The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is Ireland’s largest sporting organisation. It is celebrated as one of the great amateur sporting associations in the world.
It is part of the Irish consciousness and plays an influential role in Irish society that extends far beyond the basic aim of promoting Gaelic games.
It was founded on November 1 1884 at a meeting in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, by a group of spirited Irishmen who had the foresight to realise the importance of establishing a national organisation to make athletics more accessible to the masses and to revive and nurture traditional,indigenous sports and pastimes. At that time, it was largely only the gentry and aristocracy who were allowed to meaningfully participate in athletics.
Until then all that was Irish was being steadily eroded by emigration, intense poverty and outside influences.Within six months of that famous first meeting, GAA clubs began to spring up all over Ireland and people began to play the games of Hurling and Gaelic Football and take part in Athletic events with pride.
The Association today promotes Gaelic games such as Hurling, Football, Handball and Rounders and works with sister organisations to promote Ladies Football and Camogie. The Association also promotes Irish music, song and dance and the Irish language as an integral part of its objectives. The GAA has remained an amateur Association since its founding. Players, even at the highest level, do not receive payment for playing and the volunteer ethos remains one of the most important aspects of the GAA.
The organisation is based on the traditional parishes and counties of Ireland.As a community-based organisation, it is often stated that it is difficult to determine where the community end sand the GAA club starts as they generally overlap and are intertwined. The GAA has over 2,200 clubs in all 32 counties of Ireland.
Every summer the inter-county All-Ireland Championships in hurling and football capture the attention of the Irish public, and regional towns heave with the arrival of large numbers of supporters and the colour, noise and excitement that they bring. In the region of 1.5 million people attend the GAA Championships from May to September.
However, by far the two biggest days in the GAA calendar are the All-Ireland finals in hurling and football. A sell out attendance of 82,300 is guaranteed in Croke Park and the quest for tickets is intense as Ireland’s top counties do battle for the right to be All-Ireland champions.The finals are broadcast around the world.The GAA has developed abroad amongst the Irish Diaspora.The Irish who emigrated brought their national games with them and both regional and club units are now well established in the United States of America, Australia,Britain, Canada, China, mainland Europe and many other parts of the world.
400 clubs promote the activities of the GAA around the world.As with all aspects of Irish society, the GAA has undergone many changes in the past 40 years. Among the first major changes to take place was the removal of ‘the Ban’ in 1971,which had prevented members of the Association from playing or attending a number of other sports such as soccer and rugby.
In more recent times changes have been made to the rule which prevented members of the Security Forces in the north of Ireland from becoming members of the Association, and the rule which limited the playing of games at Croke Park and all other Association venues to only those controlled by the Association. At the 2005 Annual Congress a vote was passed to allow international rugby and soccer matches be staged at Croke Park for the first time for the duration of the redevelopment of their traditional venue at Lansdowne Road.
Both amendments were viewed as contributing positively to the emergence of post-’Troubles’ modern Ireland.
Huge changes have also taken place in the structure of the GAA’s inter-county Championships. For 110 years, the All-Ireland Championships had been run on a purely knockout basis. In 1997 a new system meant that for the first time a team who had suffered a defeat could still win the All-Ireland hurling title, as losing provincial finalists were re-entered in the competition.
In 2001, the Football Championships adopted a similar approach. The result was the most exciting Championship in years and a dramatic increase in the number of quality games at national level for GAA fans.
With a marked increase in attendances and the need to market the games more fervently, the GAA invested heavily in the development of its grounds. Indeed it has been estimated that the GAA has invested (in current purchasing power) the equivalent of €2.6 billion in its nationwide infrastructure at national and local level in the past 50 years. The result is that the vast majority of GAA clubs, even in the most rural areas of Ireland, have developed and enjoy ownership of their own grounds and associated facilities.
However, it is the Association’s Headquarters at Croke Park which has been the subject of the most dramatic redevelopment. The stadium has been thoroughly modernised in a rebuilding project that took place between 1993 and 2005 and the stadium’s capacity was increased from 64,000 to 82,300 and is now considered to be among the most modern stadiums in Europe. It stands today as a monument to the selfless work and dedication of the GAA’s enormous legion of volunteers.
Further change for the Association has followed the publication of the Association’s Strategic Vision and Action Plan 2009-2015. It charts a path for the Association across the wide spectrum of its activities and many of the goals set out have already been realised. Many of Ireland’s most prominent personalities over the years have been well known for their exploits on the GAA fields.
Former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Jack Lynch wona record six All-Ireland medals-in-a-row, five in hurling(1941-44 and 1946) and in 1945 in football with his native Cork. John Wilson, a former Tánaiste (Deputy PrimeMinister) won an All-Ireland football medal with Cavan at the Polo Grounds, New York in the only All-Ireland final played outside Ireland.Several current members of Parliament also played the games at the highest level and Minister of State for the Diaspora, Jimmy Deenihan T.D., won five All-Ireland football medals, and captained the Kerry team in 1981. The father of An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Henry Kenny, won an All-Ireland football medal with Mayo in 1950.