FH #56 Did Queen Victoria lead a cloistered and sheltered life?

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Had she been spared, Queen Victoria would have been two hundred and one years old last Wednesday. Which, despite her actual longevity, is probably a bit of a stretch to contemplate. But as England gets its fondest wish on 31 January and seems set for a wholehearted return to the era named after her, it’s probably worth taking a closer look and asking did Old Queen Vic really lead a cloistered and sheltered life in which piano legs were covered for fear that they would become a gateway drug to unbridled admiration of the female appendage of the same name.

Let’s start with her title. Because, you see, her official name wasn’t Victoria at all. She was named Alexandrina after her godfather, Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Had she not preferred her second name, Victoria, we might be talking today about wildfires in the Australian state of Alexandrina, or the retail outlet Alexandrina’s Secret. She would probably have disapproved heartily of the latter as there is no evidence that she had a penchant for sexy lingerie.

When she was born, the odds against her becoming monarch at the time she did were prohibitive. She was fifth in line to the throne behind her father and three uncles. She had about as much chance of becoming Queen as Barbara Windsor, after whom the Royal family is now named. But, one by one the prior claimants succumbed. If you were a conspiracy theorist you might even start to think … but let’s not go there.

She was the first reigning monarch to occupy Buckingham Palace. Royal histories record her as ‘adding a new wing’ to the establishment, which suggests that she might also have been the first reigning monarch to engage in manual labour. Probably best not to take the accounts literally though.

As regards the cloistered existence bit, she was certainly kept away from the hoi polloi when she was a young princess, she was even made to share a bedroom with her mother until she became Queen, so no chance of interaction on social media, the dominant form of the day being something called ‘the letter’ which appears to have involved actual writing, with no abbreviations.  Ha, LOL!

However, she was exposed to one of the most common pursuits of many of the crowned heads of Europe at the time, surviving attempted assassination. At least six people, all men, tried to kill her in a variety of ways, mostly by taking pot shots at her. She was only wounded once, in 1850, when an enterprising assassin struck her with an iron-tipped cane.

A mad Scottish poet, Roderick MacLean, plotted to kill her eight times before he finally made his own failed attempt. Apparently his resentment was because she had been a tad caustic about some poetry he sent her. The episode prompted the infamous Scottish versifier, William McGonagall—the world’s worst poet —to pen one of his own deplorable rhymes.

Maclean must be a madman,
Which is obvious to be seen,
Or else he wouldn’t have tried to shoot
Our most beloved Queen.

And that’s more than enough about Scottish poets.

Victoria’s latter years were spent as a virtual recluse in Balmoral in the Scottish highlands after the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, for whom a well-known piercing was named, but only long after his death when he could no longer seek an injunction. Her diary suggests that she thoroughly enjoyed their wedding night. In it she wrote …

‘I never, never spent such an evening!! My dearest dearest dear Albert … his         excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before!’

Indeed!

Many years after the death of Albert, Victoria may or may not have had an affair with her personal attendant, John Brown. There are even allegations that she secretly married him. Victorian gossips took to calling her ‘Mrs. Brown’, so Brendan O’Carroll didn’t get there first. When she died she was buried with a lock of John Brown’s hair, his photograph, his mother’s wedding ring, and a number of his letters. As he had predeceased her he didn’t join her in the coffin himself.

Half a dozen assassination attempts, a passionate marriage and an alleged affair later in life suggest that, despite her restrictive childhood and her self-imposed reclusiveness in widowhood, the notion of a cloistered Victorian existence for Britain’s second longest reigning monarch, is fake history.

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FH#55 Is Presidential impeachment actually worse than the Salem Witch trials?

 

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Late last year a penitent Donald Trump wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taking full responsibility for his actions in the Ukraine scandal and admitting to a whole host of impeachable offences.

Now, if you’ll excuse me for a second or two we just need to switch the dial and journey back from that parallel universe. Because, of course, President Trump did precisely the opposite. The bit about the letter is true though, you may remember it. It was six pages long, only the numbers at the bottom of each page made much sense, and the President, who is, of course, an acknowledged expert in 17th century US history, observed that …

I have been denied the most fundamental rights under the constitution … more            due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch trials.

