Tag Archives: Gaelic Athletic Association

GAA’s “American Invasion” began 130 years ago

On 25 September, 1888, a delegation of Irish athletes arrived in New York City for an “American Invasion Tour” intended to raise money and promote awareness for the sports of the four-year-old Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).

The New York Times reported that “50 stalwart young lads with remarkably well developed limbs sprang down the gangplank of the steamer Wisconsin … (carrying) blackthorn sticks and ‘hurling’ clubs in their hands … Their sticks commanded universal respect, and a big policeman eyed them with special interest …”

The 1888 hurling team. Image from Haverford College.

The visiting athletes were greeted by “many friends … and representatives from several Irish societies,” the Times reported. “Almost all trades and professions are represented among the young men.”

Their arrival coincided with a period of increased Irish immigration to America due to ongoing domestic agrarian unrest and political turmoil. These issues were now receiving extra scrutiny from a special commission that opened in London a few weeks earlier. American journalist William Henry Hurlbert also published a book about the “Irish problem” based on his travels in the country earlier that year. (See my “Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited” blog serial.)

“One of the main ideas considered by the founders of the GAA was the revival of the ancient Tailteann Games, An Aonach Tailteann,” the organization says in its online history. “However, terrible weather and infighting between the two athletic organisations in America resulted in low attendances and gate receipts.”

The GAA tour was to have included exhibitions in New York; Boston; Philadelphia; Trenton, Newark, and Patterson, New Jersey; Providence, Rhode Island; and Lowell, Massachusetts. But dates were cancelled and the tour ended in just five weeks. The GAA had to borrow money from agrarian activist Michael Davitt help the athletes return to Ireland. About half the young men decided to stay in America.

Two years ago, the diary kept team member Pat Davin, brother of GAA co-founder Maurice Davin, emerged in public and was put under auction, as reported by The Irish Times. In one passage the diarist complained about “very plain-looking” American women at a New York dance; in another, about the lack of strong drink at a Massachusetts banquet.

1888 Invasion medal.

Davin’s dairy went unsold at the 2016 auction and remains in the hands of the private owner, said County Kilkenny-based Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers. A commemorative medal from the 1888 tour sold in May for about $2,200, slightly less than was paid for a similar medal eight years ago.

 

“Although the tour was deemed a failure in some regards, its overall cultural impact was noticeable and lasting,” according to Haverford College“The tour was well received by Irish American communities in general and eventually resulted in the formation of several GAA branches.”

During his travels in Ireland, Hurlbert obtained a copy of the newly published Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland, which included “Marching Song of the Gaelic Athletes.” The poem by Irish nationalist Douglas Hyde later became the GAA anthem. It begins:

We, the numerous men of Eire,
Born beneath her pleasant skies,
To our gatherings on our mountains.
In our thousands we arise.
See the weapons on our shoulders,
Neither gun nor pike we bear,
But should Ireland call upon us
Ireland soon should find them there.

(Poem continues)

First history of GAA published 100 years ago

UPDATE:

I heard from Vincent Carmody of Listowel, a local historian and author. He writes that Thomas F. O’Sullivan and his book are not forgotten. Story of the GAA received at least five mentions in The G.A.A., A People’s History, a 2009 book by Mike Cronin, Mark Duncan and Paul Rouse.

Carmody continued:

When in Listowel, [O’Sullivan] was the driving force, both as a player and administrator of the local G.A.A. club. He later served as an administrator at both County and National level of the Association. He is credited with the proposal of Rule 27, of the G. A.A.s rule book. This came into force in 1902 and it read, ” any member of the association who plays in any way, rugby football, jockey or any imported game which is calculated or injurious affect our national pastimes, is suspended from the association” . This rule was commonly known as, The Ban. It was for a long time rigorously enforced, indeed in 1938, the then President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, was banned from the G.A.A. , for his attendance at an International Soccer match in Dublin. The rule was deleted in 1971.

ORIGINAL POST:

A journalist’s book about the early decades of the Gaelic Athletic Association this year quietly reached the 100th anniversary of its publication. Thomas F. O’Sullivan’s Story of the GAA was based on an earlier series of newspaper articles.

thomas-f-osullivan-1The book’s 1916 publication has been lost amid all the attention to the same-year Easter Rising. Even the 1916 entry of the special 1913-1923 centenary section of the GAA’s website overlooks the book, written by one of its own members. You can read the organization’s 28 May 1916 official statement after the uprising.

Michael Cronin of the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University, Leicester, England, briefly noted O’Sullivan’s book in a larger essay on “Historians and the Making of Irish Nationalist Identity in the Gaelic Athletic Association.” He wrote:

O’Sullivan was a GAA official and the book presents a highly simplistic notion of the Association’s past beginning with the seven pioneers who met in Thurles in 1884 to reawaken the Gaelic nation through sport and taking the narrative up to 1916 by recounting details of major personalities, decisions taken by the Central Council and recording the results of matches.

Although there is no explicit mention of the Easter Rising as such an inclusion would have meant that the book would not be approved by military censors, there is an implicit celebration of the Rising as those GAA men who took part are included in the list of GAA personalities.

Although not a widely researched history, as it is more of a contemporary account, O’Sullivan’s book is important as it sets out an accepted chronology that is rarely challenged by subsequent authors. This chronology, while celebrating the games of the Gael, primarily revolves around the role of the GAA in reawakening the national spirit.

O’Sullivan’s book does receive several mentions in The GAA & Revolution in Ireland 1913-1923, edited by Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, a 2015 commemorative publication specially commissioned by the GAA.

O’Sullivan was a Kerryman, born in Listowel, according to a short History Ireland bio. He wrote for the nationalist Freeman’s Journal.