Foreign Games

In 1167, the King of the Irish Province of Leinster (Diarmait Mac Murchada) was deprived of his kingdom by the High King of Ireland (Ruari O’ Connor). The reason for his dismissal was his abduction of the wife of The King Of Breifne (Tiernan O’ Rourke) in 1152. In an attempt to retrieve his Crown & Kingdom, Diarmait turned to the Norman rulers of England for help.

King Henry ll, the Norman King of England, landed with a large fleet at the Viking city of Waterford in 1171, becoming the first King of England to set foot on Irish soil. The Norman Knights (Norman, Welsh & Flemish) had arrived in the two preceding years with Henry’s permission to reestablish Diarmait as King Of Leinster. A force of 600 soldiers arrived in May 1169, and another 1,000 under the The Earl of Pembrook (better known as ‘Strongbow’) arrived in August 1170.

Thus started the political, military & economic relationship between Ireland & England. Things would never be the same again.


On Thursday 01 November 1884, Michael Cusack, owner of a Dublin Education Academy, convened a meeting in Hayes’s Hotel in the town of Thurles, County Tipperary in Southern Ireland. That meeting founded the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) with the aim of the preservation and cultivation of national pastimes. The primary sports concerned were the amateur sports (exclusive to Ireland) of Hurling & Gaelic (Irish) Football.


The Irish Free State (6 December 1922 – 29 December 1937) was the state established in 1922 as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which was signed by British and Irish representatives exactly twelve months previously. On the day the Irish Free State was established, it comprised the entire island of Ireland; but as expected, Northern Ireland immediately exercised its right under the treaty to remove itself from the new state, and remain part of Britain.


On Sunday 14 September 2014, MB attended Croke Park, Ireland’s 82,500 capacity national GAA stadium, for the first time. To the amusement of many friends.


All the above events are linked.


MB traveled back home in early September and through the sporting activities of daughter of MB (MB2) MB had multiple visits to GAA pitches to attend ‘camogie’ matches & training sessions. Camogie is the ladies version of ‘hurling’. For those who are not familiar:

Following a Saturday camogie blitz (tournament) at St Anne’s GAA Club in Dublin, MB2 and team mates, in addition to numerous other county teams, marched in Croke Park at the half-time parade during the All Ireland Senior Camogie final. The occasion of the involvement of MB2 caused MB & wife of MB (WOMB) to leave their HX home in County Limerick early Saturday morning for the two day camogie fest.

A few days earlier, MB was in the local fish & chip shop in nearby Bruff village. MB happened to mention to friend and owner DG that MB was about to lose his Croke Park virginity. A dumbstruck (almost!) DG uttered the memorable quote – “If I was 53 years old and had to admit that, I would be very embarrassed!“. MB posted the circumstances & quotation on his Fb page following day and the story of MB’s CP virginity grew legs. MB was subject to much good natured ribbing in the days that followed.

And how did it come to pass that MB traveled through 53 sports-mad years and never ventured to the Mecca of GAA, you may well ask. The answer requires a brief explanation of the rules of how the GAA is structured at club level, as this ‘structure’ provides part of MB’s answer.

Unlike in soccer or rugby or most other sports, GAA players must only play for the ‘parish’ where they live. A parish is a religious geographical area, and all the parishes make up the Diocese (we are talking Roman Catholic Church of course in the case of Ireland). And MB happened to live 100m over the parish border (the Camogue river) where he and family attended school and had friends. The village of his ‘home’ parish was remote, he didn’t really know many people there so had no great interest in playing or getting involved.

And of course we are all influence by nurture as well as nature. And MB grew up in a household where the head of house was a ‘soccer head’. Saturday nights were often spent at the Markets Field dog-racing track, and Sunday might see a return to the same venue for Limerick Utd FC home matches. So players like Al Finucan and Joe O’ Mahony and Johnny Walsh and Des Kennedy and Kevin Fitzpatrick were the heroes. These soccer heroes were held in far higher esteem by MB than, let’s say, Limerick Hurling heroes who won the All Ireland final in 1973. Their last win.

So MB grew up loving the soccer, staying up late on Saturday nights to watch Match Of The Day, reading Scorcher comic books with tales of Roy Of The Rovers, and in later years playing for HX FC on Sunday mornings. He was hardly aware of GAA life  due to the nature and nurture and structure things. So GAA pitches and GAA stadia were outside MB’s zone. Foreign places. Where games foreign to MB were played.

But MB was often ribbed in his school days and in later years for his non-involvement in all things GAA and his dedication to ‘foreign games’, ie Association Football, aka ‘Soccer’. Now to explain the ‘foreign games’ thing MB must take you all off on another tangent. By way of explanation.

From the website:
Until 1971 the GAA had a ban on its members playing or attending so-called “foreign games”, including soccer, rugby and hockey. This was commonly known as ‘the exclusion rule’ or simply ‘The Ban’. It was enforced by ‘Vigilance Committees’ made up of men who would attend ‘excluded games’ and report on GAA members who were either playing or watching these games. Those found at such games would be liable to a lengthy suspension.

