Irish Stamps: 50th Anniversary of the founding of the GAA (1934)

1934 was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the GAA.

It was commemorated by the issue of a single, inconspicuous stamp that portrayed a hurler.

Being a low value, it is a comparably common stamp in both used and unused (or mint) condition. Its first day cover, however, is a different matter and being a very scarce item, it commands a high price at auction – whenever one is offered for sale.

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We all know about the founding of the GAA in Hayes Hotel on the evening of 1st November 1884. That day was specifically chosen for its mythological significance: according to legend, Samhain (1 November) was the day when the Fianna’s power died.

Cusack meant this choice of day to symbolise the rebirth of the Irish heroes, and the Gaelic Athletic Association for the Cultivation and Preservation of National Pastimes was established, its name subsequently shortened to Gaelic Athletic Association.

The seven founder members were :-

Michael Cusack

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Born in 1847, Cusack pursued a career as a teacher at Blackrock College, in Dublin.  It was also known as The French College.  In 1877, set up his own cramming school, the Civil Service Academy, to prepare students for examinations into the British Civil Service. “Cusack’s Academy,” as it was known, and its pupils, did extremely well, resulting in soaring attendance.  Pupils at the Academy were encouraged to get involved in all forms of physical exercise.  Cusack was troubled by falling standards in specifically Irish games.  To remedy this situation, to re-establish the ancient Tailteann Games as an athletics competition with a distinctive Irish flavour, and to re-establish hurling as the national pastime.

Maurice Davin (who presided)

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Born in 1842 in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, Davin was an Irish farmer who became the first President of the GAA and the only man ever to serve two terms as president.  He became an extremely talented athlete and achieved international fame in the 1870s when he held numerous world records for running, hurdling, jumping and weight-throwing – and, allegedly, regarded as the best athlete in the world.  From 1887 he actively campaigned for a body to control Irish athletics because it was then controlled directly by an English association which excluded the masses from most competitions.  Davin wrote “the laws under which athletic sports are held in Ireland were designed mainly for the guidance of Englishmen, and they do not deal at all with the characteristic sports and pastimes of the Irish race. Irish football is a great game” he wrote, “but there are no rules for either hurling or football and they are often dangerous.” He was incorrect in this matter since the rules of hurling had already been written down by Trinity College Hurling Club in the 1860s and one of its stalwarts was none other than Edward Carson, who would later go on to prosecute Oscar Wilde, become a Unionist MP in Dublin, implement the anti-Home Rule Ulster Covenant and lead Ulster into a recognised, separatist parliament of its own – ahead of the Dáil Éireann in 1922.  The following year standardised rules were set for hurling, football, weight throwing, jumping, running, walking and cycling.  Séamus Ó Riain described Davin as “the rock on which the Association survived turbulent waves” and many top games including the 1904 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final between Kilkenny and Cork were played on Davin’s farm.  The Davin Stand in Croke Park is named in his honour, as are some GAA clubs throughout the country including Carrick Davins in Tipperary.  Every year in his home town of Carrick-On-Suir on the 27th of December the Maurice Davin awards take place.

John Wyse Power

Born in 1859 at Knockhouse near Waterford City, Power was a journalist, newspaper editor and Irish nationalist.  He served as secretary of the GAA from 1884-1887, and was instrumental in the setting up of the GAA Dublin County Board and served as its first chairman.  He supported various nationalist causes and organisations such as the Land League and Home Rule, he was a fluent Irish speaker and language activist.  He worked sometime as a Civil Servant before leaving due to his nationalist ethos.  He was reported to be a Fenian and member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  He succeeded Patrick Cahill in summer 1883, as the editor of the Leinster Leader.  He resigned as secretary in 1887 following the decision to ban members of the Royal Irish Constabulary from joining and participating in the GAA.  During his time in the Land League he met his wife Jane (Jennie) O’Toole (a nationalist, feminist and founding member of Sinn Féin).  They married in July 1883 and lived in Naas, Co Kildare – where the Leinster Leader was published.  John and Jennie had four children, their youngest son was christened Charles Stewart Wyse Power, named after Parnell.  He moved to Dublin in 1885 to work for the Freeman’s Journal, and later he worked for the Daily Irish Independent.  John Wyse Power died in 1926 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, in 2009 as part of the GAA 125 celebrations his gravestone was refurbished.

John McKay

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Born in October 1852, in the townland of Cargagh, near Downpatrick, son of Joseph and Mary McKay.  He began work as a journalist with the Belfast Morning News in the mid 1870s.  He moved to Cork and in April 1878 he became the main political correspondent to the Cork Examiner, concentrating on the affairs of the Irish National League.  He was a strong supporter of the Land League.  In April 1883 he married Ellen Browne, from Cork.  John McKay was appointed one on the three Secretaries at the foundation of the GAA, alongwith Michael Cusack and John Wyse Power.  He served in that post until 1886.  The report of the inaugural meeting was written by McKay and appeared in the Cork Examiner on 8th November 1884.  In the course of the first two years of the new Association the volatile and combative nature of Michael Cusack’s approach led the Executive Committee to conclude that he had to be removed.  McKay made his personal opposition to Cusack public in the Cork Examiner.  On 4th July 1886, in Hayes’ Hotel he was among those who criticised Cusack who was forced to resign.  Whether this had anything to do with McKay’s resignation that year is not known.  McKay continued working on the Cork Examiner until the early 1890s.  About 1896 he moved back to Belfast and began working as a journalist with the Irish News, which had succeeded the Belfast Morning News at the start of the decade.  It is not certain how long he stayed in Belfast but at some point he went to work for the Freemans Journal in Dublin.  By 1911 McKay was back in Cork, as Chief Reporter with the Cork Free Press, a radical paper published by William O’Brien MP and the “All For Ireland League”, a moderate nationalist party that sought conciliation with the unionist community.  In 1916 McKay moved to London where he worked as a freelance until his death on 2 December 1923.  He is buried in a London Cemetery in an unmarked grave and Cumann Luthchleas Gael plan to erect a suitable memorial.

