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The Tailteann Games - An Olympic Event for the "Celtic Race"


One of the more scurrilous chapters in the history of Irish sport was written by an alliance featuring (amongst others) the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League, several sports organisations from camogie to chess ... and a liberal sprinkling of artists. These together came up with the brilliant idea of a "World Meeting of the Celtic Race". Never mind that the designation "Celtic" refers to language rather than race.

The "History" of the Tailteann Games

King Lugh, or so the legends go, instigated a sort of "Irish Olympic Games" to honor his mother Tailte. Sometime in the 7th century BC. During the 19th century this idea received several nationalistic stamps of approval and since 1880 ambitious plans were drawn up without coming to fruition.

Finally the first Tailteann Games were planned for 1921 in Dublin, to celebrate re-won independence. The date was rescheduled to 1922 to resolve the small matter of the Anglo-Irish War and even Paris was considered as an alternative should London not buckle in. London buckled and the first "meeting of the Irish race" announced by de Valera in Dáil Éireann (1921) was held ... in 1924, mainly because the "Irish race" was embroiled in a bloody civil war and Dublin was still a war zone.

Dublin 1924 - The First Tailteann Games

The Tailteann Games of 1924 started with a spectacular pageant. Preceded by two "Celtic warriors", complete with wolfhounds on a leash, athletes and artists marched through Dublin and into Croke Park.

The participants came from Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, the USA, South Africa and Australia - English-speaking countries with a large Irish immigrant population. The notable absence of representatives of the "Celtic race" from continental Europe highlights the narrow interpretation. And the tourism of well-to-do Irish from abroad seems to have been a welcome (and planned) effect here.

As to historical correctness - the games were influenced more by the zeitgeist than academic excellence. Very similar to "recreations" of ancient life in 1930s Germany and Italy, more a crude caricature than a historic achievement. Pictures of mock castles and round towers at the entrance to Croke Park speak their own language.

Fast Decline

The "World Meeting of the Celtic Race" had no real future, especially the Irish Free State losing interest fast. Though some Tailteann Games were staged after the inaugural event of 1924 they became smaller. And in 1932 an attempt to celebrate St. Patrick's 1500th anniversary was somehow overshadowed by the Eucharistic Congress - the latter mobilizing far more resources and, most important, people.

Holding a sports event in competition with the Olympic Games in Los Angeles might not have been the most inspired idea either. And so the Tailteann Games by and large went the way of King Lugh's original ... into the annals of history and legend.

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