The whole history of ‘The Ban’ (Rule 27 of the GAA Constitution) is not one of the prouder parts of GAA history. It’s roots lay in the refusal of more diehard conservative members to countenance any GAA members playing the English sports of Association Football (Soccer) especially, Rugby or Cricket, while six counties of the nine-county Northern Province of Ulster were still part of, and ruled, by Britain.

‘Ban’ stories are legion. But the most infamous relates to the turfing out from the GAA organisation of the President Of Ireland at the time Douglas Hyde.

From fellow blogger – Never Felt Better – from August 2011:

Hyde, one of the founders of the Gaelic League, a similar organisation, became a recognised patron of the GAA in 1902, and was one of its major supporters. He took part in a crucial fund raising drive for it in North America in 1905, for which the association held numerous dinners in his honour. He was well liked and respected member of the GAA, and this continued after his ascension to the Presidency. He was given personal invitations to GAA matches from the leaders of the association, during which he was applauded and hailed.

On the 13th of November, 1938, Hyde, along with then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Eamon De Valera and several other members of the government, accepted invitations to attend an association football match between Ireland (that is, Eire, the 26 counties, no all-Ireland soccer team ever having existed) and Poland. It was the first time that Hyde had done so, the invitation coming from the Football Association of Ireland (FAI). He felt it was appropriate, in his role of head of state, to attend such games and De Valera agreed. Ireland won the game 3-1 and their attendance was well noted.

The full blog post from NFB is available at:

In the weeks that followed all hell broke loose as GAA Mullahs cracked their whips and the more moderate elements either ducked for cover or failed to win the argument. De Valera would have received the same treatment had he been a member of the GAA. He was not. But he was livid at the GAA’s grossly insulting behaviour to the President of the country and to the office of President. The Roscommon GAA, from Hyde’s geographical area, declared the Central Committee of the GAA to be fascist and similar to Mussolini & Hitler (the Stadium in Roscommon is called Dr Hyde Park to this day in Hyde’s honour). Strong stuff indeed. NFB’s above blog link gives much additional info on the shenanigans of that time if readers want more.

Funny thing is – that the association of playing soccer or rugby with some sort of pro British political statement in newly independent Ireland was ridiculous. It is well known that many people, who had previously worked in the civil service, police force or whatever during the time of British rule (and were therefore considered collaborators in many quarters) saw GAA membership as a way to show your (desperately required) Irish Republican credentials in the new Ireland, which had recently suffered a War Of Independence and Civil War in short succession. You might have been a Shoneen or West Brit in the old days, but with your new GAA membership in your hand you could wave your GAA flag and shout proudly how ‘green’ you really were.

But to decide to play soccer in the new Ireland had no benefits. It could only effect in the negative. You ran the (high) risk of being painted a cultural heretic or ‘Brit lover’, with the total certainty that you could not play the GAA sports on account of the ‘Ban’ and your sporting treachery. One might even get refused a job offer by some Mullah-influenced GAA-man-in-position-of-power. Or you could be ‘read from the pulpit’ – to use the phrase that described suffering verbal public attacks by Priests or Bishops during ‘Ban’ days, as the Priests & Bishops too tried to demonstrate their Gaeldom. Some of MB’s HX FC friends from the older days of the club actually suffered such a clerical lashing during one particular Sunday mass service in the late 1960s in the local village church, after they had to cheek to form a local soccer club.

So to play soccer, even as an amateur weekend hobby, required a free spirit and a rebellious nature and a (true) Republican way of thinking. You could really only do it for the love of the sport. There was nothing else to it. Many stories recounted to MB over the years stated that such was actually the background of many who were involved in soccer and rugby in those early days of the new Irish state. MB must research this topic further when time permits.

But back to MB in later years and in the present day.

Through the interest and efforts of WOMB, MB2 and son SB, MB ended up in latter years attending various GAA matches in various GAA locations. MB has come to enjoy the excitement and the spectacle when the occasion produces. The recent men’s All Ireland Hurling Final was one such occasion and has already entered GAA lore as maybe the greatest game in the history of the sport. A number of foreign sports writers were in attendance at the invitation of the Irish Tourism Board, and New Zealand photojournalist Chris van Ryn has written a particularly brilliant literary piece on the occasion, which held him spellbound. It’s worth a read:

A single player ascends towards a white ball which arcs high from the other side of the field, cutting through the air with razor blade sharpness. 82,600 heads rise in unison… and fall, following the trajectory of the sliotar as it hurtles towards the player. Seconds later he is intercepted by a furious swarm. There is an almighty thunder from the crowd as hurleys and players collide…………—a-view-from-the-sideline.html

And last weekend MB attended the shrine at Mecca on Jones’ Rd, Dublin 3. MB sat in the famous Cusack Stand, named after the above mentioned Michael. Hardly a pilgrimage in the case of MB. But the involvement of, and support on the day, for MB2 as she paraded proudly during the half time interval with her friends and teammates is foremost and transcends all other notions and thoughts. And the Camogie finals themselves weren’t half bad!

So MB has come to know and enjoy the foreign games. Those games he did not know in his younger days. He can see much of what Chris Van Ryn saw a few weeks back on occasion and can enjoy it all immensely. But MB’s true sporting heart will always be at the Markets Field, with Al Finucan and Joe O’ Mahony and……………………………..!

The end.

From last week back home:


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