Early Years of the GAA in Oldcastle

Perhaps we should sketch in the historical background to the foundation o the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884.
Just ten years before, in 1874, a Home Rule Association was founded, with Isaac Butt as chairman. In that year Butt entered the British Parliament with 59 Home Rulers. The following year,1875, Parnell entered Parliament for Meath and in 1880 thirty of an lrish party returned under him to promote the Irish cause. In lreland the Land League was founded in 1879 to bring landlordism down with the Boycott and the No-Rent Campaign. Parnell’s greatest triumph was the Land Act of 1881 which gave the tenant a right in the land and reduced rents by 20%. Another Land Act in 1887 enabled 150,000 farmers to purchase their holdings. The Land Purchase Act of 1891 set in full flow the transfer of property from landlord to peasant. These peasants were the mainstay of the G.A.A. One chilling statistic of the period must be borne in mind. Just before the Great Hunger of the 1840s, Ireland contained 500,000 agricultural holdings, not counting over 135,000 holdings of less than one acre. By the end of the century the number of holdings had gone down by 300,000. In other words the population had gone down by four millions.
During the period under discussion, Oldcastle had a great advantage over most towns of its size.From about 1832 when the National Schools were set up, Oldcastle was lucky to have the Gilson Endowed School which enabled generations of students in the area to enter the professions.

Hurling is described in the Tain Bo Cuailgne,the epic of Cu Chulainn in the Red Branch Cycle of Stories. The boy Setanta outplayed more than a hundred youths singlehanded and then killed the Kings watchdog by driving the sliotar down histhroat. Thus he became Cu Chulahn the Hound of Ulster. Hurling was a widespread custom because the Breton Laws which were in force for over a thousand years prescribed penalties for all kinds of injuries suffered in the game.
In 1366 the Statutes of Kilkenny “ordaincd that the commons of the said land of lreland use not henceforth the game which men call hurling, with great clubs and ball upon the ground.” ln 1527 a Statute of Galway proscribed “the Horlings of the little Balle with hooky stickes.” It is thought that hooky is the origin of the word hockey.
In 1819 an Irish Hurley Union was founded in Trinity College, Dublin “to foster the noble and manly game in this its native country.” On November 1st, 1884, Michael Cusack, a Co Clare schoolmaster who had a school in Dublin, and six other Gaelic games enthusiasts met in Hayes’s Hotel in Thurles and founded the Gaelic Athletic Association. After an initial teething period of arguments and misunderstandings about aims and means, the movement spread rapidly throughout the country. The objective to be achieved was a club for hurling and football in each parish, standard rules for hurling and football and an All-Ireland Championship. By 1887 the first A11-Ireland championship was held and the organisation took off. The G.A.A. is now the major amateur sporting organisation in Ireland and many would argue, in the world. It has survived revolution, civil war, two world wars and the introduction of the T.V.

As far as can be ascertained, hurling was played for generations around Oldcastle before the first football team was formed in 1883 – the year before the foundation of the G.A.A. They called the team the Sons of Freedom. In an article contributed by the late great Jackie Gilson to ‘Fodhla’, a newsheet issued by the Tostal Committee at Easter 1953, he states that the last survivor of the Sons of Freedom, was Johnny Ford. He continues, “At an even earlier date Hurling (Commons) was played long before the establishment of the G.A.A. but unfortunately this tradition is entirely dead in this district.”

A documeut in the possession of Kevin Halpin headed “Chancery Pay office” and dated 30th March 1885 states:-
“At the request of Mr Tomas R. Lynch (Ch).for the County of Meath, I hereby certify that there is now remaining in the books at this office, to the credit of the Oldcastle Branch of the G.A.A.the sum of £ 0-0-7d.
Then follows a list of members, Tom Moore, John Travers, Tom Colwall, Tom Cu1len, John Reilly, Pat Connell, Christy Garry, John Heery,
Tom Dalton, Patk. Dowd, Mick Daly, Hugh Daly, James Ward, James Duffy, Tom Fox, Pat Garry, John Conaty. Subs: Phil Colwall, John Walsh, Ned
Conaty, John Duignan. A team of 16 of those is given on the back of the document. If all these were members in 1885 it would not be unreasonable to presume that practically allof them were members in the previous year, 1884,the foundation year. That would make this a unique historical document. Following is a photostat of the original document.

Jackie Gilson says that, “a team called The Oldcastle Harps, was in existence circa 1906. This was a famous team captained by Paddy Dowd.
Nearly all the members were from the town – you had the Doggets, Gilsons and Kearneys, full-back Mick McGinn and fullforward Mick Markey.”
“The next team was the Middle League Team. Most of the members of this team were related the Kiernans and Gibneys, the Chattens and Burns,the Kearneys and Burns etc. About 1910 they played 21 games and only lost one – the final.
This team went by the name of The Rounds and Squares.” I have not been able to find out the origin of the nickname, perhaps one section of the team was natives and the other section blow-ins.
Fortunately we have a photo of the 1915 team which includes some of the Rounds and Squares. They are front row, left to right:-
Chatten, Jimmy Tuite, Peter Tuite, Mick Timmons 2nd row – Wiilie Tuite, Ned Tuite, Lordy Kearney (Capt.) Joe Keenan, Busty Kearney, Back row – Joe Carroll, Jimmy Kiernan, Paddy Morris, George Chatten, Castletownman, Snip Callan, Red Callan and Mick McGinn.

