cookstown Owen Roe's earned itself the proud distinction of becoming the first Gaelic Athletic club in Tyrone and one of only four in existence in the whole province.

Four years after its formation, however Fr. Rock was to move on once again this time to nearby Clonoe where he was appointed P.P in 1893.

His departure was keenly felt by all the people of the area and as a mark of the esteem in which he was held he was presented with a beautifully inscribed manuscript from the people of the parish which still remains in the Rock household in Granemore along with a blackthorn stick presented to him by Michael Davitt in recognition of his work for the Land league.

In Clonoe he numbered the building of St. Colmcilles Church, Kingsisland, and the Parochial House at Meenagh among his achievements and during his ten years in the parish he was once more to earn himself the love, respect and admiration which had accompanied him throughout his life.

On his death in July 1903 he was buried in Clonoe graveyard following a funeral which attracted mourners from all walks of life. Among those who were unable to attend was Mr P.C Boogan, then M.P for East Tyrone, who sent this message. 'Regret cannot get away for Fr Rock's funeral. Please convey my sympathy and the sympathy of the Irish members to relatives and friends. Faith and fatherland has lost a powerful champion.'

On his gravestone a further epitaph was written; 'Very Rev. John Rock, patriot priest of East Tyrone'.

We in Cookstown can be proud that we have the means to ensure that the name of that noble cleric lives on, on the playing fields of the country and in the furtherance of the ideals he held so dear.