J. K. Bracken

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Born in 1852 at Templemore, Co Tipperary, Bracken was a stonemason and building contractor by trade, Bracken was very involved in athletics and spent his early years in America.  He was also a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and at the 1886 GAA convention was elected National Vice President.  He became the First chairman of Templemore UDC. The Bracken family moved to Kilmallock Co. Limerick in 1904 and two years later J.K. Bracken died.  He is buried at Tankardstown Cemetery near Kilmallock. Bracken married twice and he was the father of Brendan Bracken – a minister in the British Government during World War II when Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister.  The local GAA club in Templemore, J.K. Bracken’s GAC, is named after him.

Joseph O’Ryan

Ryan was born in Carrick-on-Suir in April 1857.  As a qualified solicitor he practised in Callan, Co Kilkenny and Thurles, Co Tipperay.  He would have known Maurice Davin well and that friendship was possibly the reason he attended the meeting in 1884.  Within 5 years of the founding of the GAA in Hayes’ Hotel, Ryan emigrated and became immersed in British Columbia’s life with the Board of Trade, the Mining Industry, serving as a Police Magistrate as well as becoming a prominent journalist.

Thomas St. George McCarthy

Born in 1862 –1943) at Bansha, Co Tipperary, though he was often erroneously described as being a native of Kerry.  This was due to the similarity of name with his father, George MacCarthy (1832–1902), Lieutenant of the Revenue Police, County Inspector of the RIC and a Resident Magistrate who was from County Kerry, though working in Tipperary and residing in Bansha.  The family used the rarer MacCarthy spelling of their surname, which appears more commonly as McCarthy.  He moved to Dublin in 1877 and became a friend of Michael Cusack, who had a cramming school and was coached by Cusack for an RIC cadetship examination in 1882, in which he took first place.  In 1881, he joined Dublin University Football Club and was capped against Wales in 1882. Later in 1882, he was a member of the Dublin University team which won the Leinster Senior Cup, the inaugural year of this competition. He also played soccer for Limavady FC when he was stationed in the town in 1889, captaining the club in 1889.  His involvement in the GAA is notable because in a later period there would be a ban for many years in the GAA on people who played rugby and soccer joining the Association and this ban also applied to members of the British police and armed forces.  He had a great love of the game of hurling, which he witnessed being played in his native village by the local enthusiasts who were later to form the Galtee Rovers GAA Hurling & Football club.  He was a regular attender at matches in Croke Park to where he travelled from his home at Oakley Road, Ranelagh. He died in 1943 and was buried without fanfare in an unmarked grave in Deansgrange Cemetery.  Unlike, the other six founding members of the GAA, very little has been done to commemorate MacCarthy – presumably due to his position as a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The GAA authorities erected a commemorative gravestone at Deansgrange where it was unveiled on Wednesday, 18 November 2009, as part of the “Re-dedication of Founder’s Graves” programme to mark the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the GAA, and there have also been calls for more recognition of his contribution to the GAA. The two police forces in Ireland, the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have already honoured him by presenting The Thomas St. George MacCarthy Cup for competition by members of the Garda GAA (Garda Thirds) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

In addition to these seven founding fathers of the GAA, Frank Moloney of Nenagh was also later admitted to have been present by Cusack, while the following six names were published as having attended in press reports: William Foley, Mr. Dwyer, Mr. Culhane, William Delehunty, John Butler and William Cantwell.  All six men were from Thurles except Foley, who like Davin was from Carrick-on-Suir.

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Within a few weeks of the organisation’s foundation, Thomas Croke, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cashel, gave it his approval and became its first patron.  Its other patrons included both Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell.

Cusack proved to be a difficult man to get along with, but in the first few months of the organisation he showed himself to be an excellent organiser.  He did not, however, continue to run the association for long after its foundation.  Within eighteen months he was obliged to resign as a result of his failure to submit accounts for auditing.  Archbishop Croke also introduced a new rule which forbade members of the GAA from playing “foreign and fantastic games” such as tennis, cricket, polo, and croquet.

Over the next few years the GAA evolved even more.  In 1886, county committees were established. These became the units of representation for the new All-Ireland championship.  Later, new rules for Gaelic football and hurling were drawn up by the Association and were published in the United Irishman newspaper.  The year 1887 saw the first All-Ireland Championships being held in both codes of sport.  Thirteen counties of the 32 counties of Ireland entered, although only five competed in hurling and eight in football.

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One thought on “Irish Stamps: 50th Anniversary of the founding of the GAA (1934)

  1. Excellent article, with lots of info re the founding of the GAA that most people don;t know, e.g. Sir Edward Carson played hurling, a senior RIC officer was one of the founding members of the GAA at Hayes’ Hotel in Thurles and the fact that hurling or gaelic football were not mentioned at this first meeting – just athletics !

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