With the amount of bangers that are going off increasing in number and volume as Hallowe’en approaches and with all these long, long nights ahead of us with Christmas wrapped up in the middle of them, it’s the season for curling up on the couch with plenty of good books. I’ve got a stack of them to get through – I went on a splurge the other day and I’ve also recently taken to buying more obscure second-hand titles through Amazon (a dangerous practice, one that’s akin to being let loose in the world’s biggest second-hand bookshop) – and I’ve a few GAA ones included in this list which I’ll be reviewing over the coming weeks.
One of these that I’ve already had a good look at is the wonderful The GAA: A People’s History by Mike Cronin, Mark Duncan and Paul Rouse, which forms part of the GAA’s Oral History Project. This is an ambitious initiative commissioned by the GAA as part of its 125th anniversary celebrations which is being carried out by Boston College Ireland with the aim of recording what the GAA has meant to Irish people, in their own words. As the authors point out in their introduction, this book isn’t meant to be a chronological account of the Association’s 125-year history, nor is it an attempt to record fully every important GAA-related event over this period. Instead, the aim of the book is to provide a broad overview of the GAA’s history and it does this via a series of thematic chapters (thirteen in all), covering, for example, broad topics such as Politics, Media, Religion and Exile. The book’s other main aim is to tell the story using the words of players, officials, historians, commentators and others and also by including an absolute treasure trove of photographs and reproductions of documents, letters and the like.
The end-result is a lavishly produced work, containing a wealth of detail, which will delight and entertain anyone who has even a passing interest in the GAA’s long and varied history. The photos – many of which have been published here for the first time ever – are a real delight, with gems such as the one on page 57 of a bunch of Clare lads at a local hurling match in the 1950s, all decked out in their coats and caps and all puffing on the Woodbines, the one on pages 66-7 of Heffo’s Army on the Hill in 1974, the one on page 93 of the group of Waterford supporters on O’Connell Street prior to the 1957 All-Ireland final and the one on page 110 of a game of handball taking place against the wall at Ferns Castle in 1930. The papers that are reproduced are simply fascinating, such as Michael Cusack’s letter to Maurice Davin in August 1884 discussing the establishment of the GAA and the letter written just three years later by Michael Davitt warning that political divisions within the nascent organisation could lead to a disastrous split. The unintentionally hilarious letter from one Dr Laurence Kettle of Rathmines to Taoiseach Eamon de Valera in September 1950 bemoaning the fact that the two All-Ireland finals were taking place in the middle of the annual harvest season will raise many a guffaw, as will the one from the Connacht Provincial Committee to the GAA Ard Comhairle in June 1981 giving out yards at the fact that that year’s Connacht final was not going to be afforded ‘Match of the Day’ status by RTE.
This is a truly wonderful book, one that I expect to be returning to again and again over the coming months and years. It’ll make a fine Christmas present for anyone who is interested in the development of the GAA down the years and the people who made it all happen. I cannot recommend it highly enough.