THE HISTORY OF THE GAELIC ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION IN CANADA
"All things Gaelic go into great sports history book . . . packed with historical anecdotes and names of players past and present 'to acknowledge the fact [that] these people enjoyed what they did, they were prepared to sacrifice whatever time was needed for the games to be played,' O'Flynn said. [His book ensures] 'that there [will] be some literature and some memory of the Irish communities.'"--Bob Mackin, Vancouver Courier
The history of Gaelic games in Canada, before the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland in 1884 and in the years since, proves a determination by Irish immigrants who have arrived in numerous provinces of Canada. Through their dedication the flag of Irish sports has flown strong, and will continue to fly in the years to come.
The sporting traditions include the oldest European field game of hurling—a masterful art and the fastest game in the world—in which players use an ash wood stick and a hard ball. Many argue with some conviction, and no small amount of fact to support their case, that Canada’s national sport, ice hockey, has its origins in hurling. The word puck is derived from the Irish word poc, which is the action of striking the ball with a hurley.
In 1845, the civic fathers of Quebec City banned the playing of hurling in their narrow streets, while in St. John’s, Newfoundland, hurling was being played as early as 1788 at the “Barrens” of the city. The ladies’ version of hurling, Camogie, has had its presence on occasion in some Canadian communities.
The skilful play of Gaelic Football, which has dominated the sporting scene across the country in many Canadian cities, continues to be the greatest strength in modern times. Along with two other Irish sports of handball and rounders, many wonderful memories for the Canadian-Irish community are celebrated in this book that captures an exciting facet of Irish culture.
Trevor Carolan is the international editor of the Pacific Rim Review of Books (Issue Eleven Spring 2009)
Sport and the Gaels go hand in hand. When the Olympic Games were still but a sparkle in the eye of Zeus, at Ireland's Hill of Tara the Ras Tailetann Games were held in honour of Queen Tailte from 1829 BC to AD 1180. That's a rippin' 3,000 year run, so as Vancouver writer John O'Flynn explains, the Irish got good at organizing these things- normally around a grand fair in which heroic drink had no small part. Unsurprisingly, throughout the Irish Diaspora in particular, the current world-wide Celtic renaissance has brought renewed interest in the unique Irish traditions of Hurling and Gaelic Football.
With this impressively researched work, John O'Flynn brings to fruition his archival digging within the Irish-Canadian sporting community. Charting the development of Irish sporting associations from Newfoundland to the west coast, from 1796 to the present, en route O'Flynn does more than simply talk sports. Historical migration patterns, relations between the Irish, French and English, ecclesiastical affiliations, sites of famine monuments, and short profiles of scores of local sporting figures make this volume of cultural history worth leaving on the parlour table for guest browsers.
Much of the actual reporting is of a more recent nature, but the Toronto and Montreal Gaelic athletic scenes are well-covered historically. In an aside to hockey enthusiasts, O'Flynn tracks the various recorded Irish, English and Scots development links to ice-hockey - all had 'hurling', 'bandy', or 'shinty', field sports that involved the use of curved sticks, as did the native Mic Macs. Oddly, he reports that as late as 1875, ice hockey in Montreal was still played mostly by Irish Catholics from McGill University and two bilingual colleges where the Irish taught the game to the French. The rest, as they say, is history.
O'Flynn's anecdotal style is founded on plenty of oral history. Leading up to a tale about the founding of Vancouver's Sons of Erin Gaelic Football Club, he recounts a clash between Vancouver and Seattle Irish clubs in which the Americans had salted hard-boiled priests among their sides. Old warriors remember the incognito priests playing "tough as nails", "the dirtiest ones" on the field. It's all in good fun and is well worth a look.
An excerpt from "THE HISTORY OF THE GAELIC ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION IN CANADA"
On March 18, 1990, history was made when the GAA football and hurling stars first came to the newly opened Skydome in downtown Toronto to put on an exhibition of Ireland’s games. The stadium has an astro-turf playing surface with a retractable roof, which can be moved completely in 20 minutes. A jumbo screen with great resolution and a seating capacity of 53,000 meant that the Gaelic games were being showcased in a state-of-the-art indoor stadium for the first time ever.
The idea of bringing out two hurling teams to play an exhibition game began with a phone call from Joe Murphy of Murphy’s Chips to Canadian County Board President Brian Farmer about the possibility of staging Gaelic games in Toronto. Murphy also mentioned that he had also approached CEO John Dunne of A&P with the concept. Farmer then began the correspondence with Croke Park, and from these efforts the idea became a reality, with Gaelic Football being a part of the plan.
