London GAA showcased all gaelic sports as part of its own 1916 commemorations last weekned. We look at its history and links to the Rising.
With all of the increased interest on 1916 this centenary year it is well known that there were huge ties between the GAA and the Rising. But the roots of the rebellion are also intrinsically linked to London’s gaelic games scene.
Britain was the base for no less than 87 volunteers who travelled to Dublin in 1916, and of these 32 left from London.
It is no secret that Michael Collins was a close friend of Liam McCarthy, and having spent almost a third of his life in London the ties to Irish independence in the capital are vast. Michael Collins played with the now-defunct Geraldines during his time in London.
Also connected with that club, and the Rising, were two men by the names of Padraig Pearse and Robert Belton. His close friend Liam McCarthy founded the London County Board and along with London-based Sam Maguire donated the cups to the GAA which are now used for the All Ireland senior football and hurling championships.
What is also fascinating is that diary records tells us that the 32 people who left London for Dublin in 1916, were in fact London-born rebels.
The GAA and Revolution
One of the best books to come out for the centenary year was released recently by the Collins Press. Edited by Gearoid O Tuathaigh, The GAA & Revolution in Ireland 1913-23, traces the ties to the sport and the links its members had to the Rising and other important events in Ireland at that time.
Fourteen contributors, both Irish historians and those from the sporting world, pick a topic each and explore in great depth how the GAA coped during a period of great uncertainty, and change, in Ireland.
It goes beyond the 1916 Rising too, as deals with the consequences that the First World War had on Ireland, and its national game, as well as the War of Independence and Civil War.The decade between the labour conflict (the Lockout) of 1913 and the end of the Civil War in 1923 was one of seismic upheaval.
How the GAA, the country’s major sporting and national body, both influenced and was influenced by this upheaval is a rich and multifaceted story that the book does tremendously in exploring further.
Leading writers analyse the impact that ‘ordinary’ life events, and ‘ordinary people’ had on major events, all with the backdrop of the country’s national game.
It is one of the more original pieces of literature to have been released amongst other history books released about the period, and is engrossing in its attempt to show the perspective through the lens of a sporting organisation. What the book does perfectly is look at how Irish historiography has evolved and how the GAA helped keep a divided nation together.
The images used in the book, and displayed here, would be of great interest to those who are not only GAA fans, but those who like to find out more about the Ireland of yesteryear.
There is a fascinating section on camogie’s role on Irish independence too, with pictures of the earliest teams. Although it deals with the island of Ireland specifically, it is fascinating to look at it in the broader context of what was happening here in Britain at the same time too.
It does focus on the emigrant experience though too, with a vast chapter on about how the Irish community in America and the clubs that they set up acted as a platform for culture and politics.
Most importantly, the book also tackles the myths that have been debated over the past 50 years about what the GAA’s role actually was in the Rising.
Some historians have argued that its role was negligible due to the GAA distancing itself from a political stance in the wake of the Rising, while others have expressed disbelief at that due to the events that followed. Paul Rouse states that “the story of the GAA in the years immediately before the 1916 Rising is, ultimately, the story of the triumph of play”.
While it was no doubt a sporting body, Rouse describes that the men who saved the GAA from near collapse after the 1890s were nationalists, and those who incorporated nationalist ideals into the rules of the organisation, with bans on foreign games and membership of the British Army coming into force.
The book can be purchased on Amazon.co.uk for £23.53.