Published in The Shan Van Vocht, August 2, 1897.


TWENTY years ago I had a few years’ residence in each of the four provinces of Ireland to my credit. Just ten years earlier I had solemnly sworn to fight for Ireland at a moment’s notice. But I was always very quiet, although ready for a fight in any good cause at all. In that modest state of life and feeling I was invited to a seat on the council of the Irish Champion Athletic Club. Desiring to make the acquaintance of all Ireland, I accepted the honour, without thanks. I was a good listener in those far off days. I soon realised that my colleagues were viciously West British. I let them die. Soon after, we started the Dublin Athletic Club. The Amateur Athletic Association of England was to be our model. Nothing was to be done in Ireland without the sanction of England. Poyning’s laws were to be rightly enforced. I revolted. The majority tried to expel me. I expelled them, and started on my own account.

About the time of which I write I was actively engaged in the work of preserving the Irish language as a spoken tongue. In my dreams I was living with the men of Erin of pre-Christian times. In spirit I hunted and fished with Fionn’s invincible hosts from Antrim to Kerry. I hurled with the Fenians of sixteen centuries ago from Tara to Killarney. I resolved to bring back the hurling. Other pastimes came on concurrently. The experiments in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, proved successful and attractive. Short articles in the boys’ column of the “Shamrock,” then under my control, prepared the country for what followed. A special article in “United Ireland” of the 11th October, 1884, which for a long time was supposed to have been written by William O’Brien, but which happened to come from the unpractised pen of the present writer, set the country in a blaze, and on the 1st of November following the Gaelic Athletic Association was established, on the sixteenth centenary of the fatal battle of Gabhra, at which the Fenians were all but annihilated. I had read or heard that in the days of Cormac Mac Art and Fionn, Ireland could show one hundred and five thousand athletes. I estimated in 1884, that I could get one-tenth of the male population of Ireland into the Gaelic Athletic Association in less than three years. At the lowest estimate this would give us two hundred and ten thousand men. In less than eighteen months I had fifty thousand. What retarded my progress I leave others to tell. My opponents at the outset were the Mugwumps – that is, the Pharisees and Anglomaniacs whose incorrigible idiocy constantly manifests itself in an insane desire to show that they owe some sort of allegiance to England. Other foes I pass over for the present.

Early in 1885 formidable public men joined the foreign factions against me. But the men of Kerry, Cork, Limerick, and Clare came to the rescue, and, in the words of “The Globe” newspaper, “struck with the unanimity and precision of Cardinal Manning’s Guards” against the vile tyranny of posing patriots who knew not Ireland. We won.

How seriously and profoundly National the Gaelic Athletic Association appeared to the young men of Dublin City and County may be inferred from the titles of the clubs that sprang into existence. Here are a few of them: – The Sarsfields, the Wild Geese, Smith O’Brien, Parnell, Fontenoy, Owen Roe, Hugh O’Neill, Brother Sheares, Feach MacHugh, Brian Boru, Grattans, Emmets, Tones, Geraldines, Faugh a Ballach, Kickhams, Ninety-eight, Rapparees, Green Flags, Dalcassians, Young Ireland, etc., etc.

On Easter Sunday, 1886, the Dublin Gaels, who were carried from Dublin to Thurles and back by two of the most powerful engines of the G.S. and W. Railway, sang the Spirit of the Nation from cover to cover on the return journey. At the various stations the gaping imbeciles who witness the arrival and departure of trains were almost frightened to death at our appearance in uniform, our hurleys, our uproarious, but wonderfully disciplined, form of Irish life; and they took in the lesson. The news spread, and the girls began to help. How much they did to stem the tide of West Britonism I may tell in another letter, in the confident hope that the girls of your group will help to re-instate the G.A.A. on the original pedestal from which it was hurled on Whit Monday, 1888, when England’s veto on its proceedings was recognised by voluntary slaves.