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A Biography of Michael Cusack

Any history of the GAA must begin with the contribution of Michael Cusack. No man did more to establish the GA.A. than Cusack and in doing so he changed the face of Ireland for good.

While there had been an athletic revival of sorts throughout Ireland in the 1860’s, the meetings and competitions were ‘anglicised’ in nature and dominated by the middle and ascended classes, invariably unionist in outlook; by 1884 Cusack had changed all this and brought indigenous athletics to the working and rural classes.

A teacher by profession, Cusack moved to Dublin in 1874, setting up his own academy in 1877 preparing Irish students taking the Civil Service entrance examinations; by the 1880’s this academy was highly successful and profitable. Sport was central the daily activities of this academy, in 1879 he founded the Cusack’s Academy Football Club. Cusack himself took part in sporting events including rugby, cricket, handball, rowing and weight throwing.

Possibly mirroring the politics of the day Cusack turned more and more towards indigenous pastimes in the early part of the 1880’s; in December 1882 he attended the first meeting of the Dublin Hurling Club, formed ‘for the purpose of taking steps to re-establish the national game of hurling’. Cusack’s weekly games of hurling in the Phoenix Park continued to gather more and more participants and by 1883 he had sufficient numbers to found Cusack’s Academy Hurling Club which, in turn, led to the establishment of the Metropolitan Hurling Club. It was the clash of styles evident in the Metropolitans v Killiomor game, on Easter Monday, 1884, that convinced Cusack that not only did the rules of the games need to be standardised but that a body must be established to govern Irish sports.

Cusack was also a journalist and he used the nationalist press of the day to further his cause of the creation of a body to organise and govern athletics in Ireland. On the 11th of October 1884 an article, written by Cusack, called ‘A word about Irish Athletics’ appeared in the United Ireland and the Irishman. These articles were supported a week later by a letter from Maurice Davin, one of three Tipperary brothers who had dominated athletics for over a decade, who gave his full support to the 11th of October articles. A week later Cusack submitted a signed letter to both papers announcing that a meeting would take place in Hayes’s Commercial Hotel, Thurles on the 1st of November 1884. The ‘Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes’ had arrived.