Exiled Gaels and sporting rebels of Ireland - part III


Numerous sources, such as the recently released Bureau of Military history papers document the role of the GAA in fermenting the coming revolutionary struggle. Foremost amongst these up and coming GAA officials domiciled abroad were Michael Collins, who was responsible for swearing in whole London Irish GAA teams into the IRB. Stafford Prison, 1916 was the unlikely scenario for Gaelic football matches, in which Collins himself participated, following a rare home defeat to England the previous month.

Wembley Wonders

It was the era of Puskas and the Hungarian soccer team who decimated England at Wembley; the name stuck to the Clare hurlers who defeated Kilkenny in the Oireachtas final held here. Kieran Sheedy, retired RTE Radio 1 director and author, whose brother Dermot played on this team, relayed how after the first sixty five metre free came in towards the Kilkenny goals and the ash was clashed, the gathered Fleet Street photographers behind the goalmouth, fled in terror as they thought the Paddies had declared war on each other.

The Banner Globe Trotters

As emigration drove the population of Ireland to under 2.9 million in the 1950s, St. Senan’s of London, an all Clare football team poignantly toured their native county, ‘renewing many old friendships’ in 1957 and played five matches.

The Gaelic Olympiad – The Tailteann Games

There was no sporting apartheid here as even the South African GAA got in on the act in 1932. In the Limerick City Library archives, and the wonderful Ó Ceallaigh GAA collection (available online) there are references to Irish exiles, many of whom had formed part of the Irish Brigade in the Boer war at the turn of the twentieth century, playing hurling matches in the Veldt. After the civil war, many disillusioned patriots began to arrive in South African to begin new lives and in 1928 the Transvaal Hurling Association was formed. Hurleys and sliothars were sent out from the old country to encourage their initiative and it was this body which inspired the 1932 Springbokkers who toured Ireland to compete in the Tailteann Games tournament.

Academy awards and Three Kisses

Amongst the spate of hurling movies to come out in the 1950s was Three Kisses, a short, released in 7 October 1955, written and directed by Philly born Justin Herman. It was nominated for an academy. Violence also alluded to in this feature where despite ‘the occasional broken limb and odd bit of concussion, hurling isn’t considered all that rough a sport at all’. Colm Gallagher from a north Cork fictional village is selected by the legendary Cork trainer Jim ‘Tuff’ Barry, a city based tailor to play for Cork against Clare in the 1955 Munster hurling final. Footage from the actual 1955 Cork v Clare Munster semi final is used, in which the Banner men enjoyed a rare triumph. The bold Gallagher is fixated on a local village cailín who partakes in a camogie match which is of much ‘technical interest’ to Gallagher. Brendan Ó hÉithir describes this movie in his acclaimed book, ‘Over the Bar’ and Dr Crossan of NUI Galway has provided both incisive and humorous insight into these revealing histories.

· Also of note was the fury unleashed by Rooney star, John Gregson in 1958 when on British TV he described hurling ‘as something between lacrosse and murder’.

Citizen’s Day, Canada

Just on the eve of an earlier time of war in 1914, a Cork v Rest of Ireland hurling selection put on entertainment for 63,000 Canadians on Citizen’s Day in Winnipeg.

Yankee Stadium, 1936

Yankee Stadium, 1936

Ireland takes on America in two separate International GAA contests on Babe Ruth and Iron Man Lou Gehrig’s hallowed turf.

Polo Grounds, NYC 1947

The 1947 All-Ireland final is held for the first time outside of the mother country, as Cavan and Kerry hit the Big Apple, along with the truly great commentator, Micheal O'Hehir.

Off to ‘Nam

Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, American Gaels took huge interest in the GAA exhibition matches and competitions which were organised at the US military camps in the Carolinas prior to the young Irish being sent to war for Uncle Sam. Around seventy years earlier and in a similar environment, Mr Naismith had invented basketball to keep troops entertained at their New England base – thus began the phenomenon of the hoops.