Fake Histories #35 The All Ireland Football Final has always been played in Croke Park in September?



The three-year GAA trial which sees the All Ireland finals pulled back by three weeks each has its champions and its detractors. They will all get their opportunity soon enough to debate the efficacy of the experiment and, after 2020, we may see things returning to the normality to which we’ve all become accustomed.

But it was not ever thus! Tradition, by definition, takes a while to become established—except on social media when fifteen minutes or so does it nicely—and so it was with the All Ireland schedule.

The Gaelic Athletic Association has been around since 1884 and after a decidedly rocky start in life became a stable fixture in the 1890s and started to move towards national treasure status thereafter. The part it played in the achievement of Irish nationhood is unchallenged, and its subsequent role in entertaining and exasperating the people of Ireland is equally incontestable. If you doubt me, just wander into any public space during an Irish summer and eavesdrop on the conversations. If you don’t hear the Dublin football team being slagged off outside of the Pale then you need your hearing tested.


The first fixture described as the All Ireland Football final was played three years after the formation of the GAA at a meeting in Thurles attended by seven men. Quite an oak has grown from that little acorn. The match was staged on 29 April 1887 in the iconic confines of … Beech Hill in Clonskeagh on the fringes of Donnybrook. It was contested between Commercials of Limerick and Young Irelands of Louth, both winners of their respective county championships. There were forty-two players involved as each had had twenty-one players. Think of the teams and the benches of today all on the pitch at the same time. It must often have resembled the only recently abandoned Donnybrook Fair, whose own ‘robust exchanges’ had caused it to be brought to an end. For the record Commercials won, making Limerick the first-ever All Ireland FOOTBALL champions. Now there’s an interesting and unusual sentence. Though, in fairness to the Treaty County they won it again in 1896. Since then they’ve been a tad better at the old hurling!

Over the next five years of the football championship, it was decided at a variety of Dublin venues, including Phoenix Park in 1893. No one, however, seemed to care that much, with crowds never topping five thousand. Until that is, it returned, in 1895, for the 1894 final—don’t ask, it got a bit out of kilter in 1890—to the home of the GAA, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. There ten thousand people saw Dublin take their third title, beating Cork—well, sort of. The game was a replay after a drawn match in Dublin and it never actually ended. Some of the Dublin players were attacked by Cork supporters and the match was abandoned. The GAA awarded the trophy to Dublin, although, as Cork were leading at the time, inhabitants of the Rebel County still claim that one to this day.

The following year the final moved to a location on a Dublin thoroughfare known as Jones’ Road. You may be familiar with it! However, the so-called City and Suburban Racecourse was not yet exclusive to the GAA. Bohemians soccer club played their home games there in the 1890s, and in 1901 it hosted the Irish Football Association final between Belfast’s Cliftonville (still with us today) and Freebooters F.C. from Sandymount in Dublin, who have sadly migrated to that great changing room in the sky. The football final kept moving around until the ‘venue that would be Croke Park’ became exclusive GAA territory in 1908.

Even after that, there was one celebrated break in a tradition that now goes back over a century. This came in 1947 when the All Ireland final wasn’t even played in Ireland. It moved to the Polo Grounds in New York for the encounter between Cavan and Kerry. Cavan had become the first Ulster team to win the All Ireland in 1933. In a four-point win over Kerry, they became the first Ulster team to win two All Irelands. Nobody outside Kerry had much sympathy for the vanquished Munstermen. They already had sixteen titles to their credit and Bomber Liston wouldn’t even be born for another ten years.

Incidentally, the first September All Ireland final wasn’t played until 1902, and the September date didn’t become fixed until the late 1920s.

So, the notion that the All Ireland football final has always been played in the vicinity of Jones’s Road in September, is way off the mark.



On This Day – Drivetime – 13.3.1856 Birth of P.W.Nally


In September 2003 the redevelopment of Croke Park led to the demolition of the old Nally Stand and the creation of the Nally Terrace, adjacent to Hill 16. While people would be well aware that the stadium’s Hogan stand was called after the best known victim of the Black and Tans’ unwelcome visit to Croke Park in November 1920 on Bloody Sunday, and that the Cusack Stand was named in honour of one of the GAA founders, how many people would know the story behind the man for whom the old Nally Stand was dedicated in 1952?

Patrick W.Nally, as you might expect, was one of the motive forces behind the creation of the GAA in 1884, though for reasons that will become clear, he was not present at the pivotal meeting in Thurles that established the new body. He was, himself, a well-known athlete who began discussions with Michael Cusack in the 1870s about forming an organisation devoted to the promotion of Gaelic Games.

However, his motives were not entirely sporting in nature. Nally was, at the time, a member of the Supreme Council of the revolutionary nationalist organisation the Irish Republican Brotherhood which he had joined in his early twenties. He managed to keep his republican activities – his job was to import firearms into Connaught – secret from the local Mayo RIC by condemning agrarian outrages. This was, somewhat surprisingly, perfectly consistent with IRB policy. So much so that when he applied for a gun licence the local RIC Inspector advised his superiors that it was safe to grant the request, asserting that Nally ‘would lead a useful and loyal life’. Indeed he did, but not quite in the way the senior policeman anticipated.

With the Land War raging in 1880, Nally’s IRB activities came to the attention of spymasters in Dublin Castle and London. To avoid arrest he left the country for two years, returning in 1882. He was arrested on conspiracy to murder charges the following year – this was a favoured Dublin Castle ploy for jailing people it didn’t much approve of. He was implicated by an informer, another common procedure at the time. Nally was convicted, and sentenced to ten years penal servitude.

Half way through his sentence his father, W.R.Nally, sought assistance from an apparently unlikely source, Captain William O’Shea, husband of Katharine and later Parnell’s nemesis. However, O’Shea, though a conservative nationalist and a bona fide charlatan was a political opportunist with a history of murky associations with the IRB. O’Shea’s self-serving efforts to secure Nally’s early release came to nothing.

Nally did not, in the end, actually serve his full term. But that was only because he died, aged 36, in Mountjoy Prison, days before he was due to be released in November 1891. Efforts had been made by Dublin Castle, with a promise of clemency and other rewards, to get him to implicate Charles Stewart Parnell in the organisation and encouragement of agrarian crime at a Special Commission of Inquiry tasked with investigating such allegations. He is said to have responded to these blandishments “not all the gold or honours that the Queen could bestow would induce Patrick Nally to become a traitor.”

The official cause of Nally’s death was typhoid fever – some, however, suspected foul play. A Dublin coroner’s jury held that his ‘naturally strong constitution’ had been broken by ‘the harsh and cruel treatment to which he was subjected … for refusing to give evidence … at the Special Commission.’

He was pre-deceased by four weeks by the man he had refused to betray to secure his release. At his funeral the same green flag was draped over Nally’s coffin as had enveloped that of Parnell himself a month before.

Patrick W.Nally, revolutionary nationalist and sportsman, was born 159 years ago, on this day.