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Countdown to Gaelic Sunday commemorations

(l to r) Michael Collins, Luke O'Toole, and Harry Boland pictured at Croke Park. O'Toole was General Secretary of the GAA from 1901 to 1929 and central to the success of 'Gaelic Sunday'. 

(l to r) Michael Collins, Luke O'Toole, and Harry Boland pictured at Croke Park. O'Toole was General Secretary of the GAA from 1901 to 1929 and central to the success of 'Gaelic Sunday'. 

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 trying to impose conscription to supplement the war effort but there was massive opposition to this. British authorities blamed the GAA 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 3pm 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.

This year marks the centenary of that courageous act and we want GAA Clubs all over Ireland to show a similar level of pride in their club, their games and the area they represent.

Across the weekend of August 4&5 we want clubs 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.

As we count down to the Gaelic Sunday commemorations, we’ll relive the momentous day with reminiscences and excerpts from newspapers of the time describing the activities of the day, starting with the below account from the Freeman’s Journal.

Freeman’s Journal, August 5 1918

Gaelic Sunday, organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association was observed throughout the country yesterday with great success.

Every football and hurling team in the country took part in a match, and in all some 54,000 players were engaged.

As a result of the withdrawal of the prohibition against Gaelic Games enforced for the past couple of weeks by police and military, there was no interference with the matches, which were carried out with perfect order in the presence of large numbers of spectators.

Every town and district had its own venue, and all the matches started simultaneously at three o’clock (old time).

The progress of the play was everywhere followed with enthusiasm, and the occasion provided a unique display of the popularity of the Gaelic games.

The proceedings of the day, the good order among the crowds, the perfection of organisation, and the magnificent response made by every team and club throughout the country, constituted at once a vindication of the Gaelic Athletic Association and its objects, and a demonstration of the popular hold which the Gaelic games have on the interests and sympathies of the Irish people.

In Dublin city and county matches were played at Croke Park, Phoenix Park, Ringsend, Clondalkin, Sandymount, Baldoyle, Fox and Geese, Crumlin, Balheary, St Margarets, Clonsilla, Blackrock, Cornelscourt, Terenure, Church road, and Bray. At these venues seventy-two football matches and two hurling matches were played.

Large crowds witness the play at all the centres. No police were present, and there was no interference with the matches.

Some forty matches were arranged under the auspices of Cork County Board for the City and County, but rain fell so heavily during the afternoon and evening that in Cork City and district the matches had to be abandoned.

A fife and drum band which played through the streets of Dublin yesterday when returning from a football match was stopped by the police in Townsend street. A crowd of about three or four hundred persons followed the band, which was proceeding to its rooms on Sir John Rogerson’s quay.

The band-members having been halted for some time resumed their march, no disturbances having taken place.