Gaelic Sunday August 1918

July 23rd, 2018

August 4, 1918 will be remembered as one of the most remarkable and significant days in the history of the GAA.

Known as Gaelic Sunday – it was a day when the clubs of the GAA stood against the British Empire and triumphed in a peaceful protest.

In 1918 the British authorities in Ireland were attempting to impose conscription to supplement the war effort but there was massive opposition to this. The GAA was blamed by British authorities in part for this opposition and hit back by preventing matches from taking place, stopping the provision of special trains to carry supporters to matches and insisting that a written permit was required granting permission for any GAA match to take place.

In response, the GAA declared a national day of defiance and called on GAA clubs all over Ireland to refuse to seek a permit and instead organise club activity for 3 pm on Sunday, August 4. The result was that an estimated 54,000 took part with more than 100,000 watching and such was the success of the initiative that the attempt to impose a requirement for a license to play Gaelic games was scrapped.

Gaelic Sunday was not just an act of defiance but also an expression of the pride of GAA members in their clubs, their games, their players and their communities. Although much in life has changed in Ireland over the last 100 years – that pride is very much still in place, and still worth celebrating. Gaelic Sunday was in effect the first-ever Lá na gClub.

2018 marks the centenary of that courageous act and GAA clubs all over Ireland are encouraged to show a similar level of pride in their club, their games and the area they represent.

Across the weekend of August 4&5, clubs are invited to hold their own club events as part of these commemorations. It could be an internal club tournament, family day or club history exhibit. What matters is that 100 years on we still have games and GAA clubs we are proud of.

Clubs who want to advise Croke Park of their Gaelic Sunday activities can do so via

Here in Roscommon Gaelic Sunday was observed and several games were played around the County. The Strokestown Democrat carried a report of a County Board Meeting held the week prior to Gaelic Sunday and gave a list of the various fixtures that were made.

“At a convention of GAA clubs held in Elphin on Sunday last Mr D O'Ruairc  prosiding the following fixtures are made for GAA Day 4th August in Co Roscommon.  Arigna v Cootehall and Boyle v Crossna at Cootehall. Drumlion v Hillstreet and Northyard v Rooskey at Kilmore. Tarmonbary v Curraghroe at Tarmonbarry, Strokestown v Tulsk at Tulsk. Roscommon v Donamon at Fuerty, Elphin v Croghan at Elphin, Kilmore v Castlerea at Castleplunket. Clonown v Bealinamullia at Athlone.  Gaels are requested to see that in each of these venues the field is properly laid out.  As Kilmore is travelling to Castleplunket the local Gaels will kindly take charge of arrangements”. (sic.)

 The Strokestown Democrat reported the following week about Gaelic Sunday as follows

“Football matches were played all over the County on Sunday last and as far as we can learn the police did not interfere with the players or spectators in anyway. Curraghroe and Tarmon teams played a good lively game in Strokestown in the presence of a large crowd of spectators. Curraghroe was the victors at the finish by 1goal, 3 points to 1pt. A “scrap” team representing Strokestown travelled to Elphin to meet Tulsk in a Friendly” (sic.)

In their National News section, the Strokestown Democrat also reported the following. “Around 1500 Gaelic Games Football, hurling and camog matches were arranged for in every part of Ireland on Sunday last (Gaelic Sunday) as a protest agaidst the recent restrictions plased on Irish pastimes, and as far as has been been ascertained there was no police interference. There were large gatherings of spectators everywhere. (sic.)

We were told by the Roscommon Messenger of the 27th of July 1918 that “At a special meeting of the central council of the GAA held on Saturday last it was unanimously decided that under no circumstances will permits be asked for for holding a sports or football and hurling matches. It was further decided to hold a Gaelic Sunday throughout Ireland particulars to be announced later. (sic.)

They further told us on the same page that “A number of football matches down for decision on Sunday last were proclaimed, the grounds being entered and taken possession of by the military and police.” This was happening quite regularly and in fact the Leitrim Observer reports about such an event occurring in Kilmore in their edition of 27th of July 1918. Under the headline Gaa Football Match at Kilmore Stopped.

 At Kilmore Co. Roscommon on Sunday last a match in the senior football championship between North Yard (Strokestown) and Hillstreet was arranged to be played by the county board. Both teams turned up and were followed by a police escort. All arrangements were made by the local team to have the playing pitch laid out and sometime after their arrival the teams took the field. The police took all the names of the players, of the referee, and those locally identified with the football movement.  Sergt. Rabbitt Kilmore then informed the parties they could not play but if they so decided they would bear the consequences which would follow.  He also pointed out that when warned and advised in another instance the Kilmore people took no notice and that they knew afterwards to their grief that they were not right.  This was taken to refer to the occasion of a recent baton charge when many people were injured arising  out of a local land dispute and when subsequent proceedings ended in a batch of young men being sent to jail.  After consultation and following the advice of the respected Curate of the parish Reverend Fr. Carney CC, the teams did not play the match and dispersed quietly.  Our correspondent adds that if the match had been proceeded with the police would have requisitioned the assistance of the military who are stationed in an adjoining District”. (sic)

Under the headline “No Football For Little Boys” the Roscommon Herald shares a piece on its front page about an incident in Dublin that week. It reads “this week's Dublin leader says there was another great vindication of democracy and the cause of small nationalities in the Phoenix Park on Sunday.  The teams of the OToole  and Sarsfields were playing a game of football in connection with the schools League. Near the end of the game police appeared and called on the players to cease play; the game, however, was played to a finish.  At the conclusion of the match a covered motor waggon containing a number of police arrived and succeeded in arresting nine of the miscreants who, no doubt, were also poisonous insects – we hope the police did not get any bites. The insects were conveyed to the Bridewell in the covered motor waggon were their names were taken and from whence they were let out after five hours detention.  In the annals of British history there have been few such brilliant victories, England the champion of small nationalities is covering herself with glory in her great offensive on the Irish.”  (sic.)

