Horse Shoe pitching or “Meggars” as it is locally called has been part of rural life in Ireland for as long as cast off horse shoes have been available. It is claimed to have originated in Roman Times when soldiers spent their leisure hours in camp throwing or pitching horse shoes in friendly competition. Today the sport has evolved as a skillful and well organised one using purpose made pitcher shoes manufactured to a standard size and weight.
In the Irish context, horse shoe pitching is not regarded as a particularly ancient sport. This may well have been because of the large number of small holdings in rural Ireland which did not justify the ownership of even a single horse. It was in the 1940’s that pitching became popular especially during the war years when other forms of sport and entertainment were difficult to organise. The equipment for the game was readily available in all rural areas and before long, weekend matches gained a popularity they have not since lost.
It was in County Wexford that the first Meggar Clubs were organised in Ireland. Counties Laois, Carlow and Kildare were soon to follow and in Ballykilcavan between Athy and Stradbally, meggars were played in the mid 1940’s. In the late 1960’s, meggars was a popular game played by workers in the Sugar Factory in Carlow during their lunch break. In time a club was formed in the factory and soon after the factory workers from Counties Kildare and Laois established Clubs in their own areas. In March 1974, the Midland Horse Shoe League was formed with Clubs affiliated from Cossets of Carlow, Erin Foods of Carlow, Maganey, Tollerton and Ballinabranagh. The first Club from this locality was Castlemitchell founded in 1976. The founder Members included the late Pat Pender and Luke Kinsella and Mick English who later went on to found a Meggars Club in Bray, Athy.
The Castlemitchell Club played on the local green using cast off Horse shoes which were pitched to a spike set in the ground a distance of 33 feet away. The numbers playing increased and as interest developed, a second team was formed in Castlemitchell. This was later to form the nucleus of the highly successful Gouleyduff Team which was founded in 1980. Founder Members included Denis Ryan, Martin Mulhall, Pat Ward, Jim Mulhall and Denis Prendergast. They played in the field next to P.J. Prendergast’s house in Gouleyduff.
Kilberry Meggars Club followed in 1981. Originally based in Mick Drea’s field, the Club Members now play on the green in Kilberry. Mick Drea, Joe McDermott, Mick Clinton and Jimmy Fitzpatrick were some of the original Members of the Kilberry Club. Some short time afterwards, a Club was formed in Churchtown with Billy Harris, Jim Kane, Stephen Lawler and the late Jack “Thatcher”-Carbery as Members. They practised and played on Billy Harris’s field.
When Mick English, one of the Founder Members of the Castlemitchell went to live in Bray, Athy, he was instrumental in forming the Bray Meggars Club with Mick Bolger, Charlie Sourke and Joe Martin.
Today the Gouleyduff, Bray, Churchtown and Kilberry Clubs play under what are described as the Wexford Rules and are Members of the County Kildare Horse Shoe Pitchers. These local clubs are amongst the most successful in the Country. Castlemitchell Club won the inaugural All Ireland Club Championship played in Fairyhouse in County Meath in 1978 with the team of Mick English, Paddy Byrne, John and Charlie Sourke, Pat Prendergast and Luke Kinsella. Since then the Gouleyduff Team has won the All Ireland Championship on three occasions. Victories in 1982, 1989 were followed by last years All Ireland win in Timahoe, Co. Laois. The winning team then comprised Joe Phillips Captain, Pat Ward, John Kelly, Paddy Byrne, Denis Ryan and James Hosy. As a result of that victory, the All Ireland Meggars Club Championship for 1997 will be held in Tegral’s Sport Field in Athy on the Whit Weekend.
Competitions will start on Saturday evening the 31st May and continue on Sunday afternoon. Athy has played host to a variety of All Ireland matches over the years including Hurling and Ploughing Championships. Now meggars is to be added to list given our local sporting activity a unique place in the annals of Irish sport.