Sam Melbourne – A Special G.A.A. Man

Munster Hurling Championship, Tipp v Limerick, Semple Stadium, May 27, 2012


Sam Melbourne is alive and well and still sprightly at the age of 89 years. His collection of G.A.A. material forms the basis of Lár na Páirce, the Museum of Gaelic Games.

Over seventy years ago he started his collection which includes over 300 hurleys, signed by their star owners, photographs, whistles, jerseys, footballs and sliotars, newspaper cuttings and trophies, all relating to the history and deeds of great hurlers and footballers.

Born in 1923 at Curraheen, Horse & Jockey, Sam was a Church of Ireland man of farming stock whose boyhood heroes were Jack Gleeson and Tim Condon, who won three and four All-Irelands respectively at the turn of the century. Sam himself played hurling with success and was a member of the Mid minor team in 1940 and 1941. Cycling was another important sport for him and he recalls cycling to the 1945 All-Ireland.

His greater claim to fame was his collection of G.A.A. material, which he started in 1937 with Johnny Ryan's hurley. Johnny and the rest of the famous Moycarkey family were also his heroes.

He continued his collection when he moved into Thurles in 1948 to open a sports shop in Friar Street. The oldest hurley in the collection dates back to Ennis in 1870. According to Sam he never met with a refusal when he asked a player for an item.

John was married to Charlotte Smyth from Killenaule by this stage and they decided to move to Dublin in 1956. His collecting never ceased and over the course of years he had amassed a large amount of material.

Sam entered a new stage of his life after coming to Dublin, Someone suggested he should put the material on show and he jumped at the idea. One of the first places he brought his exhibition was to Ballycotton on the invitation of Jack Lynch and Fr. Bertie Troy. He never looked back after that.

He used load up his collection in a Hiace van on a Friday evening and drive to some G,A,A, club or community centre anywhere in the country, set up his exhibition on Saturday and return home on Sunday evening. He would give a talk, answer all kinds of questions and even add to his collection during the visit. He admits this was a wonderful part of his life and he used to love doing it.

He continued this way of life into the eighties when his collection had grown so large his garage was no longer big enough to contain it. The years were also catching up on Sam and the energy wasn't as great as previously. He decided to find a new owner for the collection. Eventually the Tipperary county board purchased it from Sam in 1988.

The county board looked around for a location to house the collection and, in conjunction with Thurles Development Association and Shannon Development, the old Bank of Ireland building on Slievenamon Road was purchased, refurbished and opened as a Museum of Gaelic Games by President Mary Robinson on November 8, 1994, one hundred and ten years and a week after the foundation of the G.A.A. in Hayes's Hotel. It ensured that Sam Melbourne's collection would continue to be available for viewing by the general public.