22 January 2009 Edition
More than a game BY MATT TREACY
THIS MONTH sees the commencement of celebrations of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the revolutionary Dáil and the 125th anniversary of the founding of the GAA. Not unconnected events, obviously, as indeed is evident by looking at some of the names of those elected in the 1918 general election although they were not all there in January 1919, being on the run or ‘faoi glás ag Gallaibh’.
Probably the most noted GAA personages among the first TDs at the time were Austin Stack and Harry Boland. Stack was elected for Kerry South in 1918 and had won two football All-Irelands in 1903 and 1904 and was captain of the 1904 side. He was later chairperson of the county board and, of course, the famous Tralee club and pitch are named in his honour.
Boland played hurling with Faughs, won two county championships and was on the Dublin team in the 1916 championship. Had it not been for ‘The Troubles’, Boland would quite likely have been on the Dublin/Faughs side that won the All-Ireland in 1920. The Boland Cup is named in his honour.
OTHER prominent GAA figures were JJ Walsh from Bandon and Padraig Ó Caoimh, TD for Cork North and later secretary of the GAA for over 30 years. Páirc Uí Chaoimh is named after him. Diarmuid Lynch, TD for Cork South-East and a member of the IRB Supreme Council prior to the Rising, had played hurling for London Gaels.
Phil Shanahan, TD for Dublin Harbour and owner of a famous pub in Monto, had played hurling when younger.
Many of the others had played and, apart from their membership of the Volunteers and IRB, the GAA and the Gaelic League were the most formative influences on those who became active in the movement for national freedom. The GAA was also prominent in defying the repression that was imposed in order to suppress the Dáil and the IRA.
BLOODY SUNDAY, when the British shot dead 14 people at a Dublin v Tipperary football match in Croke Park to raise funds for the families of republican prisoners, is the most iconic symbol of that connection. And earlier that year the GAA had organised hundreds of games, on a day known as ‘Gaelic Sunday’, to defy the ban on public assemblies. As in the Six Counties in more recent times, the carrying of hurling sticks or club jerseys was regarded by the British as a certain sign that the person in question was a ‘rebel’.
It is interesting then that neither the GAA at a national level, nor the media coverage, are highlighting that aspect of the association’s history. Nor indeed the strong connections with the IRB in the 1880s and 1890s and the fact that the GAA in many parts of the country, almost uniquely, defied the Catholic Church and the ‘respectable classes’ at the time of the downfall of Parnell.
Indeed, the support of the more radical elements in the GAA for Parnell led to probably the greatest crisis in its history with many clerical figures and anti-Parnellites using it as an excuse to attempt to destroy the GAA. They were almost successful in that, to the extent that at the 1892 Congress only six counties and 200 clubs were represented.
IT is hard to imagine now but the GAA, to all intents and purposes, ceased to exist as an organisation in vast swathes of the country. Ulster, where the anti-Parnellite faction of the Irish Party and the Catholic Hierarchy was particularly strong, was most badly affected. Crossmaglen Rangers, for example, ceased to exist between 1890 and 1904.
The GAA did begin to revive in the early 1900s at the same time as the national movement generally recovered from the disillusionment of the 1890s. It was no coincidence either that this was at a time when the IRB was reinventing itself and making contact with young activists in the cultural organisations.
No doubt there are those in ‘Corporate GAA’ who prefer not to recall these things, just as there are those in the Establishment who would prefer not to delve too much into the actual events surrounding the First Dáil. In fact, there are probably many of them who share Joe Duffy’s considered view that it was usurping the ‘real government’ which, of course, was the unelected administration in Dublin Castle and its armed wing that was dedicated to overturning the democratic will of the Irish people. And, of course, the process of how all that changed must remain an unfathomable mystery! Just like the GAA’s ‘bizarre connection’ to matters other than football and hurling.