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23 November 2006 Edition

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Matt Treacy Column

Parnell was not Jack the Ripper

I had been toying with the theory that Charles Stewart Parnell was Jack the Ripper but I have been unable to sustain it in the face of the facts. There are tenuous connections between the two, not least of which was that the Parnell Commission set up to prove that Parnell was involved in "terrorism" opened in October 1888. This was at the same time as some of the inquests into victims of Jack the Ripper and at the height of the hysteria about the murders which seem to have stopped in November.

The other hysteria of the time was about Fenianism. The Dynamite Campaign had come to an end by 1888 but Scotland Yard was still preoccupied with the potential threat posed. One of the main suspects in the Ripper case, a chap called Francis Tumblety, was said to have connections with the American Fenians and was being investigated by Scotland Yard Special Branch for that reason. All very obscure but anyway you can take it that the Dublin County Board will not have to change the name of the county ground on foot of startling revelations!

Which got me thinking again about the connections between Parnell and the GAA. He was an unlikely icon for Gaelic games but then he was an unlikely icon for the Irish people in general. Based more on his myth and the manner of his downfall rather than anything he actually did as a constitutional politician.

In 1884 he was asked, and agreed, to be one of the patrons of the GAA and although he did not, sensible man that he was, tog out for the Wicklow junior hurling championship with An Tocher, his name has long been linked with the GAA throughout the country.

Dublin's Parnell Park is the best known venue named in his honour but there have been clubs probably in every county at some stage that bore his name. At present, off the top of my head there are Parnells in Dublin, Stabannon Parnells in Louth, London, Chicago, Cambridge, Wicklow and Carlow. Others like Navan Parnells, Parnells of Gorey, Drumkilly Parnells in Cavan and Tralee Parnells have gone.

It is interesting too that many of those clubs that were named in honour of Parnell were founded after his downfall in 1891 at a time when the GAA came close to being destroyed having taken the Parnellite side in the split that followed the revelation of Parnell's relationship with Catherine O'Shea.

Because of the GAA's support for Parnell, the Catholic hierarchy became extremely hostile to the association and there was a notable fall off in the number of clubs and competitions. So badly damaged was the GAA by the Parnell split that only Dublin, Cork and Kerry contested the 1892 hurling championship and just those three counties along with Kildare, Roscommon and Waterford the football.

Such was the extent of opposition of most Catholic clergy, particularly after the IRB managed to capture many of the leading positions in 1892, that in some counties the GAA disappeared for a period. In Leitrim this lasted until 1904.

Where there was a sufficiently strong Parnellite, or more to the point, Fenian influence, as in Dublin, the association did survive albeit in a weakened condition and the memory of Parnell, who died in 1891, was central to the association's defiance of clerical censure. Parnells of Dublin, for example, were formed in 1893.

The GAA and the IRB were also prominent in Parnell's funeral. 200,000 people are said to have taken part in the procession to Glasnevin which was led by 2,000 Dublin club members all of whom carried hurling sticks draped in black crepe. It was a remarkable demonstration of the continuing loyalty of many Dublin people and Dublin was one of the few parts of the country to return Parnellite MPs in the 1892 British general election.

Parnell had ensured this himself on his return to Dublin following his overthrow by the faction led by the despicable Tim Healy in December 1890. Speaking to the huge crowd that had marched with him to offices of the United Ireland paper, Parnell declared "Dublin is true. What Dublin says today, Ireland will say tomorrow." What a perceptive chap he was! Indeed I can see a new chant ringing out from the Hill next Summer. "One Charles Stewart Parnell, there's only one Charles Stewart Parnell."

On a more prosaic matter, the GPA have pronounced themselves confident that progress will shortly be made in relation to player welfare. Which to them means the welfare of inter county players and specifically the financial compensation of inter county players.

Their optimism is based on the Government announcing that the GAA will receive an extra €5m which could be earmarked for player welfare. With the GPA proposal for a grant for players having seemingly been rejected, it is not known in what way the GAA will use the available money.

Thankfully the debate appears to have moved away from paying players to play and hopefully the money can be used to adequately compensate players in such a way as to ensure that they are not at a personal loss when playing for their county.

This of course raises the whole issue of making a distinction between club and county players but in reality that distinction already exists. The manner in which the Cork hurlers were treated a number of years ago, and the experience of other players in more recent times, was unacceptable.

That had nothing to do with paying players but with simply ensuring that they had proper gear and facilities and back-up. If the money is used in that way then I am sure that no-one will have any objections.

At the same time the GAA, and more particularly individual county boards, must as a matter of urgency address the situation regarding club fixtures. Having gone without matches for weeks during the Summer many clubs are now facing the ludicrous situation in which they are expected to complete competitions in the dead of Winter, if at all.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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