The Joe Pat Prunty story brought to book; the man who developed GAA pitches all over the country, including Longford

Alan Walsh


Alan Walsh

The Joe Pat Prunty story brought to book; the man who developed GAA pitches all over the country, including Longford

The front cover of ‘Joe Pat Prunty: A Lifetime of Football, Fields, Faith’.

A book to be launched in the Kilmore Hotel, Cavan, on Saturday, November 26 at 7 pm, is the life story of the man who brought us Prunty Pitches. Titled ‘Joe Pat Prunty: A Lifetime of Football, Fields, Faith’ it is told in his own words and in his own way.

The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs of people, football teams, all sorts of machinery and many of the pitches he developed in Fermanagh, Monaghan, Cavan and the rest of Ulster, indeed throughout Ireland, including Longford.

It is above all the story of how one man had the foresight and drive to see and seize on opportunities as they presented themselves.

This was the 1950s and 60s when new machines and techniques were making great strides in drainage.

Prunty, with help from Cecil Moffett of Clontibret, developed and prototyped a new drainage machine. Along with John Mulqueen he carried out soil and sand experiments – these eventually produced the quality product that was the ‘Prunty Pitch.’

But the story begins in Derryvollen, a townland on the border, outside Roslea. Here, Joe Pat grew up on his father’s farm, involved in all the work and play typical of the 1930s and 1940s: corn threshing, flax, bog, pig-killing, oil lamps, ghosts, school, the big snow of ’47, hunting rabbits, fishing, poteen making, smuggling, the ‘B’ Specials, Flynn’s shop, and the dancing deck.

Then, though farm work never stopped, for a good while football reigned supreme. The highlight of his time playing for Roslea Shamrocks was their famous four-in-a-row Fermanagh Senior Championship wins of 1955-58. The very next year saw him reach even greater heights with the All-Ireland winning Fermanagh Junior team. All of this is recounted with pride and some nostalgia. Indeed he was just as proud that day in 1988, when the new Roslea Shamrock’s pitch, developed by Prunty Contracts, was opened by Peter Quinn, President of Comhairle Uladh.

In the 1950s Joe Pat had also made a name for himself as an expert ploughman, ‘ploughing on the country,’ and attending competitions all over the North. This was another way to see new machinery, at displays and the like. It was while at an International Ploughing Match at Hillsborough, Co. Down that he saw and bought a McConnell Ditch Cleaner. This was the beginning of something that would grow and expand. Next step was to buy a digger from TP Topping, Enniskillen. His drainage business had begun, and so had married life and a move to a farm at Lettergreen, outside Newtownbutler. The 1960s would be a decade of new horizons.

His experience of the poor quality of many, if not most, ‘pitches’ during his playing years suggested another outlet for his drive and interest in innovation – the development of a method of laying down, draining and maintaining sports grounds. It was to be the appliance of science as well as machinery and hard work.

The rugby pitches at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, were his first experiment in the new method and this was quickly followed by a large contract for development of pitches at Queens University. It was this contract in 1968 that set him on the road to success with the method called ‘the sand carpet pitch.’ It did not come easy. It took much research and experiment. Lough Neagh sand was found to be the best for his purposes and Norman Emerson & Sons of Lurgan, Co. Armagh supplied it. His first order of sand for the Queen’s pitches was 3,000 tons.

There was a drainage boom in the 1970s and 80s. Entry into the Common Market saw new developments in agriculture and the importance of Ministry men as well as back up at the Experimental Station at Castle Archdale, Enniskillen.

With the help of Fisher Engineering and The Agricultural Trust he developed the revolutionary gravel tunnel system of drainage. Forward thinking local farmers like Douglas Graham from outside Enniskillen, helped greatly in the early days. Eventually Grant Aid was approved and Awards were won for both drainage and pitches. All of this is well illustrated and detailed in the book.

Perhaps what will catch the eye of many will be the chapters on the various pitches at GAA, RFU and Soccer grounds, as well as other venues. There are about thirty pitches featured in detail. Iconic stadiums such as Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney and Breffni Park, Cavan are there too. These are all presented with colour photographs. The appendix names about two hundred Prunty Pitches in over twenty counties.

The book also deals with Joe Pat’s personal faith journey. As he says, “I had what you would call a simple faith. However this was to change when I went to Medjugorje, suddenly the spark became a flame and my faith became alive to me.” That was in 1988. What he saw and experienced at Medjugorje over the following years germinated the idea of setting up a Rosary Group.

On one of his many visits it so happened (God’s plan?) that he met a Mary Smith from Galway who had been involved in promoting Prayer Groups throughout the country. This meeting culminated in Joe Pat setting up a Prayer Room at his own home. All of this is told in some detail and beautifully illustrated with colour photographs.

This large format book covers an unusual variety of subjects and should be of interest to a wide spectrum of the public. George Cartwright former chairman of the Cavan County Board will launch it in the Kilmore Hotel. Everyone welcome on the night.