The Preservation of Irish Culture Through Sport

31 Oct

In getting to know the culture and history of Ireland, one must encounter the powerful influence and affect that sports have upon the people that make up the small island. The preservation of Irish culture amongst a turbulent British influence over hundreds of years makes the maintaining of any form of true Irish traditions extremely important. This preservation includes the act of sport. The four main Gaelic sports are hurling, rounders, handball and gaelic football. The establishment that helped to bring formalization and foundation for these sports was the GAA, The Gaelic Athletic Association.

My interest in the GAA grew after our trip to Croke Park, the national stadium where all GAA Finals are played. I became more interested in learning about how the GAA started and it’s impact on Irish society.

The main founder of the GAA was Michael Cusack, who moved to Dublin in 1877. At that time, Gaelic sports were mainly played by the middle and upper classes. The foundations for these games found their roots in local clubs throughout Ireland, which all varied slightly in their rules and regulations. Sometimes games had to be stopped because teams from different counties were playing by different rules. A game that Cusack witnessed in Galway in 1884, where the game was stopped multiple times because of confusion over rules, sparked the idea that a standardization of the Irish games needed to be established through a general governing body of Irish sports.

Cusack was a journalist and used this venue to gain support for his cause. His October 11, 1884 articles on the establishment of a governing body over Irish sports gained wide spread support. He then took the next step and organized an official meeting in Haye’s Commercial Hotel, which took place exactly 128 years ago on November 1st, which was to be the very first meeting of the present day Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of our National Pastimes. 

The organization would grow rapidly from its first small meeting of seven men. As it grew, it needed a foundational headquarters to play national finals matches. After a fundraising match to raise money for the first Patron of the GAA, Archbishop Thomas William Croke, enough money was raised to purchase the Jones Road Sports Ground. It would be renamed Croke Park after the Archbishop. 

The GAA from that point on was to become an integral part of Irish society. Not only did the organization involve itself with sports, but also found itself aligning with very heated political topics. In the 1916 uprising, many of the GAA’s prime members were imprisoned, which curtailed the GAA’s progress. After the uprising, British authorities banned trains going to and from Croke Park, which severely hurt the GAA’s financial situation. But the GAA fought back and refused to acknowledge the British laws requiring permits to play Irish games. They even organized a massive day of protest in 1918 known as Gaelic Sunday, in which hundreds of Gaelic games were played around Ireland under the GAA’s organization as a defying act against British rule. 

The GAA has a very serious commitment to the preservation of Gaelic games, which in the past meant that only Gaelic games could be played on its fields according to rule 42. A momentous change for the organization came in 2005, when this rule was uplifted and the Irish Rugby team and the Irish Soccer team were allowed to play in Croke Park. In 2007 the Irish Rugby Team played the French Rugby team, and the Irish Soccer team played the Wales Soccer team.

The GAA and it’s famous Croke Park have played a massive role in preserving Irish culture, as well as influencing the political and social history of the nation. 

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