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The Foundation of the Gaelic Athletic Association

The inaugural meeting of the GAA was not an extravagant event by any means. At 3p.m., on the 1st of November 1884, Michael Cusack opened the meeting in the billiards room of Hayes ‘Commercial and Family Hotel’.

There is considerable confusion and contradiction as to how many people actually attended the first meeting but the adage ‘Seven men in Thurles’ has become the accepted number.

Proceedings were brief. Maurice Davin issued a short statement pointing out the absurdity of Irishmen permitting Englishmen to organise Irish sport, emphasising that this had led to the decline of native pastimes and called for a body to draft rules to aid in their revival and to open athletics to the poor.

Michael Cusack followed with a longer speech censuring the Irish media for ignoring Irish sport.

The election of officers resulted in Maurice Davin being elected as the first President of the Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes; Cusack, John Wyse Power and John McKay were all elected Secretaries.

Archbishop Croke, Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt were asked to become patrons.

With that the meeting ended. No time or date for a further meeting was set. From that meeting grew the Association we know today.

Seven weeks after the meeting Croke accepted the position of Patron; his powerful acceptance letter has come to be known as the ‘de facto charter of the GAA’.

Cusack later wrote that ‘The Association swept the country like a prairie fire’ and this statement is particularly true of the first three years of the Association.

Throughout the country influential nationalists got together and organised athletics meetings or formed football and hurling teams. Within 10 days of the fateful meeting the first GAA Athletics meeting was held near Macroom in Cork.

In January 1885 a hurling match under GAA rules was played in Galway between two local parishes in front of 6,000 spectators and in mid-February a football game under GAA rules was played at Callan between two Kilkenny teams.

The Association continued to grow and caused something of a social revolution in rural Ireland. The athletics meetings drew crowds in comparison with O’Connell’s repeal meetings of the 1840’s and this happened at a time when there was no common radio, no television and when rural travelling conditions were unreliable at best.

While concentrating largely on athletics in these formative years, there is no doubt that football was re-energised and popularised while hurling was saved from almost extinction at the expense of cricket. Nothing highlights the immediate impact of the GAA more than the fact that within three years of its foundation an All-Ireland competition was held in both football and hurling.

However, all was not as well as it seemed. Underlying political differences and tensions within the Association were starting to show.

By 1888 the Association had split along political lines.