J. Anthony Gaughan
His Cork-based publisher describes Richard McElligott as “a Kerry partisan”. That, however, does not prevent the author from providing a splendid account of the GAA in his native county.
The earliest chapters are the most important. They describe consistent progress, but there was considerable chaos and confusion. Clubs were established, but some soon went out of existence. Competitions were organised, yet some were not completed until the following year. There were wrangles about ‘illegal players’.
Occasionally football and hurling matches between neighbouring parishes were ended not by the referee but by brawl, which had the appearance to a dispassionate of a faction-fight.
The administration of the games left much to be desired at local and national level. Even at times in Kerry, the very existence of the GAA was threatened by the bitter nationwide controversy between pro and anti-Parnellites. Yet the association endured and became a central element in the Irish Revival.
From the outset the IRB infiltrated the association and sought to use it to further their own ends. For over 50 years the republican influence on the GAA was unmistakeable, especially in Kerry. Maurice Moynihan, Head Centre of the IRB in Kerry, was also a key GAA figure.
This close association of the GAA with the IRB continued. In 1915 Austin Stack, the recognised head of the republican movement in Kerry, was also influential in Kerry football. When the Irish Volunteers were established the various battalions corresponded to the membership of local football and hurling clubs. This continued when the Volunteers became the IRA in 1920.
The author highlights the vital role of the clergy in the Association. By virtue of the ‘Parish Rule’ membership and players belonged to a parish or half-parish. Success, or lack of it, depended on the support of the club by the local parish priest. In the early years especially, such clerical support was crucial in the struggle to reduce the influence of the IRB and the depoliticise the GAA.
The product of a PhD thesis, the author’s research and analytical skills are evident throughout the book. There is a comprehensive list of the clubs in Kerry between 1889 and 1934, tables on the social profiles of players and officials, and another which plots the increase in the press coverage of the games from 1885 to 1934; all this with an excellent index.
That said, the author could have paid pay more attention to some aspects of the GAA story. Regrettably he does not seem to appreciate the contribution of the Irish Christian Brothers to the development of the Association. The Brothers fostered Gaelic games in their many schools and thereby were most influential in popularising these games.
Nor does he advert to the extent to which local clubs were, and continue to be, integral and fundamental elements in parish communities across rural Ireland.
None the less, of the many books published about the GAA, this is one of the most authoritative and informative and deserves a wide readership.