Far be it from me to challenge the authority of a man who has obviously spent hours poring over dusty and obscure documents from the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when he should have been reading his daily CIA briefing, but his controversial utterance does seem to invite some rigorous analysis. So, let’s examine the validity of the suggestion that the impeachment process is odious in comparison with the procedures employed in the prosecution for witchcraft of a large number of women, and a much smaller number of men, in the rural community of Salem village, Massachusetts, in 1692.

Perhaps we should start with the response of the current Mayor of Salem, Kim Driscoll, to the President’s thesis.

‘Oy vey…again. Learn some history’ she tweeted,  ‘Salem 1692 = absence of evidence + powerless, innocent victims were hanged or pressed to death. #Ukraniegate 2019 = ample evidence + admissions of wrongdoing + perpetrators are among the most powerful and privileged.’

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Straightaway we need to enter a caveat here. Because Kim Driscoll is a lazy ‘do-nothing’ Democrat, and is also the Mayor of Salem Town, not Salem village where, in 1692, the uproar actually took place. Back in the 17th century the two entities were deadly rivals, Salem town being much wealthier than the adjoining village of the same name. The patent lack of objectivity in the Mayor’s tweet, as well as her gender, suggests that Kim Driscoll may indeed be a witch herself.

The Salem witch trials were symptomatic of suspicion of one’s neighbour and the fear of outsiders, a phenomenon that, happily, has no place in President Trump’s America.  Were Arthur Miller alive today he would undoubtedly focus on the agony of Presidential impeachment rather than the Salem witch trials for his allegorical play about McCarthyism, The Crucible.

The Salem commotion arose when two young children began to have fits and accused a number of local women of bewitching them. The resulting witchcraft trials led to the hanging of nineteen women and the formal crushing to death of the single male victim, Giles Corey, husband of one of the alleged witches.  Much of the testimony at the trials was so-called ‘spectral evidence’ where the witnesses recounted incriminating dreams rather than offering factual accounts of their experiences. As the record of the House of Representatives will show, spectral evidence, though encouraged by the Republican minority, was not accepted during the impeachment process. Neither is it likely that President Trump will ever be pressed to death under a pile of stones (the fate of Giles Corey).

One other major point of contrast is that in 1711 a shamefaced Massachusetts legislature retrospectively exonerated the condemned witches and offered financial restitution to their families. Impeachment, however, is not subject to retroactive pardons (unless the President opts to pardon himself) and it is unlikely that Ivanka, Eric, Donald Jr. or any other Trump dependent will be getting a cheque in the past anytime soon from a chastened House of Representatives.

So, is the impeachment process actually worse than the Salem witch trials? Given that no one has ever been executed for high crimes and misdemeanours committed as US President, thus far at any rate, that’s probably fake news. Sorry, I obviously meant fake history.

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FH#51  Jesus Christ was born on December 25th?

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The timing couldn’t be better, at least in the northern hemisphere. Although we’ll have just had the shortest day of the year we will still be in the grip of the dark season with barely eight hours of daylight at Irish latitudes. Even the malign effects of global warming won’t mitigate the seasonally low temperatures. Could there be a better time to have a massive week long party (or more like two weeks if you don’t work in an essential industry, or retail)? Which is why it’s highly unlikely that the man after whom Christianity is named was actually born on the day also named after him.

While Jesus Christ was undoubtedly an historical figure who caused anxiety to the Romans towards the beginning of the first millennium, there were numerous compelling reasons for fixing his birthday at the end of December every year. None have anything to do with the timing of his actual birth.

So, where did Christians come by the date the 25th of December and decide to fix it as the birthdate of Christ? The answer is they didn’t, or at least not all of them.  Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas at the end of December. But in places like Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Belarus, Egypt and many other countries, Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar, and celebrate the feast day on 7 January. Only aficionados of the more recent Gregorian Calendar opt for 25 December. Which, of course means, that clever  Orthodox Christians who have migrated to Western Europe, get to celebrate twice as much as the rest of us over an extended Christmas period. If they’ve emigrated to the USA they get a third knees up, at Thanksgiving, in late November.

