From The Irishman, November 8, 1884. Written only a week after the foundation of the Gaelic Athletic Association (G.A.A.) Possibly written by Michael Cusack, its founder but is unsigned and therefore true authorship is unknown.
Sufficient attention is not given in Ireland to muscular development. By force of circumstance we are absorbed with politics and education. The only hope of our young people who have no factories and great commercial warehouses to supply them with employment is the Civil Service. All their time is swallowed up in cramming to get a place. Their health must consequently suffer, and we have personal knowledge of the fact that a large percentage of our juveniles purchase appointments at the cost of what is dearest to human nature.
When a vigorous constitution should be built up to resist the strain of the latter days of life, our young folks are closeted with Euclid and the grammarians, burning the midnight oil and their own brains and health along with it. They live in a forcing-house, and come out into the world as delicate as exotics, incapable of withstanding the rude storms of after years. Wan faces, ‘sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought’ and anxiety, appear before the examiner, whose tests of proficiency in knowledge are the terror of the competitors. The competitive system may have some merits, but it was more of a curse than a blessing to many bright, intelligent boys. We advise those who are studying for ‘exam’ to devote a great share of their time to open air exercise – such as are in season. Smart walking beyond the limits of the smoky town, as far as possible into the fresh atmosphere of the wooded roads, and through the sweet, pure breezes of the seaside avenues, is always within the reach of the multitude.
What is there to prevent the boys of every village in Ireland from having their football club, or their coursing club? Outside sports are especially seasonable in dry winter weather when rough exercise may be enjoyed without overheating, and while healthy perspiration is more needed than in summer? Parents should look seriously to the making of their children’s constitutions while it is time. Between ten and twenty-five years of age is the period which includes the making of the body as a vigorous and healthy encasement of the spirit. If during these fifteen years open-air exercise is neglected, no exertion afterwards will make amends for the lost opportunity.
We used to be the most open-air people in the world – if the expression is allowable; but a mysterious change, for the worse, has taken place, from what causes we cannot undertake now to discover. Although we are not of those who think there is no generation like the dead ones, we fear there is reason on the side of those who hold that physically we are inferior to our forefathers. If any deterioration has taken place it is due to the modern indifference to field sports and out-of-door exercise.
If factories had reared their tall chimney shafts in our villages, and our towns grown to enormous extent, as in England, we could understand the loss of relish for the football match and the game of hurly. As there are no such causes operating against these games, we know not how to account for the indifference of our young men to the exhilarating field sports for which old Ireland was famous.
If any two purposes should go together, they ought to be politics and athletics. A political people we must be; the exigencies of our situation force us into a perpetual war with England. Her repressive and oppressive measures keep us eternally on our defence. While fighting the enemy in the byways which are called constitutional, we must also maintain a certain degree of readiness to meet our enemy in the field when the occasion offers. Our politics being essentially national, so should our athletics.
We must maintain a stout physique, and cultivate a hardy constitution. A townsman, unexercised in the field, is stiff-limbed, short-winded, and unable to endure hardship and privation. In fact, he cannot suffer and be strong. This defect would tell heavily against the townsmen in a war with any organised army.
Whatever excuse there is for the student who neglects to harden his frame and develop it by exercise in the air, there is none for political working classes, whether they be labourers, tradesmen, or shopkeepers.
Why has not every National League branch its athletic club? A Gaelic Union Athletic Association has been well started at a meeting in Thurles on Saturday, and it should spread all over Ireland in a month. It will be wholly free from all Saxon associations of the kind – entirely independent of the London clubs that presume to ‘boss’ athletics in Ireland, as everything else in this country is ruled from that side of the water. The branches of the National League in Great Britain ought to organise athletic and gymnastic clubs and have them affiliated with the parent stem in Ireland. In every way possible, we should separate ourselves from the English, maintaining our positions as a distinct nation. Mr. MICHAEL CUSACK, of Dublin, has started this Gaelic Athletic Association, and it ought to succeed.
We should tell our readers what the French Government is doing for the physical health of the young Gauls. The war with Germany opened their eyes. Gymnastics are a passion in Germany. Every village has its gymnasium, and no youth is allowed to grow without the exercise which makes the most of his frame. The German emigrant carries his habits with him to America. Wherever in the United States there is a Teutonic community, there also is the parochial gymnasium. France has learned many valuable things from the enemy, and one of them is the utility of the gymnasium in making men. If any one now visit a French school he will see the whole force of youngsters on the playground going through their ‘motions’ under the instruction of a skilled master. It is the order, and no school is exempt.
Athletics begin with the rudiments of knowledge, and are not ended until the boy is discharged or leaves school to commence his intended calling. As we in Ireland have no Government but one that is deadly hostile to our existence as human beings, we must look to ourselves. We should make ourselves equal to other men in strength and vigour of body. If we are corporeally weak, our mental power will grow feeble, though it may burn brightly for a while. In physique and intellectual ability Ireland cannot lag behind the foremost nations without losing all hope of recovering her independence.