In the 1920's Gaelic football was first introduced to the Dunkineely area. The first success of significance for the area came in 1936, winning the Junior Championship after deciding in the year previous to enter a team into the County Championship.
Up until 1952, the Killybegs and Killaghtee parishes were combined in footballing terms. Killybegs won the Senior Championship in 1952 and also were in the Senior League final the same year, then surprisingly they opted out of football.
Following this, a group of individuals in Dunkineely got together to form a Dunkineely club late in the same year.
In 1953, the club entered a Junior team in the Connolly Cup and continued to do so over the next few years. Dunkineely were Divisional champions in 1956 and were winners again in 1957, but following a protest regarding the registration of one of their players the County Board disqualified Dunkineely.
Success continued to follow in 1958, the club had yet another great side and won the St. Connell Cup by defeating Kilcar in the final match in Dunkineely. Later that year, Dunkineely qualified to meet the 1957 County champions Dungloe in Glenties but lost out narrowly, Dungloe then went on to win the Dr. Maguire Cup again.
Towards the end of 1958 the club lost several of their players, this was due mainly to emigration and towards the latter part of 1959 the club disbanded. At the time it would have been possible to revert to Junior status but as there was only one other club in the immediate area playing Junior Football the committee decided to throw their weight behind the club being reformed in Killybegs.
On Friday, October 11th, 1974 a meeting was held in St. Mary's Hall, Dunkineely, with a view to reviving the Dunkineely GAA club, which had been defunct for well over a decade. At a general meeting on January 5th, 1975 in Dunkineely, Fr. P. Cunningham (RIP) proposed that the club be named after Saint Ultan as there would probably be no other club in the county with the saint as its patron. From then on the club became known as Naomh Ultan.
Naomh Ultan began playing in Junior competition in 1975, their first match being against Glenfin who happened to be just starting up too. This game was played at Fintragh as the club's own pitch was not prepared in time for the start of the competition. The club colours were to be black and amber, the original colours of the club in Dunkineely prior to the foundation of Naomh Ultan.
The first adult trophy of any significance since the '50s was won in 1982, the Division 3 Shield. The club's first piece of Championship silverware since 1936 came in 1984 when they captured the first Intermediate title for the club, one year after the infamous league title victory after not dropping a single point in an entire season. On the day they defeated Kilcar on a scoreline of 1-5 to 0-5, Donal Cannon getting the all important goal and Liam Kennedy (0-3), Brendan McGready & John Quigley (0-1 each) all chipping in to raise aloft the cup.
In the late 1990's the club again had some league successes, most notably in 1997 were both Senior and Reserve sides won their leagues one year after a disastrous relegation. A proud year for the club as it also saw the opening of Naomh Ultan's new playing facilities on a day which saw Donegal play Roscommon to celebrate its opening.
The Naomh Ultan club is synonymous with a name and that is none other than Martin Shovlin. “Shov” is a Donegal All-Ireland winner, being part of the famous 1992 team who won Donegal’s first All Ireland. His accolades as a player also include two Ulster Football Championship medals and in 1990 was awarded Ulster GAA Writers' Player of the Year. Later on in his footballing career, he won two All-Ireland Masters (2002 & 2003) and has a Masters All-Star to his name from 2006. He was on the panel when Donegal won their first ever U21 All-Ireland title, they defeated Roscommon on October 17th, 1982. It is no coincidence that Martin’s triumphs at inter-county level materialized into Naomh Ultan’s successes over the years.
Naomh Ultan contested in a number of Intermediate Championship finals in 1989, 1992 & 1998, narrowly losing out in each. The reserve team also played in the 1997 & 1998 Intermediate B Finals suffering defeats too. The hurt from losing those finals was greatly relieved on what is noted as the club’s most historic day in 2002. On October 27th in a wet and dull MacCumhaill Park both teams captured the Intermediate A & B Championships. The reserves defeated Urris in the Intermediate B Championship final which was followed by the Intermediate A Championship final, Naomh Ultan getting the better of Buncrana 2-4 to 0-8. A momentous day for a small club to do a championship double in that fashion, it will live long in the memories of those there to witness it. Years of dismay in finals brought to the sweetest of ends in victories that encapsulated the fighting spirit of Naomh Ultan.
Naomh Ultan welcomed St. Eunans to Pairc Naomh Ultan the following year in the Donegal Senior Championship, it was widely thought that the club would build upon the successes of the year previous however that didn’t transpire. Within a couple of years the club found itself playing Junior Championship again and it wasn’t until 2011 & 2013 when Naomh Ultan captured the Junior B championships that they saw success.
After losing the Junior B Championship final in 2010 to Sean MacCumhaills the side saw off St. Eunans 2-7 to 1-7 in 2011 to win the club’s first ever Junior B Championship. Many remnants of the 2002 Intermediate winning teams were evident in this side who ended up winning the title again in 2013 defeating Letterkenny Gaels in Páirc Tír Conaill, Donegal town 2-9 to 0-9.
These successes at Junior B level and Naomh Ultan’s first Minor County League & Championship wins in 2008 helped build a team of young but experienced players and further success did follow, but only after the suffering of defeat first. Kicking on from 2013 the club found itself in both the Division 4 promotion playoff and Junior A Championship final in 2014, losing off on both occasions to Red Hughs and Urris. Similar to times gone by previously, the sufferings of these finals stood by our club. In 2015, Naomh Ultan captured the Division 4 league title and their first Junior Championship since 1936 defeating Red Hughs in a replayed final. Two tightly fought contests ended in a last gasp 45’ struck over under the lights in MacCumhaill Park by Cian Kennedy. Another day in Ballybofey that will be a standout footballing memory for all involved.
The club played Intermediate Championship up until 2021, avoiding relegation in 2019 and 2020 but inevitably dropping back down to Junior Championship for the 2022 season. Naomh Ultan continues to develop both on and off the field, in 2004 the club opened new dressing room facilities and currently are enhancing the grounds and facilities further by developing training pitch facilities, a walking track and plans in the near future of a stand for supporters.
Looking forward, 2024 will be a momentous year for the Naomh Ultan club as it celebrates its half century since the revival of football and establishment of the club today. In an area of proud Gaelic football tradition stretching back as far as the early 1920s the club’s successes and facilities are testament to the players, members, supporters and people of the parish both past and present.