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How 'hidden gem' of Ballyliffin was introduced to the world 30 years ago

The way we were: Fred Daly and members of Belfast Press Golf Society at Ballyliffin in 1988. Back, from left, Dan O'Neill (Bord Failte); Bob Hagan (Irish News), David Sloan (Downtown Radio), Peter Croft (BBC), Ivan McMichael (Freelance), Brian Johnston (BBC), Brian Dempster (BBC), Cahir O'Doherty, David Lynas (BBC), Fred Daly, John Devine (Irish Independent), Cyril Troy (UTV), Colin Gibson, Cecil McCausland (News Letter), David Gilliland (Northern Ireland Office), Stanley Bennett, Robin Harris (BBC), Ivan Peebles (Belfast Telegraph), Trevor Caughey and Johnny Frazer. Front: Malcolm Brennan (Irish News), John Irvine (UTV), David Capper (BBC), Deric Henderson
(Press Association), Brendan McCann (Irish Independent), Colin Duncan (Downtown Radio), Mark Jameson (Coleraine Chronicle), Jackie Sloan (Ulster Herald)
The way we were: Fred Daly and members of Belfast Press Golf Society at Ballyliffin in 1988. Back, from left, Dan O'Neill (Bord Failte); Bob Hagan (Irish News), David Sloan (Downtown Radio), Peter Croft (BBC), Ivan McMichael (Freelance), Brian Johnston (BBC), Brian Dempster (BBC), Cahir O'Doherty, David Lynas (BBC), Fred Daly, John Devine (Irish Independent), Cyril Troy (UTV), Colin Gibson, Cecil McCausland (News Letter), David Gilliland (Northern Ireland Office), Stanley Bennett, Robin Harris (BBC), Ivan Peebles (Belfast Telegraph), Trevor Caughey and Johnny Frazer. Front: Malcolm Brennan (Irish News), John Irvine (UTV), David Capper (BBC), Deric Henderson (Press Association), Brendan McCann (Irish Independent), Colin Duncan (Downtown Radio), Mark Jameson (Coleraine Chronicle), Jackie Sloan (Ulster Herald)

By Deric Henderson

It was Trevor Caughey, then No.2 at the Bord Failte office in Belfast, who was on the line to discuss arrangements for the forthcoming Spring outing of Belfast Press Golf Society, one of the season's highlights. The year was 1988 and our planned destination was Baltray, Co Louth.

"Deric," he enquired. "Is there any chance you guys would consider going to Ballyliffin instead?"

"Ballyliffin? Where's Ballyliffin?" I replied. Or words to that effect.

Their club captain at the time was a man called Noel Kilcooley, a bank manager in neighbouring Carndonagh. Cahir O'Doherty, a travel agent with an office in Dublin, was president.

I was secretary of the society, and with the former Open champion Fred Daly as our president, courses then were easily accessed by the men, and women, representing the Fourth Estate and who enjoyed the occasional round, especially at somebody else's expense.

Bord Failte (the Irish Tourist Board) were generous hosts. We were always facilitated and well refreshed when we travelled south across the border, but this time we were happy to head north, even though this was a club which hardly anyone of our acquaintance knew even existed. Ballyliffin? Where's Ballyliffin?

Little did we know what lay ahead, and the reception which awaited.

Three times their captain called in advance of the expedition arriving on the Inishowen Peninsula. "Is Fred Daly coming with you?" asked Noel. "I mean the real Fred Daly…" He was assured he was. A week later, he called again seeking confirmation that the man who won The Open at Royal Liverpool the same year Ballyliffin was founded (1947) was definitely leading the party of 30 or so print and broadcast journalists.

And then just a day before leaving Belfast, the phone rang again. "Nobody up here believes me," he declared, sounding slightly perplexed. "They just don't believe me."

