August 4, 1918 will be remembered as one of the most remarkable and significant days in the history of the GAA.
Known as Gaelic Sunday, it was a day when the clubs in the GAA stood against the British Empire and triumphed in a peaceful protest through the playing of hurling, Gaelic football and camogie.
At the time the British authorities sought to impose conscription to supplement their World War I effort, but this met major opposition in Ireland.
The British authorities laid the blame at the door of the GAA and their response was to prevent games from taking place, preventing trains from carrying supporters and also insisting that a written permit was required for any GAA match to be played.
The GAA was defiant. The communication from the then Director General of the GAA, Luke O’Toole was emphatic: “Under no circumstances must a permit be applied for either by Provisional Councils, county committees, Leagues, Tournament Committees, clubs, or by a third party such as secretaries of grounds etc. Any individual or club infringing the foregoing order becomes automatically and indefinitely suspended”.
The GAA proceeded to declared a national day of defiance and called on clubs all over Ireland to refuse to seek a permit and to organise club activity for 3pm on Sunday, August 4, 1918.
More games than ever
The then secretary of the Leinster Council, Frank Shouldice recalled in a statement to the Bureau of Military History that the logic of the day was that: “The Crown Forces could not be everywhere at the same moment … the result was that more hurling and football matches were played in the country on Gaelic Sunday than ever took place on the one day in the history of the GAA”.
It is estimated that 54,000 players participated in games that afternoon, with more than 100,000 spectators watching.
Such was the success of the GAA initiative that the attempt to impose a requirement for a licence was scrapped.
The following is an extract from the Freeman’s Journal of August 5, 1918 on the Gaelic Sunday activities: “Gaelic Sunday, organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association, was observed throughout the country yesterday with great success. Every football and hurling team in the country took part in a match, and in all some 54,000 players were engaged.
“As a result of the withdrawal of the prohibition against Gaelic Games enforced for the past couple of weeks by police and military, there was no interference with the matches, which were carried out with perfect order in the presence of large numbers of spectators. Every town and district had its own venue, and all the matches started simultaneously at three o’clock (old time).
“The progress of the play was everywhere followed with enthusiasm, and the occasion provided a unique display of the popularity of the Gaelic games. The proceedings of the day, the good order among the crowds, the perfection of organisation, and the magnificent response made by every team and club constituted at once a vindication of the Gaelic Athletic Association and its objects, and a demonstration of the popular hold which the Gaelic games have on the interests and sympathies of the Irish people. No police were present, and there was no interference with the matches”.
Kilkenny GAA County Board held a special meeting to arrange its fixtures for Sunday, August 4, 1918.
The games were - Conagh v Dunmore (at Dunmore); CYMS v Grange (at Grange); Kells v Coolagh (at Callan); Blanchfield Park v Gowran (at Paulstown); Hugginstown v Kilmoganny (at Hugginstown); Cappagh v Milebush (at Milebush); Glenmore v Tullogher (at Ballyfacey); Mangan v Coolroe (at Graigue); Glenmore v Bigwood (at Bigwood); Foulkstown v Dicksboro (at St James Park); Conahy v Tulla United (at Threecastles); Freshford v Clomanto (at Clomanto); Crosspatrick v Horse & Jockey (at Johnstown); Ballycloven v Tullaroan (at Kilmanagh); Callan v Kilmanagh (at Callan); Dunnamaggin v Ahenure (at Dunnamaggin); Knockmoylan v Mullinavat (at Mullinavat); Lukeswell v Killahy (at Killeen); Graigue v Mangan (at Graigue); Bennettsbridge v Thomastown (at Thomastown); Chapelhill v Ballyhale (at Knocktopher); Suirside Rovers v Ramblers (at Mooncoin); Piltown v Templeorum (at Piltown); Davidstown v Slieverue (at Slieverue).
Some of the clubs listed are either no longer in existence or are now part of a different club.
It is noticeable that some clubs are listed to play two games. One can only assume that perhaps one was a hurling game and the other a football game.
There is an interesting aside to the game listed for Mullinavat between Knockmoylan and Mullinavat.
With the British authorities aware that the game was scheduled for 3pm in Mullinavat, they surrounded the pitch with the intention of preventing the match being played (although this is somewhat at odds with what was noted in the Freeman’s Journal).
at different venue
The wise men and women of Mullinavat and Knockmoylan anticipated the move, so unknown to the British authorities they arranged to play at a different venue.
A decent crowd, it is reported, turned out. The game ended in a scoreless draw.
One noted account of the success of the games on Gaelic Sunday was given by Tommy Moore of Dublin who was a member of the Faughs GAA club (after whom the All-Ireland club Hurling Cup is named).
Moore wrote: “From Jones Road to the craggy hillsides of the Kingdom the day was fought and won in fields no bigger than backyards, in stony pastures and on rolling plains…wherever posts could be stuck and spaces cleared”.
The events of August 4, 1918 were mentioned recently in an article in Sports Illustrated (July 9). The American publication has an estimated 23 million readers weekly, so when journalist Charles P. Price writes about an event in Ireland 100 years ago it is sure to make a few people in the US sit up and take notice.
The context to the article by Price is the current less than friendly relationship between President Donald Trump and the National Football League (NFL) which has led to a number of very public spats.
Price asserts that “if the NFL wants to maintain its independence, to say nothing of simple self-respect, Roger Goodell (he is the NFL CEO) could use a little Luke O’Toole (the GAA Director General in 1918) in him’.
We await developments in the US with interest, but it is doubtful if the successful tactics of the GAA in 1918 against the British authorities would unduly worry the current incumbent of the White House.
This year, 2018, marks the centenary of that courageous act and the GAA is keen for members, players and supporters to show a similar level of pride in their club, their games and the area they represent.
The GAA has appealed to clubs that on the weekend of August 4 and 5 they hold their own club activity as part of a commemoration of that historic event. The GAA is not pushing for specific activity.
It could be an internal club tournament, a challenge game (perhaps against the same opponents as in 1918), a family day or a club history exhibition.
Gaelic Sunday never received the same publicity as Bloody Sunday, which came to pass two years later.
Yet, it was an important occasion in the history of the GAA, indeed in the history of this country.
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.