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Who chose the 25th December as Catholic Christmas in the first place, you might well ask? And the answer would be Pope Julius 1, bless his red socks. He called it the Feast of the Nativity and, when he named the day, he probably didn’t have in mind an orgy of high street and online selling. But then the American Pilgrim Fathers probably had no idea they would ultimately establish Black Friday when they began to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Christmas wasn’t an instant hit either. Julius named the day in the 4th century, AD obviously, but it didn’t catch on in Europe until 400 years later. Such was the determined rivalry from Thanksgiving that it didn’t become a national holiday in the USA until 1870. Odd that, from the nation that invented the image of the jolly, red cheeked, white-bearded Santa Claus, albeit via the pen of the German-born cartoonist Thomas Nast.

And what was it that possessed Julius to opt for 25th December as the Feast of the Nativity? Well, in the best mercantile traditions of Christmas it was to see off the competition. The teachings of Jesus Christ were slower to make inroads than you might think. There are those who would argue vehemently that his ideas are yet to catch on to this day. Back in the fourth century anno domini the good people of Europe still clung to many of their pagan beliefs and red letter days. So Pope Julius had a bright idea. They could hang on to their bleak midwinter festival, but he would rebrand it as nothing less than the birth day of Christ himself. Think of the Marathon bar becoming Snickers. Or was it the other way around?

Of course the English Puritans, twelve hundred years later, were wise to the Julian PR coup. They spotted that there was no reference to the date of Christ’s birth in the bible. They suspected that an earlier Roman Antichrist (they loved their demonic hyperbole those Puritans) had merely lifted a pagan festival, mistletoe, yule logs and all, and put a Christian gloss on it. So, in 1644 they outlawed Christmas. Three years later they did the same with Easter and Whit Sunday. American Puritans, anxious to assert the superiority of that quintessentially All-American feast day, Thanksgiving, did likewise.

However, even the Puritans were forced to bow the knee to retail. With the rise of Chambers of Commerce and the restoration of the Monarchy, Christmas was restored to its full glory just in time to be turned by the Victorians into the festival we know today, where monthly household food spending increases by 20% and alcohol purchases soar by 30%. That grating sound you hear is not Santa Claus coming down the chimney, it’s Oliver Cromwell and the American Pilgrim Fathers turning in their graves.

So, was Jesus Christ born on Christmas Day? Well, there’s always a one in three hundred and sixty five chance that he was, but, on balance, probably not.

 

Fake Histories #50  Santa Claus is an entirely fictional character?

 

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One of the purveyors of this particular blasphemy was none other than the wisecracking, avuncular, piano virtuoso Chico Marx himself. It happened in the manic Marx Brothers movie hit from 1935, A Night at the Opera. Chico is playing off his brother Groucho in one of the best comic scenes in this still hilarious movie. The two men are discussing a contract, the contents of which Chico doesn’t much like. Groucho is, quite literally, tearing strips off it, physically deleting its terms until the two are down to a tiny strip of paper. Chico inquires about this final residue of the original document. Groucho assures him, ‘It’s all right. That’s, in every contract. It’s what they call a sanity clause.
‘You can’t fool me.’Chico hits back. ‘There ain’t no Sanity Clause.’

And there you have it, at its most stark, the sinister allegation from a childlike vaudeville performer that Santa Claus is a figment of the childish imagination. The first thing to be said in refutation of this pernicious heresy is that Chico, as a Marxist, would have been a logical positivist, scorning religion and magic in the same way as he rejected market-led capitalism. To Chico, an acolyte of his namesake, Karl, religion was ‘pie in the sky when you die’ and Santa Claus was ‘a faux ho ho ho in the midwinter snow’.

Of course, with the collapse of European communism in 1989, Santa Claus had the last ‘ho ho ho’.

But who exactly is Santa Claus, other than an extremely generous inhabitant of the North Pole whose gig economy elves should have been unionised centuries ago?

Apparently, he’s a fourth century bishop who became St. Nicholas. Bishop Nicholas was a wealthy man who gave covert gifts to the poor. The secretive nature of his bounty derived from his reluctance to offend his fellow aristocrats, who merely exploited them. The origin of many Christmas practices seems to have come from a gift he bestowed on an impoverished householder with three daughters. The unfortunate man could not afford the dowries required to marry them off. So, Nicholas climbed up on the man’s roof and dropped a bag of gold down the chimney. This got stuck in a stocking that had been hung out to dry, et voila, we have the very first Christmas present. After his death St. Nicholas, in spiritual form, appears to have ramped up his operation to include children all over the world. At what point he requisitioned a sleigh and recruited his reindeer is still a fertile area of historical dispute. English nationalists, for example, claim that it was a leftover chariot from the warlike Queen Boudicca. Obviously with the whirling swords removed from its spokes.