Within an hour or so of checking into the village's Strand Hotel, then owned by Brian Harkin, Mr Daly, wearing his Ryder Cup blazer and Royal Portrush tie, was holding court in the downstairs bar as Mr Kilcooley listened in awe at the conversation while a golfing legend reflected on times past about his exploits in various parts of the country.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland.
Keith Duffy at the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin.
Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Keith Duffy at the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 6th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Rory McIlroy's father, Gerry McIlroy, centre in white, on the 11th fairway. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 6th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Rory McIlroy on the 11th tee. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 6th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Thorbjørn Olesen on the 11th tee. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 6th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Rory McIlroy on the 11th green. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 6th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Rory McIlroy with his caddy Harry Diamond on the 10th tee. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 5/7/2018 Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin Kernoghan Rory McIlroy's mother Rosie and wife Erica at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin - Rory McIlroy has started his bid for a second Irish Open success alongside Matt Fitzpatrick and Thorbjon Olsen at the Ballyliffin links in Donegal. The 2016 champion and four-time major winner goes out with Englishman Fitzpatrick and Danish player Olesen in the opening two rounds. Last year's winner Jon Rahm tees off with Rafa Cabrera Bello and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell. Shane Lowry, winner in 2009, is grouped with Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 5/7/2018 Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin Kernoghan Rory McIlroy teeing off the 2nd at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin - Rory McIlroy has started his bid for a second Irish Open success alongside Matt Fitzpatrick and Thorbjon Olsen at the Ballyliffin links in Donegal. The 2016 champion and four-time major winner goes out with Englishman Fitzpatrick and Danish player Olesen in the opening two rounds. Last year's winner Jon Rahm tees off with Rafa Cabrera Bello and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell. Shane Lowry, winner in 2009, is grouped with Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 5/7/2018 Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin Kernoghan Rory McIlroy teeing off the 8th at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin - Rory McIlroy has started his bid for a second Irish Open success alongside Matt Fitzpatrick and Thorbjon Olsen at the Ballyliffin links in Donegal. The 2016 champion and four-time major winner goes out with Englishman Fitzpatrick and Danish player Olesen in the opening two rounds. Last year's winner Jon Rahm tees off with Rafa Cabrera Bello and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell. Shane Lowry, winner in 2009, is grouped with Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters.
Jim Nesbitt takes part in the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Brian McFaddenat the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Enda Kenny and Jihad El Sibai take part in the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Jim Nesbitt takes part in the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Jim Nesbitt takes part in the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Rory McIlroy on the 1st tee with Tony McCoy, JP McManus and Dermot Desmond at the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Rory McIlroy on the 1st fairway at the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 4/7/2018 Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin Kernoghan Keith Wood playing in today's Pro-Am at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Ballyliffin, Donegal. Rory McIlroy will start his bid for a second Irish Open success alongside Matt Fitzpatrick and Thorbjon Olsen at the Ballyliffin links in Donegal. The 2016 champion and four-time major winner goes out with Englishman Fitzpatrick and Danish player Olesen in the opening two rounds. Last year's winner Jon Rahm tees off with Rafa Cabrera Bello and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell. Shane Lowry, winner in 2009, is grouped with Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 4/7/2018 Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin Kernoghan Padraig Harrington playing in today's Pro-Am at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Ballyliffin, Donegal. Rory McIlroy will start his bid for a second Irish Open success alongside Matt Fitzpatrick and Thorbjon Olsen at the Ballyliffin links in Donegal. The 2016 champion and four-time major winner goes out with Englishman Fitzpatrick and Danish player Olesen in the opening two rounds. Last year's winner Jon Rahm tees off with Rafa Cabrera Bello and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell. Shane Lowry, winner in 2009, is grouped with Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Rory McIlroy on the fairway with Tony McCoy at the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Tony McCoy takes part in the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. JP McManus takes part in the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Keith Wood takes part in the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Keith Wood takes part in the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Graeme McDowell takes part in the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Rory McIlroy practices before the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Rory McIlroy on the 1st tee with his Tony McCoy at the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Rory McIlroy signing autographs for fans at today's Pro-Am at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Ballyliffin, Donegal.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 4/7/2018 Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin Kernoghan Darren Clarke teeing off the 1st at today's Pro-Am at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Ballyliffin, Donegal. Rory McIlroy will start his bid for a second Irish Open success alongside Matt Fitzpatrick and Thorbjon Olsen at the Ballyliffin links in Donegal. The 2016 champion and four-time major winner goes out with Englishman Fitzpatrick and Danish player Olesen in the opening two rounds. Last year's winner Jon Rahm tees off with Rafa Cabrera Bello and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell. Shane Lowry, winner in 2009, is grouped with Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters.
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 4/7/2018 Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin Kernoghan Golf fans enjoying the fantatic weather at today's Pro-Am at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Ballyliffin, Donegal. Rory McIlroy will start his bid for a second Irish Open success alongside Matt Fitzpatrick and Thorbjon Olsen at the Ballyliffin links in Donegal. The 2016 champion and four-time major winner goes out with Englishman Fitzpatrick and Danish player Olesen in the opening two rounds. Last year's winner Jon Rahm tees off with Rafa Cabrera Bello and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell. Shane Lowry, winner in 2009, is grouped with Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Graeme McDowell takes part in the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th July 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal, Ireland. Rory McIlroy practices before the Pro-Am at Ballyliffin. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

But Fred was also new to this beautiful part of the world.

Two rounds of golf followed by long, liquid nights seemed to pass by in a flash on that Bank Holiday. Everything had been set aside to ensure the visitors were given five-star treatment. The clubhouse wasn't much to shout about. Old, dreary and run down with the worst men's locker room I've ever frequented, if my memory serves me right.

The bar and lounge were fairly ordinary as well, but the craic was mighty. "What time do you close?" somebody enquired around 2.30 in the morning, the party in full swing.

"When the Sergeant says it's time to go," he was told. "But don't worry, that's him up there playing the fiddle."

The links course, overlooking a spectacular stretch of coastline at Pollan Bay, on the north western tip of the peninsula, was a landscape of such natural beauty that even Fred struggled to find the adjectives to describe the 18 holes marked out on those sand dunes, now known as the Old Links.

His regular travelling companion Johnny Frazer, a wealthy Belfast businessman and fellow Balmoral member, nodded in approval when his great friend declared in that inimitable North Coast drawl: "This is the hidden gem of Irish golf. It is good enough to stage a Championship."

Ballyliffin dined out on those words for years afterwards.

On our first night, Fred, Johnny, Cahir and Noel shared a dinner table. Sadly none of them are around anymore, nor the man who picked up most of the bill for those three days, Stanley Bennett, Trevor Caughey's boss, a wonderful individual with a wicked sense of humour and whose memory is marked every year at one of our society outings.

But Mr Harkin, who was club captain the year work started on the adjoining Glashedy course which opened in August 1995, is still going strong aged 70. Padraig Harrington is staying in one of his properties for this week's Irish Open.

So the club which apparently nobody outside Donegal, and maybe Derry city, had ever heard of never looked back after that memorable media weekend 30 years ago.

No doubt some of the members who later became great friends, and who entertained us so royally back then, will be among the crowds straining to catch a glimpse of Rory and Co.

None of us can recall who won the overall prize, or indeed any prize, but a clipping of a newspaper article, and accompanying photograph, which effectively announced the club's presence to the outside world was duly framed and later presented to the club on behalf of the society by the BBC's David Lynas.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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