Some of the games played Gaelic Sunday were not well received by UNO the football correspondent in the Roscommon Herald the piece under the headline “Matches at Crossna County Roscommon”

(By UNO)

 Gaelic Sunday at Crossna was not what I expected.  It was disappointing in many ways. There was a very small attendance at the matches and even those who are present did not seem to appreciate the game very much. I was much disappointed, for I thought the youngsters were more enthusiastic in historic Crossna.  But the matches were arranged for Cootehall and perhaps that had something to do with the small attendance.  Boyle and Crossna were  the first two teams to make their appearance. The game was fairly evenly contested to the end; it was just every other score for the final whistle I noticed the Boyle team had several youngsters included in their team selection, some of whom were very active with the ball but we did not expect boys of 14 or 15 to "rough" it in the same manner as men of ripper age.  However the locals depended on long-range shots while the visitors short very low and accurately. P.J. Conlon, O’Brien, Moran and Doyle were seen to advantage for Crossna. On the Boyle side, Doughy, Trimble, Derby, Corr, Brennan and O’Toole were the most conspicuous. The score was Crossna 2 goals 3 points; Boyle 2 goals, 2 points. Mr J Bambrick, Cootehall, was in charge of the whistle.

The game between Cootehall and Arigna was very lively at times and some of the players were inclined to be rough but Doughy, the referee, as usual ,was equal to the occasion, as he kept them in their places and got them to play the game as it should be played.  The Arigna boys are much improved since I saw them play Crossna in Boyle.  They have a fairly good knowledge of the game now and will shortly be able to hold their own with any team in the county.Gannon, Gilhooley, McGovern, Cullen and Brady were prominent on the Arigna side. The Cootehall backs  were the best men in the field and their full back saved the situation on many occasions. Young Cox got a nasty knock in the last half hour and had to be assisted off the field. The full time score stood Cootehall 1 goal, 2points; Arigna, 3 points.

While these reports of the games are good there is a bit of negativity to be found in the Roscommon Herald where our correspondent in another piece says his bit about the Boyle players who did not turn up as they were watching a handball match.

Titled Gaelic Sunday he tells us

 “Sunday last 4th August was recognised as Gaelic Sunday throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. One thousand five hundred  football and hurling matches were to be played and 45000 sterling Irish games were to participate in the competitions.   The Roscommon county board we're up and doing and arranging several matches throughout the county and all were played I understand under favourable circumstances. But there is one meeting to which I would like to draw the attention of Gaels and that meeting was at Crossna.  The bull team was drawn against the local team and the townsmen put in an appearance minus five or six of their players for what reason I, or anybody else, cannot understand.  The Boyle players were notified by the secretary in the usual way and every one of them could have travelled with the team if they were at all anxious to go.  One member of the club was engaged playing a game of handball in the town. Of course, that was only one man off, but the others had no excuse to offer.  I might state that some of these young men claim to be "brilliant" Irishman "great" Sinn Feiners and "notable" Gaels but their action on Sunday is a fair indication of their "undoubted" patriotism and their great love of Ireland's National games and pastimes. It is painful to me to have to write in such manner about young Irish men of today but their action on Sunday last compels me to do so.  There was no reason why four or five young men should stand up looking at a handball match aimply because there was a few shillings of a side stake and some betting by portion of the spectators while the other members of the football club were acting the part of Irishman and playing the Gaelic Sunday game out at Crossna.  It strikes me some of these young men are suffering from swelled heads; perhaps they were under the impression that they could not be done without.  Well I may state they were entirely wrong.  The greatest man in every sphere of life can easily be done without.  I am sure if the county board new of such things happening with the clubs in the county they might take strong action in the matter. Faire go deo.” (sic)

There is no doubt that this day was a success. The Roscommon Herald of August 10th was certain about it. In a small piece on page 5 of that edition under the heading “GAA Day” we’re told “Daily papers show that “GAA Day” was what it was intended to be – An Eye Opener. I always believed the GAA was the greatest force in the land. Recent events prove this view correct.” (sic.)

From a practical point of view one of the major gains achieved by Gaelic Sunday was that in the immediate aftermath there was no more harassment and obstruction by police. A near contemporary account of that day was provided by Tommy Moore of the Dublin club, Faughs, when he wrote:

‘From Jones’s Road to the craggy hillsides of the Kingdom the day was fought and won in fields no bigger than backyards, in stony pastures and on rolling plains … wherever posts could be struck and spaces cleared, the descendants of Fionn and the Fianna routed the seal of servitude. In one never to be forgotten tournament we crossed our hurleys with the lion’s claw and emerged victorious’

This piece was written by Hugh Lynn Roscommon GAA Co PRO ahead of Gaelic Sunday. A special thanks to Ballaghaderreen branch of Roscommon Co Library for access to newspapers and also to for other information. 

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