The fight for the 2018 Liam MacCarthy cup marks 130 years since the first ever All Ireland Hurling Final where Galway took on Tipperary.
This year Limerick and Galway will tussle for the holy grail in Hurling - the Liam MacCarthy Cup. This year also marks 130 years since the first ever All-Ireland Hurling Final where Galway took on Tipperary but, all did not go to plan for the Tribesmen.
Only six counties contested the first All-Ireland hurling championship in 1888. They were Clare, Dublin, Kilkenny, Wexford, Tipperary, and Galway. There were no provincial crowns to play for just an open draw for All Ireland glory. The county teams were represented by clubs and for Tipperary, that honor fell to Thurles while Galway was represented by the hurlers of Meelick.
Galway's first match was a semifinal meeting with Wexford which was played at Elm Park in Mount Merrion in Dublin. The Tribesmen beat the boys of Wexford 2-08 to 1-00 and the owner of Elm Park, Lord French, awarded the winners £3 in traveling expenses and £2 to Galway's John Lowry who had his teeth blown out when a Wexford hurley met him across his face!
Galway booked their place in the All-Ireland Final which took place on Easter Sunday 1888 in Offaly. Up to 5,000 people gathered at Hoares Field in Birr to witness GAA history. Local man Patrick White had the honor of refereeing the historic fixture and the hurlers from east Galway were the first to arrive on the field, but minus one player.
The Galway team traveled to Birr by horse-drawn coach but John Lowry, that same unfortunate chap who left his teeth on the field in the semifinal, went to the wrong crossroads to meet the coach and thus missed his transport to the all-important match! Undeterred he set off on foot and after a twenty-mile walk, he arrived in Birr just in time.
The Galway team, including their supporters, were assembled in Birr but, there was no sign of the Tipp team. GAA officials offered to award the match to Galway but they declined. They had traveled for a match and the spectators had traveled for a hurling spectacle so therefore they decided to do the honorable thing and wait for Tipperary. Alas, it was a decision they would regret!
The Galway team went to nearby Cunningham's Hotel where many of them indulged in a few tipples. Meanwhile, in Thurles the Tipperary team were having a dispute at the railway station. Members of Tipperary county board were locked in a heated argument with their hurlers over traveling expenses. When the matter was eventually sorted out the team hopped on the delayed train and set off for Birr.
Memorabilia finally arrived in Birr they met up with Galway in Cunningham’s Hotel and the two teams marched to the field of play. The sliotar was thrown in shortly after 3pm and the first ever All Ireland Hurling Final finally got underway!
Galway was decked out in green and white shirts with knitted green caps on their heads while Tipp sported an all green kit. The first score came in the 11th minute when a sliotar hit from the hurley of a Tipp player sailed over the Galway crossbar.
Just before halftime, Galway's John Lowry was sent off when he swiped his hurley across the face of a Tipp player and broke his nose. It didn't stop Lowry from later rushing back onto the field to stop a Tipp player from charging towards the Galway goal! The ref threatened to abandon the game if Lowry did not stop his antics.
When Tipp belted the sliotar into the back of the Galway net in the second half it signaled the end of Galway's hopes of becoming the first winners of the first All-Ireland Hurling Final. The final score saw Galway lose on a scoreline of 0-00 to 1-01.
Pat Cullen who played on the Galway team in that historic fixture was a Carpenter by trade and he provided his teammates with their hurleys. Months after the All-Ireland Final Cullen had to flee his native land and sail across the broad Atlantic when his involvement in the Land War made him a target of the authorities. At the same time, his team captain also fell victim to the same oppressive regime.
Patrick Madden was evicted from his homestead six months after captaining Galway in the All-Ireland Final. During the terrible ordeal, he managed to give his most prized possession, his hurley, to the local postmaster for safe keeping. The postmaster hid it in the rafters of his cottage where it remained until 1984 when it was discovered during re-roofing! 1984 was also the same year that the GAA erected a plaque on the gable end of Maddens old homestead.
The captain of the first Galway team to appear in an All-Ireland Final died in poverty in Portumna workhouse in 1945 but, today his hurley made by his teammate sits in a prime position in the GAA museum in Thurles as an iconic piece of memorabilia from a historic sporting occasion 130 years ago.
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