As is the case with other magical beings—the Tooth Fairy is a perfect example— there have been doubts expressed by professional grinches and curmudgeons, normally between the ages of ten and fourteen, about the existence of Father Christmas. Scathing references are often made to his physical appearance and his advanced age, and consequential doubts are expressed as to his ability to descend from roofs given his own considerable circumference as compared to the dimensions of most modern chimneys.

However, the one inescapable and irrefutable fact that gives the lie to any assertion that Santa Claus is a myth, is, of course, the millions of mysterious presents to which children all over the world wake up on Christmas day. If you need hard and fast proof that Santa Claus exists you can find it under the Christmas tree in the early morning of 25 December—usually very early indeed. It is impossible to counter such a massive volume of evidence of the existence of this jolly rotund figure with the white beard and the distinctive red and white uniform.

So, in answer to the peevish myth that Santa Claus does not exist, don’t be either fooled or alarmed, it’s fake history.

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FH#49  The Anglo-Irish Treaty involved the swearing of allegiance to the British monarch?

 

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There were nine names on the piece of paper. One of the men who appended his signature observed that ‘I may have signed my political death warrant’. Another responded lugubriously, ‘I may have signed my actual death warrant.’ It turned out he was right.

In Ireland we don’t have an ‘Independence Day’ as such. Easter Monday, the day on which the 1916 Proclamation was read by Patrick Pearse, outside the GPO, changes date every year. The actual date, 24 April, hardly even merits a mention, so pervasive is the Easter Week mythology.

But if we had an actual Independence Day, like 4 July in the USA or 14 July, Bastille Day, in France, then it might well be today, the 6 December. Because on this day, in 1921,  five Irishmen, Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamon Duggan and George Gavan Duffy, signed the Treaty that ended the Anglo-Irish war and led, a few weeks later, to an independent Irish Free State. It may not have been independent enough for some, but it was recognised as such by the colonial power that had legislatively encompassed Ireland since 1801.

None of the five Irishmen who added their signatures to those of Lloyd George, Austen Chamberlain, F.E.Smith and Winston Churchill, were exactly overjoyed at what they had just done. The ‘death warrant’ remark had been made by Smith, by then trading as Lord Birkenhead. The prescient response was, famously, made by Michael Collins, who would indeed be dead within eight months.

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Conspicuous by its absence was the signature of one Eamon de Valera. The President of the fledgling Irish Republic had travelled to London in July 1921 to negotiate a truce with the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, but had given responsibility for negotiating the Treaty itself to Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. The move has been debated for the better part of a century, and we still have no definitive answer to the question, ‘why did de Valera stay in Dublin?’. Was it because he knew, after his talks with the wily Welsh Prime Minister, that the negotiation of a Republic was off the table?

Would he, as head of the delegation, have compromised himself on the issue of partition, as did Arthur Griffith, when he privately agreed to a Boundary Commission? Would he have caved in to Lloyd George’s threat of total war, as did Michael Collins, a man better placed than most to evaluate the capacity of the IRA to continue the struggle against even greater odds than before?

It’s the question for which the phrase ‘what if …?’ might have been invented.

But what, precisely, did the Irish delegation agree to? As far as doctrinaire republicans, like Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack, were concerned, they had settled for a deal that was barely a whisker removed from the Home Rule solution emphatically rejected by the Irish electorate in December 1918.

But if you wanted to be Jesuitical about it, and you were a Gaeilgóir, you could argue the opposite. While, in the English language, the Treaty brought into being the Irish Free State, rather than the Irish Republic, sufficiently cherished by many of the members of Sinn Fein and the old IRA to go back to war in 1922, in Irish it brought Saorstát na hÉireann into existence. In Dáil proceedings during the War of Independence the word ‘saorstát’ had been used to mean ‘republic’.

Then there was the issue of the infamous ‘oath of allegiance’ to the King. This was repugnant to many of those who believed they had fought the British Empire to a standstill in pursuit of the ideal of complete separation from the English Crown. Now they would have to swear an oath to the King.

Or would they?