In time, the entire expenses for this event were met by the major sponsoring company, the Great Atlantic and Pacific Company of Canada Ltd, better known as A&P, the largest supermarket chain in Toronto, with over 200 outlets in the province of Ontario. The efforts of GAA members in Toronto and the Canadian County Board would further ensure the success of these Gaelic games.
Details were announced at the Canadian Embassy in Dublin on January 16, 1990. In attendance, at the press gathering, was the Chief Executive of A& P, John Dunne (Fenor, Tipperary); President of the Canadian GAA, Brian Farmer (Clonmore, Armagh); and Frank O’Rourke from the Bank of Ireland; John Dowling, GAA President (R.I.P.); and Canadian Ambassador Michael Wadsworth (R.I.P).
An tUachtarán John Dowling said, “ We are very excited about this, not only from the point of view of giving Irish people in Toronto an opportunity to see Irish games being played by the best exponents of these games, but as well, to expose our games to people who may never have previously seen them. This is the international breakthrough we have been looking for!”
The Canadian Ambassador, a former professional Canadian football player, said, “In my short time in Ireland, I have observed how Irish people are so keenly interested in sport of all kinds and I welcome the opportunity as a Canadian representative to give my people at home an opportunity to see firsthand distinctive Irish games.”
Canadian GAA President Brian Farmer said, “We are optimistic about the success of the hurling and Gaelic Football exhibitions in Toronto. Canadians will love the action and speed, and we hope this is the beginning of regularly scheduled matches in Canada. Canadian sports fans will appreciate the history and excitement of the occasion. Their stamp of approval will ensure the games become an annual event.”
Promotional slogans filled the Canadian media with one hurling reference of “You think ice-hockey is Macho? Now see the real thing!” or about the event itself, “What could be more fun than a Domeful of Irishmen?” and “The 1990 St. Patrick’s Day games, your chance to be Irish for a day!” Tickets were priced from $10.25 to $25.25 and a donation was made to the Ireland Fund of Canada from proceeds raised by the games.
On the day, March 18, 1990, the 1989 All-Ireland Hurling Champions, Tipperary, defeated the Bank of Ireland All-Stars 5-15 to 3-11. Dublin and Ulster Champions, Tyrone, played each other in Gaelic Football with Dublin being the winner in these St. Patrick’s Day Irish games. The attendance was over 30,000 and the matches were televised by TSN in Canada and RTE back in Ireland along with media coverage by the Toronto Sun and CFRB 1010. The Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, provided a message of support and pride in his Irish heritage in the official programme that day.
The following year, on March 17, 1991, the St. Patrick’s Day Canada Cup games were televised once more by RTE in Ireland and The Sports Network (TSN) in Canada. In the Gaelic Football match between Cork and the All-Stars, Cork won by 1-12 to 1-9. In the hurling game, the All-Stars had an easy 5-13 to 0-6 win over Cork. The attendance of 18,000 was considerably down from the previous year, though a truly professional approach had been taken by all those associated with the organization of the Gaelic games in Toronto. This would be the final year of the Skydome games in Canada.
Shield Cup 2005
The Canadian ladies’ squad that traveled to Dublin in 2005 was, for the first time ever, a team of players from the Toronto and the Western Canada divisions. A truly representative team, drawn from the clubs of Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Durham, Brampton, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, competed and won the Shield Cup. Coach Jarlath Connaughton’s and General Manager Brian Farmer’s willingness to travel across the country to Vancouver to help select the best players was critical to the team’s success. Players had to demonstrate their abilities and compete for one of 25 positions. Athleticism, sportsmanship and skill were needed to attract the attention of the management team. Of the final team members chosen, amazingly, only three were Irish-born!
The following sponsors will be remembered for their tremendous contributions to the success of the 2005 squad that won the Shield Cup: Karen and Sean Murphy of Kemptville Travel; Sean Harte and H&S Fleet Services; Michael Hurley and Hurley Corporation; Powerscreen Canada, the Canadian County Board, the Western Canada Divisional Board, the Toronto Divisional Board, and Brian and Patsy Dolan from A&P Dominion.
General Manager , Brian Farmer; Coach, Jarlath Connaughton; Assistant Coach, Paul Loughnane; Team Manager, Sinead Canavan; Equipment Manager, Lorraine Morley.
Round 1 Australasia 1-13 (16) Canada 1-3 (6)
Round 2 New York 1-10 (13) Canada 1-3 (6)
Round 3 London 3-12 (21) Canada 0-2 (2)
Round 4 Canada 3-5 (14) Britain 1-5 (8)
Round 5 Canada 2-7 (13) North American Board 2-6 (12)
Round 6 Canada 4-12 (24) Europe 2-5 (11)
Canada 4-18 (30) Britain 3-08 (17)
Most Valuable Player of the Tournament - Erin Gallagher: Michael Cusacks
North America’s Oldest 7’s Tournament
Since the inception of the Powerscreen International 7’s Gold Watch Tournament in 1986, this competition has continued to be an excellent way for clubs from across Canada, Ireland, U.K., the Cayman Islands and the United States to end their playing season. The tournament provides a holiday setting over the Labour Day Weekend in Toronto, Ontario.