The next paragraph in Jackie Giison’s account would suggest that the Rounds and Squares was a composite team of players from Castletown and
Oldcastle, under the captaincy of Joe Curran. It also included Paddy Keely and Jimmy Tuite of Newcastle. The Club kept going until 1916 but its activities were disrupted for a few years owing to the troubled times.
The late Jimmy Tuite, mentioned above, spoke to me many times of the epic encounters which took place between the Rounds and Squares
and teams from Virginia, Mullagh and Castlerahan. These games figured larger on his mind than games within the county. The reason is obvious. These games were euphemistically called ‘friendly matches’ but since they were not official the rules could be bent as well as many a shinbone!

The late Fr. Gleeson, P.P. of Nobber, who was a curate in Oldcastle at that time, told me of an innocent friendly match in Ballineale, which was only a dodge to allow members of neighbouring I.R.A. companies to muster there for an attack on Oldcastle Barracks. Fr. Gleeson got a tip-off from an R.I.C. constable that the attack was expected and prepared for. He set off immediately on his bike for Ballineale and told his story to the advancing troops. The majority of them wished to carry on with the attack, the most determined being Jimmy Tuite. He said ‘We’11 take the barrack and be home in time for our tay.” But Fr. Gleeson prevailed on them to scatter, otherwise many of you who read this would never have been born.

Jackie Gilson continues – “Some years later a team was formed again and went to Senior rank. This was a very satisfactory team and under the capable guidance of the V. Rev. M. Kilmartin (still hale and hearty) who did much for football in the district.”

In May 1902 a monthly newspaper bearing the name Sinn Fein appeared. The name is now part of our history because it was later used by Arthur Griffith. The first paragraph in the leader says – “We appear before the people of Oldcastle and district as a supporter of the movement to revive our ancient language, music and literature, our national sports and pastimes, our decaying industries, and the cause of temperance.” We think there ought to be a move made in Oldcastle to revive our Irish pastimes. Have we not plenty of young healthy muscular men among us who could form as good a hurling team as could be got in all lreland. In our advertising columns we note that hurleys can be made to order in Millbrook.”
The copies of ‘Sinn Fein’, which were kindly loaned to me by Ciaran O’Reilly, were fascinating reading since they show the efforts of these men to give the people a sense of identity and to make them proud of their Irish heritage.

Mr.Jack Rahill, a native of Ballydurrow, and a member of the Cavan County team for several years says in a very interesting letter – “My earliest recollection of an Oldcastle football team was when I walked from my home in Ballydurrow down the railway line to the Gilson Park to see Oldcastle play Crosserlough. That would be 1913 or 1914, as well as I can place it, I was about 9 or 10 years. There was great enthusiasm about this game as there were ‘county-men’ on both sides. I remember Jimmy Tuite, Web Gibney, P. Tuite, Bill Tuite, Mick Kiernan, Redney Cal1an, Jack Dermody, Mick McGinn and Pat Kearney. For Crosserlough I can remember John Joe Callery and Johnny Malone.”

Leo Smyth of Killskyre, who played with Oldcastle in 1926 2l and 1930-31, remembers that Oldcastle were beaten in the Co Final of 1919 by Rathkenny. The members of that team whom he can recall were M. Gibney, M. McGinn, J.Dermody, G. Beggan, Peter Tuite, M. Timmons, Chatten and Ahern. He states that there was no team in 1920 or 1921 because of the War of Independence.
By a great feat of memory Leo places the Oldcastle team of 1926-27. Matt (Web) Gibney, Thos. Gibney, Jimmy Tuite, Mick McGinn, Sam Lowndes. Ned Tuite,Leo Smyth, Garda Hugh Daly, Butcher Murray, Jack Dermody, John Tuite, Park. (Lordie) Kearney, Jim Andrews, Pat Timmons, Dick Feely Feeney.
This team was trained by Rev. Fr. Kilmartin (C.C. in Oldcastle then). Other players on which they could draw were Hugh McShane, Tom Gibney, Busty Kearney, Michael Monahan, Arthur and Alfie Chatten, Hoey and P. Killeen. Oldcastle were beaten in the final by Ballinabrakey. As far as Leo can remember Hugh Daly and Pat Timmons went to America. Jim Andrews or Anderson worked in he Northern Bank and he had to play under an assumed name as his Bank did not approve of the G.A.A. and also he was a member of the Church of Ireland and should not play football on the Sabbath.
The 1926-21 team won its Division by beating Kells, Kilbeg, Dervor, Athboy but they lost the final to Ballinabrakey.

New players on the 1931 team, on which Leo also played were J.J. Higgins and John Daly from Kildalkey and Brian and Pat Daly from Carnaross and from the Oldcastle area, James Coyle, Connie Farrelly, Tom Plunkett, Sonnie Flood, Jimmy Kelly, Jack Rahill, Paddy Beggan, Jim Smith and Larry McGrath.

During the twenties and early thirties, while a G.A.A. club was functioning, the teams produced seem to have made eariy exits in the County Championships. This is not unusual in a Club and then some quirk of fate produces a combination which makes its mark. In Oldcastle this happened in the late Thirties.

(Article from “The Story of Oldcastle GAA Club 1884-1984” – Editor: Tommy Sheridnan (R.I.P.)