Treaties are all about semantics, and while one may dismiss the ‘republic’ and ‘saorstát’ issue as special pleading (and certainly it was not advanced as a triumphant coup by the plenipotentiaries) Collins secured a concession that he possibly believed would appeal to Dev’s inner Jesuit.

What exactly were Irish public representatives required to swear? Well, the wording was as follows … ‘I do solemnly swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established and that I will be faithful to H.M. King George V, his heirs and successors by law …’  If you decided you didn’t want to go to war with your brother over a form of words then, perhaps, you might stretch a point and accept that you were being required to demonstrate mere fidelity to the British monarch rather than to swear allegiance.

In the January debate on the Treaty sixty-four Sinn Fein TDs decided they were prepared to accept that form of words, fifty-seven were not. But, technically, the plenipotentiaries had ensured that future TDs would swear ‘allegiance’ to the Irish Free State and would pledge to be faithful to the British Crown.  It was a nice point, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a Civil War.

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Fake Histories #46     Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ was the first ‘non-fiction novel’ to win the Pulitzer Prize

 

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‘I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.’

That was the chilling testimony of executed murderer Perry Smith, who, along with his accomplice, Richard Hancock, was responsible for the homicide of four people on 15 November, 1959. Although the crime was infamous when it was committed sixty years ago, we would probably have forgotten it by today were it not for that fact that the brutal killing of the Cutler family of Holcomb, Kansas was recorded in the modern classic In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

The basic facts of the case are as simple as they are distressing. Smith and Hancock had just been released from Kansas State Penitentiary. They been tipped off by a fellow inmate that the remote Cutler farm housed a safe which contained large amounts of cash. In the early hours of the morning of 15 November 1959 they broke into the farmhouse, failed to locate the safe—because it didn’t exist—murdered Herb and Bonnie Cutler and their teenage children Nancy and Kenyon. Herb Cutler had his throat cut, as Smith described, the others were shot in the head. Smith and Hancock got away with a total of $50. Fingered by the very Kansas prison inmate who had identified the Cutlers as easy targets, Smith and Hancock were arrested and tried in March 1960. Both pleaded temporary insanity, both were pronounced sane. Their jury took less than an hour to find the two men guilty. After five years on ‘Death Row’ they were hanged in April 1965.

Enter Capote. There is a difference of opinion—one of many when it comes to In Cold Blood—over why, precisely, Truman Capote travelled to Kansas in 1960 to cover the story. He claimed he was prompted by an account of the killings in the New York Times and that he undertook research for the book on his own initiative. Another version suggests he was simply assigned to the story by the New Yorker magazine, where the book was first serialised in four parts in 1965. One thing is certain, Capote did not travel to Kansas alone. He took a young female friend with him, Nelle Lee, figuring she might be able to help when it came to extracting information from the people of Holcomb. As it happened she was working on a book of her own at the time, unconnected to the Clutter family murders.

Capote set about interviewing locals in Holcomb and, when Smith and Hancock were awaiting execution, manged to secure access to both of them as well. He assembled more than eight thousand pages of notes. It took him five years to hammer out what he described as his ‘immaculately factual’ novel, In Cold Blood. The book first appeared in 1966 after the publication the previous year of the four New Yorker articles. It was immediately hailed as a ground-breaking masterpiece. It still ranks as the second highest-selling ‘true crime’ book in history (after Vincent Bugliosi’s account of the Charles Manson murders Helter Skelter). It has never been out of print in five decades.

But, as to its ‘immaculately factual’ pretensions? Not so, according to numerous sources, unless Capote redefined the meaning of the word ‘factual’ just as he pushed out the boundaries of non-fiction writing. His version of events has been challenged frequently, often by some of the central participants, who are included in the novel. There is, for example, evidence to suggest that Capote may have been too quick to take Richard Hancock at his word in an eagerness to highlight the utter senselessness of the killings. Contemporary investigators were of the opinion, but were unable to prove, that Hancock and Smith had been hired to murder Herb Cutler. It was a banal and squalid ‘hit’ rather than an inexplicably brutal slaying. Not so great for psychodrama.

