Short History of Blarney Sports & Sportsmen 1885-1985

By the late Mr. Paddy Hickey

Paddy Hickey

Athletics and hurling are as old as civilization itself when people had to run and jump to escape predators. They later learned to use sticks as spears and stones to kill animals for food. This led to competition to find out who was best at running, jumping and throwing. We learned in school of the exploits of the Fianna, Cuchulainn and many others in hurling, lifting, jumping and throwing various implements.

Ireland’s sporting events died out during the Great Potato Famine when nearly half of its population either emigrated or starved. They then gradually started to organize again around the 1860s and 1870s. The new games were British in nature, such as cricket, polo, horse racing, etc., with hurling starting to become a form of hockey. The traditional Irish sports of lifting, running and throwing were being bypassed in favour of ‘Gentlemens’ sports etc., aimed at civil servants, lawyers, Trinity College students, etc., with attractive prize money being offered, while side-betting took place on a large scale. In 1884, the Caledonian Games were held in Dublin and attracted a crowd of 20,000 to Lansdowne Road. This event gave considerable impetus to those who wanted to start an All-Ireland body to cater for traditional Irish sports like athletics, hurling and Gaelic football.

The Gaelic Athletic Association was founded in November 1884 by a group of men led by Michael Cusack and others, including John McKay of The Cork Examiner. The aim of the G.A.A. was ‘to preserve and cultivate national pastimes and to promote every form of Athletics peculiarly Irish and to remove with one sweep everything foreign in the present system’.

Blarney Hurling and Football Club was one of the first in Ireland to join the new association. The first full-scale athletics meeting in southern Ireland was held in the village square on May Sunday 1885, when the G.A.A. was just six months old. The first modern Olympic Games was 11 years in the future, Karl Benz had just invented the motor car, Queen Victoria would be on the throne of England for another 16 years, Parnell had just introduced his Home Rule Bill in Parliament, James Connolly and Padraig Pearse were six years old and Eamonn de Valera was just three. English League football was 3 years away, the Boer War was fourteen years in the future and Coca-Cola was invented. In that year, when so many events, which would prove historical to later generations, were taking place, the young Gaelic Athletic Association held the first Blarney Sports. The people who organized this event were not to know that it would continue with very few interruptions, for one hundred years. That first ‘sports’ was to suffer from a malady, which was to haunt it in future years; RAIN! “It will rain on Sunday because it’s Blarney Sports Day” was the ‘logic’ of local wags on many occasions since then.

The Cork Examiner of Monday 4th May 1885 describes the event in great detail and the official time-keeper was John McKay of The Cork Examiner, one of the founders of the G.A.A.

Now, picture the scene: 5,000 spectators around a central track of just 200 yards in the village square. The first Blarney Sports was organized jointly by the Blarney Amateur Athletic Club and Blarney Gaelic Athletic Association Club. The organizing committee was: J. Campbell, H. Cunningham, E. Cotter, Wm. Cronin, D. Hallissey, P. Hayes, J. O’Callaghan, J. Kelleher, J. Hayes, J. Coleman, D. Barrow, E. Walsh, E. O’Reilly, M. Buckley, G. Hayes, J. Corkeran, P. Sheehan, T. Coleman, J. Wiseman, J. O’Sullivan, D. O’Shea, and M. Aherne.     Handicapper and starter: V.F. Crowley. Judge: N.F. Murphy. Timekeeper: J. McKay. Hon. Sec: C. Buckley.

The Cork Examiner reported the event as follows:

“The first meeting held in the south of Ireland under the Gaelic Athletic Association of Ireland – in other words, the National Association – was held yesterday on ‘ The Green’ in Blarney Village and a better start could not have been had for the new Association.

The morning was showery but at noon the sun burst forth in all its effulgence and the afternoon was simply delightful. Fully five thousand spectators were present and not a drunken or disorderly person was to be seen in the crowd, while there was not the least trouble experienced by the stewards to keep the ring clear.

A number of police were drafted into the Village, but their services were not required, as the people present at this, as well as every other national gathering were able to keep the peace themselves. The Committee are deserving of every credit for the satisfactory way the meeting passed off, while the arrangements made were of the most complete character, so good in fact, that they would put in the shade, those made for some of the best events in the country.

Where all worked so well it might be a little invidious to particularize, we feel sure that no one will cavil with us for selecting for special praise the exertions of the indefatigable Hon. Sec. Mr. C. Buckley and Mr. Cotter, a member of Committee.

In the centre of the field was a tall pole, bearing on it a white flag, bordered with green, and in the centre bore the letters G.A.A. done in green, and green banners marked the distances in the 200 yard track. All the officials wore green rosettes ornamented with white lace in the centre, so that all the appendages were nationalistic in tone, and to crown all, the Barrack Street Band was in attendance and discoursed the following choice of programme: March, ‘Precioso’ Quadrille, ‘Royal Irish’ selection, ‘Maritana’ with Calypso, Irish Airs, Polkas, ‘Kathleen’ and others with God Save Ireland’ as a finale. The playing of the band was much admired.

A large number of ladies were present and they seemed to enjoy the sports as much as members of the sterner sex did. On the whole, the Gaelic Athletic Association has made a good start in the South of Ireland and there cannot be the slightest doubt of its success. The real people will support no other association and when this is the case, combined with the fact that we have so many fine athletes ranged under its banner – and will soon have many more – it would be a daring man who would predict failure for it. Some of those who have gone over to the enemy camp must have got their eyes opened in Blarney yesterday. They will get further eye-openers in this direction.

The Cork Examiner gave full details of all the events, including heats and handicaps as well as all the distances and heights in the jumping and throwing events. The prizes were distributed by Miss Corkeran. The band played ‘God Save Ireland’ as a finale and many of the people present joined in the singing of it.

Contact: Mr. Brian Gabriel Email: bg1@eircom.net Tel: 021 4381349 Mob: 087-2153216