Gaelic Football - History

History

Gaelic football was first codified in 1887, although it has links to older varieties of football played in Ireland and known collectively as caid. Consequently, the name caid is used by some people to refer to present day Gaelic football.

The first record of any form of football being played in Ireland comes from 1308, when John McCrocan, a spectator at a football game at Newcastle, County Dublin was charged with accidentally stabbing a player named William Bernard.

The Statute of Galway of 1527 allowed the playing of "foot balle" and archery but banned "'hokie' — the hurling of a little ball with sticks or staves" as well as other sports.

By the 17th century, the situation had changed considerably. The games had grown in popularity and were widely played. This was due to the patronage of the gentry. Now instead of opposing the games it was the gentry and the ruling class who were serving as patrons of the games. Games were organised between landlords with each team comprising 20 or more tenants. Wagers were commonplace with purses of up to 100 guineas (Prior, 1997).

The earliest record of a recognised precursor to the modern game date from a match in County Meath in 1670, in which catching and kicking the ball was permitted.

However even "foot-ball" was banned by the severe Sunday Observance Act of 1695, which imposed a fine of one shilling (a substantial amount at the time) for those caught playing sports. It proved difficult, if not impossible, for the authorities to enforce the Act and the earliest recorded inter-county match in Ireland was one between Louth and Meath, at Slane, in 1712.

A six-a-side version was played in Dublin in the early 18th century, and 100 years later there were accounts of games played between County sides (Prior, 1997).

By the early 19th century, various football games, referred to collectively as caid, were popular in Kerry, especially the Dingle Peninsula. Father W. Ferris described two forms of caid: the "field game" in which the object was to put the ball through arch-like goals, formed from the boughs of two trees, and; the epic "cross-country game" which lasted the whole of a Sunday (after mass) and was won by taking the ball across a parish boundary. "Wrestling", "holding" opposing players, and carrying the ball were all allowed.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Rugby football started to become popular in Ireland. Trinity College, Dublin was an early stronghold of Rugby, and the rules of the (English) Football Association were codified in 1863 and distributed widely. By this time, according to Gaelic football historian Jack Mahon, even in the Irish countryside, caid had begun to give way to a "rough-and-tumble game" which even allowed tripping. Association football started to take hold, especially in Ulster, in the 1880s.

Limerick was the stronghold of the native game around this time, and the Commercials Club, founded by employees of Cannock’s Drappery Store, was one of the first to impose a set of rules which was adapted by other clubs in the city. Of all the Irish pastimes the GAA set out to preserve and promote, it is fair to say that Gaelic football was in the worst shape at the time of the association’s foundation (GAA Museum, 2001).

Irish forms of football were not formally arranged into an organised playing code by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) until 1887. The GAA sought to promote traditional Irish sports, such as hurling and to reject "foreign" (particularly English) imports. The first Gaelic football rules, showing the influence of hurling and a desire to differentiate from association football — for example in their lack of an offside rule — were drawn up by Maurice Davin and published in the United Ireland magazine on February 7, 1887. The rules of the aforementioned Commercials Club became the basis for these official (Gaelic Football) rules who, unsurprisingly, won the inaugural All-Ireland Senior Football Final (representing County Limerick)

On Bloody Sunday in 1920, during the Anglo-Irish War, a football match at Croke Park was attacked by British forces. 14 people were killed and 65 were injured. Among the dead was Tipperary footballer Michael Hogan, for whom the Hogan Stand at Croke Park (completed in 1924) was named.

Ladies' Gaelic football has become increasingly popular with women since the 1970s.

The relationship between Gaelic football and Australian rules football and the question of whether they have shared origins is a matter of historical controversy. Games are held between an Irish representative team and an Australian team, under compromise rules known as international rules football.

The current President of the GAA is Liam O' Neill of County Laois.

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