The following honour roll is evident of the class of clubs that have participated over the years.
Senior Men Ladies Jr. Men
2008 St. Mike’s, Ottawa, St. Mikes
2007 St. Pat’s College, Brampton, St. Pat’s College
2006 Killyman (Tyrone), Ottawa, Killyman
2005 Elphin (Roscommon), St. Joe’s (Tyrone), Brampton
2004 Ardboe (Tyrone), Durham, Durham
2003 St. Pat’s College (Armagh), Ottawa, St. Pat’s College
2002 St. Mike’s Durham, St. Mike’s
2001 St. Pat's College (Armagh), Durham, Armagh Masters
2000 Glen (Derry), Durham, Durham
1999 Cookstown (Tyrone), Durham, Durham
1998 Powerscreen, Cusacks
1997 Powerscreen, Durham, Brampton
1996 Powerscreen, Durham, St. Mike’s
1995 St. Mike’s, Le Cheile
1994 Toronto Gaels, Ottawa Gaels
1993 Cavan (New York), Le Cheile Clan Na nGael
1992 Powerscreen, Le Cheile
1991 St. Joe’s (Donegal), Irish Canadians
1990 St. Anne’s (Dublin), Le Cheile
1988 Clan Na nGael
North America’s First Ladies Tour
On November 12, 1990, an organizing committee of Maureen Looney as Chair, Geraldine Duffin Rice and Julia Hughes as Vice Chairs, Nuala McNamara as Treasurer and Noreen Mitkov as Secretary was formed. The Ontario Women’s Gaelic Football Club would plan to be the first ladies football team that would travel to Ireland from North America to tour Ireland playing Gaelic Football.
The dream would come true in 1992 with a match on August 8 in Dublin versus the Marino Ladies Gaelic Football Club (Est. 1986), August 12 in Westmeath versus Rochfortbridge Ladies Gaelic Football Club (Est. 1977) and August 15 in Cork versus Glanworth Ladies Gaelic Football Club (Est. 1984) who was the Cork Champions that year.
Toronto GAA President Sean Harte and Canadian County Board President Matthew Healy were particularly proud of these “Ambassadors” of the Association from Canada. Though ten of the players were Irish born most had only learned to play the game in Canada. The majority of the team was Canadian and the coach of the team was Steve Murphy (Cork) who had been a supporter and coach of Le Cheile.
The players on this historic team included Durham Robert Emmets’ Theresa Bray (Antrim), Colleen McNamara (Toronto), Nuala McNamara (Dublin); Ottawa Gael’s Paule Carrier (Quebec City), Sheena Cullen (Peterborough), Captain Breda Kelly (Galway), Nancy McCall (Gloucester, Ontario), Karen Moore (Montreal), Wilma Te Plate (Finch, Ontario), Nicky Watts (Truro, England); Michael Cusack’s Kirsty O’Shea (Toronto); Irish Canadian’s Denise Breau (Toronto), Rita Hickey (Toronto), Maureen Looney (Toronto), June McAlarey (Glasgow, Scotland), Ciara McNaughton (Belfast); Le Cheile’s Cath Heaney (Armagh), Captain Geraldine Heaney (Armagh), Marg McLeod (Hawkesbury, Ontario), Captain Breda Murphy (Cork), Lori Nawrocki (Scarborough), Sharyn “Burne” O’Doherty (Toronto), Noreen O’Shea (Louth), Fionnuala Scott (Dublin), Petra Scott (Dublin) and the mascot - Kellie Scott (Toronto).
Though the fitness was there for the team, the skill set was still lacking and so there were three sound defeats to the Irish competition. What was certainly a problem for the ladies was the fact that the Irish teams were playing with size 4 footballs while the Canadians had been training and playing with size 5 footballs. Thankfully, an agreement was made to play with both sized balls for a half in each match as a compromise.
The Marino team in Dublin would then become the first ladies football club to travel to Canada. They would participate in the September 4 and 5, 1993 Powerscreen 7’s along with matches in Toronto on September 8 and 12 and in Ottawa on September 14. Those in Canada who were instrumental in making the tour happen for Marino included Maureen Looney, Breda Kelly, Noreen McCann, Cath Heaney, Julie Hughes and Pamela Doyle.
THE HISTORY OF THE GAELIC ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION IN CANADA
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