WHEN MAGGIE FARRELLY made history earlier this month, as the first female to referee a senior inter-county Gaelic football match, she followed a sequence of women from these parts to break moulds.
Although a native of Laragh in County Cavan, Farrelly is an adopted Donegal woman, living in Letterkenny and playing Gaelic football with Glenfin, with whom she won the Donegal Championship in 2011.
Farrelly refereed the Dr McKenna Cup game between Fermanagh and St Mary’s College at Garvaghey. Previously, she was fourth official for the Allianz League meeting of Dublin and Kerry last year and refereed the Ulster MFC clash of Fermanagh and Antrim in May.
“I am just Maggie Farrelly and I am just a referee,” she said after the history-making game two weeks ago, when she sent off Matthew Fitzpatrick of St Mary’s in the second half.
“I don’t expect red carpets rolled out for me. I am treated like everybody else. I don’t have high expectations of how I should be treated because I am no different to anybody else.
“Regardless of gender, I have the same fitness tests to do, the same written tests to do. I get the same support as any other referee.”
Maggie Farrelly during the Fermanagh v St Mary’s College game.
Donegal has had plenty of trailblazers over the years and in terms of administration, Noreen Doherty broke down several barriers when, at the Donegal county convention in 1991, she became the first female to be elected as a county secretary.
Doherty served as the secretary of Sean MacCumhaills from the 1980s and cut her teeth at club level. At that time, it was rare for females to be at county committee meetings, but Doherty showed the way.
“I never noticed I was in a man’s world at all,” she said in an interview after vacating the secretary’s post in 2005.
“I was never brought up in the sense that there was any difference between females and males anyway.
“It was very unusual being at county committee meetings, but as time went on more ladies got involved in their clubs. After that things sort of moved on. But it was very unusual then.”
She served 14 years in the position. Over time, it became more common to have females in positions of authority in clubs.
Noreen Doherty pictured at the recent Donegal GAA Awards night with Ulster Council President Martin McAvinney.
Indeed, in 2011, the Aodh Ruadh club appointed an all-female top table at their Annual General Meeting when Chairperson Betty McIntyre was joined by new secretary Emma Gaughan and treasurer Catherine McKee.
Doherty had to stave off three candidates and the hand of history in Bundoran in 1991, but she won with one vote to spare.
“There was no resentment that I would have noticed anyway,” she said.
“As time went on they saw you just as a person, not as a female. And, secondly, you got no concessions by the way; you had to fight your corner.”
The Ballybofey woman made history a second time in 2009 when she was elected as Donegal’s Central Council delegate, thereby becoming the first female member of Central Council.
It was a short-lived role though as, in May 2010, she was appointed Donegal GAA Administrator, a position she still holds today.
Doherty was succeeded by Seamus O’Donnell in the secretary’s role in December 2005 but, three months later he was replaced by Crona Regan and Donegal again inserted a new chapter to the book.
Glenties woman Regan was just 22 when she took the baton – becoming the youngest ever county secretary.
“Some people think I’m mad but to me age didn’t come into it,” she said at the time.
“The opportunity just arose at this time in my life and I’d be mad not to take it.”
Aideen Gillen, at the December 2014 county convention, continued the trend of female secretaries while Termon’s Grace Boyle has served as the county treasurer.
Halloween night 2001 was a watershed moment for Irish sport – and again a Donegal woman was part of the story.
On the canvas of the National Stadium in Dublin, two young boxers touched leather for a historic fight.
Cameras flashed to capture the action inside the greying confines of the home of Irish amatuer boxing. For the first time ever, the old place was hosting a bout between two female boxers.
In Ireland’s first officially sanctioned women’s bout, on October 31, 2001, fifteen-year-old Katie Taylor from Bray, County Wicklow, defeated Alanna Audley of Belfast 23-12 on points after three one-and-a-half-minute rounds.
At the close of business in the historic contest, Taylor’s hand was held high by the referee – Buncrana’s Sadie Duffy.
“It was history in the making,” says Duffy, pictured above.
Duffy has been a boxing referee since 1997 and was selected to officiate on that breakthrough night thirteen years ago, making it an all-female cast.
“There were a few hurdles to overcome, like the major one was acceptance,” Duffy says.
“Actually having womens’ boxing accepted was a big thing. Some people that you thought would have been alright about it were the very people against it at the time.
“It was a huge stage for the girls. They were only young girls at the time. It was massive, first of all, because they were there to be criticised. They both stuck it out as boxers, fair play to them.”
Duffy herself has played a big role in the sport and has taken charge of some of the country’s most high-profile bouts, including the 2011 Irish light-heavyweight final that saw Joe Ward defeat Kenny Egan on a night when Neilstown man Egan was aiming for an eleventh-successive title.
The Illies Golden Gloves woman served as secretary of the European Women’s Commission, but resigned from that role after the AIBA ruled that officers could no longer hold a position on the Commission and also act as a referee/judge.
In the late 90s, there were many at ringside who raised their eye when Duffy stepped between the ropes.
“I just got on with it,” she says.
“I adopted the approach of two choices: Take it or leave it.”
Last season, a Ramelton woman surely created some sort of history in world soccer when she served as club secretary of two different clubs at the same time.
With the winter transfer window ready to shut, Swilly Rovers signed two players from neighbours Ramelton Mariners and there was surely something unique in the transfer forms of Marty Boyce and Damien Friel – Chanel Blaney’s signature happened to be on the spaces for ‘requesting club’ and ‘consenting club’.
Mariners are now defunct with a lack of numbers leading to their demise last summer. Blaney served for ten years as secretary and remains Swilly’s secretary having taken over from Ivan Grier.
She said in an interview last year: “I love watching football and wouldn’t miss a game from either unless I have to. I always watched the games, I’d have been dragged to them from I was no height!”
Bríd McGinty is like the eternal light that never goes out with Lagan Harps and the Donegal Women’s League, while the Donegal League has had plenty of girl power.
For years, Peggy McAteer helped keep Kerrykeel’s football alive and was a regular attender at Donegal League meetings before she took up a position on the executive.
Her namesake Mary McAteer was known as the lifeblood of Rathmullan and the three Kelly sisters were the heartbeat of Whitestrand United, with the same true of Nora Sweeney at Fanad United.
Ursula Harvey, in more recent times, was a proficient administrator with the Donegal League and the Donegal Youth League and those shoes are now worn by Christina O’Donnell.
Long before the likes of Ann Kelly, Denise O’Neill and Chantelle Grant served on the Finn Harps committee, the name of Molly Brolly was synonymous with the club; an ardent supporter with a tongue as sharp as her mind and a woman for whom blue and white coursed through her veins.
There have been other notable firsts, too. Last December, Anne Condon was elected as the first female President at Letterkenny Golf Club and in St Johnston they still remember the exploits of Nicola Squires, an Irish women’s international who played for the men’s team at the Railway Road in the mid-90s.