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19 January 2006 Edition

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Dublin's GAA story

BY Matt Treacy

My grandfather played in the 1925 All-Ireland Junior Hurling Final when Dublin were beaten by Cork. He was a member of the Commercials team that won the Dublin championship and selected the Dublin county side. Like most of the Commercials he was from Tipperary.

During one match, play centred on the Dublin goal for such a long period that my Grandad forgot the score so he asked one of the other Dublin forwards Ned O'Dwyer, also from Upperchurch, who was winning. He didn't know so he went and asked one of the spectators. "Well, what did he say?" "He said 'we're winning', but I forgot to ask him who 'we' are."

Such stories have passed down through our family, along with the photograph of the 1925 Commercials team, but until Willie Nolan's book on the history of the GAA in Dublin I had never actually seen his name recorded anywhere. Volume Three of this massive work contains details on Dublin teams, as well as county championships, back to the beginning of the association. For that reason alone it is worth having.

Michael Cusack, one of the GAA founding fathers features prominently in the early years. Apparently he was wont to turn up in dressing rooms while chaps were getting 'rubbed down' and on one occasion delivered a vigorous slap to an uncovered posterior exclaiming: "Man, is there anything grander than the scent of muscle." A man's man.

The book covers the history of Dublin GAA from a games perspective and in an historical context. The role of the IRB is evident as is the prominence of Dublin clubs in the Parnellite split after which there was a determined effort by the Catholic hierarchy to destroy the association. Contrary to the 'jackeen' slur, the Dublin County Board organised a huge tournament in Clonturk Park on the day that loyalists were having a garden party in the Phoenix Park to 'celebrate' the visit of Queen Victoria in 1900.

Of the 1,800 who took part in the 1916 Rising many were members of 52 different Dublin clubs. O'Toole's alone had 69 members involved, mainly from the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade. On 'Gaelic Sunday', 4 August 1918, matches were organised in defiance of a ban on public gatherings. Tommy Moore of Faugh's said that they had "crossed our hurleys with the lion's claw and emerged victorious".

The most iconic day in Dublin GAA history is 21 November 1920. British forces shot dead 13 members of the 6,000 crowd who were in Croke Park to see Dublin and Tipperary play in aid of the Republican Prisoners. Most of the Dublin team were from O'Tooles and some had been involved in the organisation of the operation earlier that day against British Intelligence agents around the city.

The GAA was divided by the Civil War but also played a part in the healing. Symbolic of that was when a Dublin team that included both pro and anti-Treaty Volunteers, like Joe Stynes, defeated a Kerry team that had players such as Con Brosnan and John Joe Sheehy from opposing sides, in the 1923 All-Ireland Final.

Fascinating too is the story of the club scene and the manner in which clubs were formed. Reflecting the huge migration to Dublin, hurling in particular was long dominated by countrymen, especially from Munster, while football was the favoured 'native' pursuit particularly in the north county. Rivalry between Dub and countryman dominated both the club and county scene from the mid-'20s to the '50s.

Because the county team, especially in hurling, tended to have a majority of non-Dubs there was often little local support. In contrast when local city teams met, interest was huge, as indicated by the 12,000 who attended the Dublin Football Final of 1930 between north city rivals O'Toole's and St Joseph's. Joey's won and got to select the Dublin team but were suspended for a year following a 'fracas' with Laois in May 1931.

St Vincent's became the standard bearers of a 'nativist' policy in the late 1940s, and were involved in ferocious encounters with both 'culchie' and Dub rivals. A 1952 match between Vinnys and Joeys was described by famous GAA writer 'Carbery' as punctuated by "frequent wrestling" and "fisticuffs". Players were all friends at the end, although Carbery commented acerbically. "Twere better they played football."

Vincent's won their first county football championship in 1949 and all but five of the next 24 up to 1972. They won eight hurling titles in the same period. Huge crowds attended county finals and this was the era when the 'Hill' was born. Over 90,000 saw Dublin and Kerry in 1955 when the gates were broken and over 25,000 were left outside when Dublin beat Derry in 1958. Dublin won six Leinsters and two All Ireland football titles in ten years, as well as going down by a point to Tipperary in the 1961 Hurling Final.

That 'Golden Age' was surpassed in the 1970s and the GAA in Dublin is stronger than it has ever been. The Gaelic Athletic Association in Dublin 1884-2000, edited by William Nolan tells that story. Copies are available from Dublin Clubs or the publishers, Geography Publications, Kennington Road, Tempelogue, Dublin 6W .

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
  • This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
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