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However, despite the prodigious commercial and artistic success of In Cold Blood it did not earn Capote a Pulitzer Prize in 1966, much to the surprise of the literati and to his own personal chagrin. So, that’s fake history. There was, however, one Pulitzer prize associated with the research trip for the novel. You remember Capote’s friend Nelle Lee? She’s probably better known by her middle name, Harper. While Capote was trying to make sense of his notes she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her first novel. It’s called To Kill a Mockingbird. It hasn’t been out of print for six decades!

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Fake Histories #44  The GAA was founded at a large and well-attended public meeting in Thurles in 1884?

 

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Today is the Gaelic Athletic Association’s birthday. The organisation has reached the grand old age of one hundred and thirty-five, boasts around half a million members worldwide and has probably done more for rural Ireland than electricity. In addition to the obvious sports of football (men’s and women’s), hurling, camogie and handball the organisation also administers a rather less visible pastime … any guesses?

Well done to whoever said ‘rounders’, which, some day, someone will definitively establish is a) Irish in its origins – we certainly set the first official rules  b) the grandparent of modern baseball.

It’s astonishing to think that, at one point, the entire membership of the GAA could fit in the billiard room of a family hotel! You can still see the hotel any time you walk down the main street of Thurles, County Tipperary. The Hayes Hotel is, understandably, very proud of its seminal association with organised Gaelic games. However, it’s hardly likely that, back in 1884 the Hayes family would have had any idea the inconvenience caused to their regular billiard players, when an odd bunch of people hired the room for the night, would be well worth it.

Of course the games themselves long predated the establishment of an organisation to administer them. Hurling, as anyone in Tipperary will tell you proudly, existed in their county, before the first Kilkennyman climbed down from the trees and learned to walk on two legs. In Kilkenny, where they have only recently become aware of the existence of the ancient sport of Gaelic football, they will inform you that ‘the sport played with the larger ball’ (which is how they refer to it) is an unsuccessful adaptation of faction fighting. They will also insist that no one from Tipperary knows what they’re talking about.

Raise the subject with a Kerryman and he’ll tap his nose,  whisper the word ‘Sam’, and smiling enigmatically. The official Cork GAA website reckons the Thurles meeting was really only a scoping exercise and that the real inauguration was in Cork on 27 December! A Meathman will direct you to the GAA’s own website where you will be informed that ‘the earliest records of a recognised precursor to modern Gaelic football date from a game in County Meath in 1670, in which catching and kicking the ball were permitted.’ Eat your hearts out Dubs!

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It was the Clare man, Michael Cusack, himself a huge cricket fan apparently, who decided that our ancient sports (including rounders) needed to have their rules properly codified. It was no accident that they chose 1 November to establish the new Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes—thankfully they dropped the bit after ‘Association’. The date had a mythological significance as the ancient feast of Samhain, positioned half way between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Cusack may also have had a vague notion that the date would mark the beginning of the off-season. I wonder how that one worked out?

Right from its birth the GAA was much more than a mere sporting organisation. It was its close affiliation to extreme nationalist politics that almost caused its undoing. Back in the nineteenth century Irish Republican Brotherhood never managed to find a cultural association it didn’t want to infiltrate. Such was its overt influence within the GAA that the organisation began to haemorrhage members, and almost foundered. But you would have to say that it’s recovered pretty well since then.

Back to the contents of that billiard room on 1 November 1884. It’s a bit like the GPO during Easter week 1916, no one is absolutely sure who exactly was there. Definitely among those present were the seven acknowledged founder members of the GAA. These included Cusack, Maurice Davin—who presided over proceedings—two journalists, John Wyse Power from Waterford and Belfastman John McKay, a local politician J.K.Bracken (ironically, he was the father of Churchill’s ‘bestie’ Brendan Bracken), local solicitor Joseph O’Ryan and, mirabile dictu, a district inspector of the excessively unpopular Royal Irish Constabulary, Thomas St. George McCarthy, clearly included because they desperately needed someone from Kerry. Later, Cusack acknowledged that a Nenagh man, Frank Moloney, also wielded a billiard cue on that fateful night, though he tends to be overlooked. Local newspaper reports also mention six other men, mostly from Thurles, as being among those present.

You might assume that an organisation of the stature of the Gaelic Athletic Association was established at a really well-attended public meeting in Thurles in 1884, which, for the record, started at 3.00 p.m. But no, that’s fake history. The fact is, back then, they all fitted around a billiard table. But look at them now! Happy birthday to the GAA.

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