Congress ’96 in London

Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 1997, pp 57


The 1996 Congress of the G.A.A. was held in London. Lancaster Gate and the leafy environs of Hyde Park was the setting and the Royal Lancaster Hotel with its extravagant central London hotel prices was the location. The Irish Post set the scene in its report on the event: 'On Friday afternoon they started to arrive, a procession of Pioneer pins and paunches, official ties sloping down well-fed bellies. Those that were called to the bar returned with faces as long as a Yorkshire beef farmer .... £3.50 a pint, not much less for a cup of tea. The delegates voted with a two-thirds majority to repair to an adjacent (much cheaper) hostelry.'. And, over the course of the weekend, two other hostelries with Tipperary connections, Johnny Barrett's in Cricklewood and Tom Milne's British Queen on Uxbridge Road, did good business. 

The reason for holding Congress in London was to recognise the foundation of the G.A.A. in Britain. The year 1896 is regarded as the foundation year even though it is fairly certain that the earliest English club to affiliate to the Association was Wallsend and Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1885. The first London club to affiliate was Hibernian A.C. in Clerkenwell and soon after that Exiles of Erin. This was in 1895 and at the November meeting of the Central Council the clubs were congratulated on being the pioneers of the G.A.A. movement in Great Britain. 

Soon afterwards a club was established in Manchester and the governing body of the Association decided to send over teams to London to give exhibitions the following year with a view to spreading the movement in England. Perhaps the centenary marks this first formal connection as there was quite an influx of players and athletes from Ireland to London at Easter 1896. 

The Tipperary delegation included Sean Fogarty, chairman; Tomas O'Baroid, secretary; Tom O'Donnell, treasurer; Michael O'Brien, Silvermines; Sean Nugent, Kilsheelan; Noel Morris, Borrisokane; Michael Frawley, Emly; Liam Hennessy, Moycarkey-Borris; John Ryan, Holycross-Ballycahill; Jimmy Coliins, St. Mary's Clonmel; Seamus King, Cashel King Cormacs; Matty Connolly, Boherlahan-Dualla. Also present was Donie Nealon, Burgess, Munster Council secretary. 

Hurling Proposals 

Probably the most memorable event of the Congress was the sanctioning of the hurling proposals. These, which allow the losers of the provincial senior and minor finals in Murister and Leinster a second bite of the championship cherry, had generated quite an amount of heated debate in the run-up to Congress and still more when they were debated before being put to the delegates. In general, however, they were happy with the decision to experiment in the face of the challenges facing the game. It was a mood most urgently expressed by former president, Pat Fanning of Waterford 'Marking time is the inevitable prelude to decline', he said, before adding: 'If change is needed, resistance to change is unacceptable'. When the vote came it was overwhelmingly in favour, receiving more than two-thirds of the over 300 delegates. 

Perhaps, equally memorable was the election of Joe McDonagh as the youngest ever president-elect. It was enthusiastically received as was the confident and exuberant oratory which marked his acceptance. In getting elected, he defeated an excellent candidate, Sean McCague of Monaghan, by 214 voted to 103. He will bring to the presidency a great belief in the efficacy of coaching as an engine for the promotion and progress of hurling. 

Allied to this are impressive communica­ion skills and comparative youth which must be good for the image of the Association. 'More than that', as Sean Moran wrote in the Irish Times, 'in his sense of history, pride of place and command of language, he portrays a cultural joie de vivre that is sometimes lacking within the G.A.A. Joe McDonagh's love of Irish language, sport and music came naturally and unselfconsciously to him. He s a great spokesperson for the culture because his embrace of it is unforced and presents itself as a celebration of his identity rather than as an assertion of what he isn't. His enjoyment of that culture makes him what he is; he's not pursuing it to prove a point." 

Liam McCarthy 

The arrangements for Congress were in the hands of the London County Board, whose chairman, John Lacey, called the decision to hold it in London 'a message of unification and co-operation as the way forward into the next millennium'. All were agreed that the arrangements went very well. From a London perspective one of the highlights of the historic weekend was the unveiling of a headstone at the grave of Liam MacCarthy, the most famous son of the G.A.A. across the Irish Sea. This ceremony took place in the Old Dulwich Cemetery after twelve o'clock mass in St. Thomas Moore Church on Lordship Lane on Easter Sunday. 

The unveiling was a fitting reminder to delegates of the immense contribution made by the son of Eoghan and Brigid MacCarthy of Ballygarvan, Co. Cork to the G.A.A. in London. Born in 1853 in London, Liam MacCarthy married well and was 43 years old when the Association was formed in his native city. He was the first treasurer of the London County Board and later became president or chairman. He was also involved in the Gaelic League, Amnesty International and the I.R.B. In the latter he worked with Sam Maguire and Michael Collins. When the Provincial Council of Britain was formed he became its first secretary. He is best known for having provided the eponymous trophy for the All-Ireland hurling championship in 1922, for which he paid Edmund Johnson Ltd. of Grafton Street £50. He was a man of great character, proud of his Irish roots and Catholic upbringing, never smoked or indulged in alcohol. It is understandable that his compatriots should honour him with the title of 'Father of the London G.A.A.' 

It was fitting, therefore, that his memory should be honoured appropriately in this the Centenary Year of the London G.A.A. before a representative gathering of Gaels from many parts of the world and that it should be done at Easter, a symbolic time for Liam MacCarthy's religion and patriotism.