Controlling body of all Gaelic Games is the GAA, the Gaelic Athletic Association, founded in 1884. Here it is decided who plays whom when and where according to what rules. Or who is not allowed to play – because sport for the GAA is a national issue, often seen from a nationalistic viewpoint. Which sometimes verged on the ridiculous.
Banning Un-Irish Activities
A good example is "The Ban", in place from 1902 to 1971 and officially called "Rule 27“. This rule banned all GAA members from taking part in non-Gaelic games. And more – it also banned them from watching any of those games or furthering their cause. Non-Gaelic were for example rugby, soccer, hockey and cricket, all common sports in Britain and also in Ireland under British rule. Anybody who went against Rule 27 was expelled from the GAA – up to and including Irish President and GAA-Patron Dr. Douglas Hyde. He got the boot for attending an international soccer match in 1938. Waterford player Tom Cheasty was kicked out of the GAA as well in 1963 – he had the nerve to enjoy a dance organized by a soccer club.
Another controversial ban was enshrined in Rule 21 – the ban of all members of „Crown Forces“ to partake in GAA activities. This was only revoked in the 21st century ...
A Short GAA History
The GAA was founded in 1884 by Michael Cusack, P.W. Nally and Maurice in Thurles - on November 1st an association to promote „national sports“ like football, hurling and some track and field events.
The early years were difficult for the GAA, often due to Cusack becoming choleric at inopportune moments. Or to attempts by the Irish Republican Brotherhood to foster revolutionary fervor under the cloak of the GAA. Or by less republican-minded sportsmen splitting off and establishing the IAAA. The influence of athlete Davin (holder of the world record in hammer throwing) and Archbishop Croke brought new impulses and in 1888 the first Irish championships were organized by the GAA. And from 1902 onwards all provinces agreed to be ruled by the central GAA ... which also raised ist voice on political issues.
The end of both the Anglo-Irish War and the Irish Civil War marked a retreat of the GAA from day-to-day politics and a focussing on sports activities. In 1926 William Clifford was elected President and brought a grass-roots-policy with him – demanding a GAA ground in every parish. Ambitious but ultimately successful.
Croker – Holy Grail of the GAA
Pride of place must, however, go to Croke Park – the central stadium of the GAA in Dublin, one of the largest and most modern sports arenas in Europe. And a shrine for sportsmen and republicans - „Hill 16“ was built from the rubble of O’Connell Street (Sackville Street), blown to pieces during the Easter Rising of 1916. In 1920 British troops stormed Croke Park and opened fire on players and visitors – the original „Bloody Sunday“.
Every September Croke Park sees the All-Ireland Finals in Hurling and Football – earth-shaking events.
But Croke Park is also quite under-used, mainly due to the ban (yes, another one) on non-Gaelic sports being played there. While this has been relaxed due to building works recently (the Lansdown Road Stadium used for international soccer and rugby matches has been torn down) it still is a controversial issue. Especially since the GAA was never really against making the odd Euro from non-Irish events ... sporting highlights in Croke Park included the Special Olympics, American style rodeos and American Football as well as Muhammad Ali boxing. And concerts were held by such Irish legends as U2, but also by Neil Diamond and Garth Brooks.