J. Anthony Gaughan
This is a remarkable book about a remarkable Kerryman. Dick Fitzgerald was born in Killarney on October 2, 1882. He was educated by the Presentation Brothers at their school in Killarney and their commercial college in Cork. Thereafter he was engaged in his parents’ export business.
A keen footballer from his earliest years, for over 20 years he featured on the teams lined out by Dr Crokes, his local club. He was also a member of Kerry football teams and played in nine All-Ireland senior football finals. Throughout his life he was a tireless promoter of the GAA. He had a particular interest in the development of Gaelic football and to this end in 1914 published How to play Gaelic football.
As Tom Looney points out the GAA was much more than an organisation to supervise outdoor games. Its aim was to promote Gaelic games and indeed everything Gaelic. From the outset its membership was infiltrated by the radical IRB, whose aim was to establish an independent republic. Thus when the Irish Volunteers were established in Dublin in November 1913 Fitzgerald and his companions in the Dr Crokes club formed a branch in Killarney. After the debâcle of the Easter Rising Fitzgerald found himself with 36 other Kerrymen in a prison camp at Frongoch in Wales. While there he became a close friend and confidant of Michael Collins with whom he organised football matches and athletic contests for the 2,500 internees.
Fitzgerald took part in the war of independence and during that time, because of his friendship with county footballers across Ireland, was able to arrange ‘safe houses’ for Michael Collins. His admiration for Collins prompted him to support the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922.
For 10 years he served – first as a member of Sinn Féin and later as an independent – on Killarney’s Urban District Council where he was an ardent advocate of vocational education.
He had a serious mental breakdown a short time before his tragic death on September 26, 1930.
An event three years earlier would not have helped Fitzgerald’s state of mind. Following a successful tour in the US by the Tipperary hurlers in 1926 the Kerry County Board organised a similar tour by the Kerry football team in 1927. The Board declared that “from the profits arising out of the event it was agreed that the Tralee sports field would be bought out and that other Kerry grounds would benefit also”.
Fitzgerald was appointed team manager. Ted Sullivan, a celebrated writer on baseball, was the American tour promoter. The US-based tour manager was Muiris Kavanagh, the notorious ‘Kruger’.
Fitzgerald’s brother, a far-too-trusting Fr Edmond, was sent out ahead to copper-fasten all the arrangements. At the end of the tour Sullivan and all the gate receipts disappeared. Exiles had to dig deep into their pockets to help the Kerry party to pay their expenses, including their fare home.
Just six weeks after his tragic death Dr Crokes decided to establish a stadium as a monument to Dick Fitzgerald. The author lovingly details its construction and development. Eventually it was officially opened and formally named Fitzgerald Memorial Park in 1936. It stands today as a fitting tribute to a noble sporting son of the Kingdom.