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The 1903 Kerry All-Ireland winning football team. 
The 1903 Kerry All-Ireland winning football team. 

WW1 and the GAA - Charlie Duggan

Some notable GAA figures were involved in the First World War between July 28, 1914 and November 11, 1918.

By Richard McElligott

On 17 October 1914 The Kerryman carried an interview, which had been conducted in a London hospital, with a wounded member of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. Sitting in his invalid’s chair, the soldier told of how he and his colleagues had marched to the front to the sound of ‘A Nation Once Again’, of their participation in the Battle of Mons, of his wounding, and of how he had been ‘personally congratulated by the King, Queen and Lord Kitchener’. But the report ended by quoting the soldier: ‘I was,’ he said, ‘hoping to back in Tralee by now so that I could see the football there’.

That this particular soldier had football on his mind would not have surprised the readers of The Kerryman because his name was Charlie Duggan, and Charlie Duggan was – along with Dick Fitzgerald and Austin Stack – a member of the Kerry team through most of the All-Ireland championship of 1903, which concluded with county’s first title.

Duggan was born in Boherbee, Tralee in 1877. Following the formation of the Royal Munster Fusiliers Regiment in 1881, Tralee had become its depot and the town developed a strong tradition of enlistment in the army. Duggan, like many other young men from the town, opted for a career in the military. He joined the regiment and saw active service in the Second Boer War in South Africa between 1889 and 1902. During this period, his athletic prowess saw him selected to play on the regimental soccer team, which won the British Army soccer championship.

Returning to Tralee following the end of that conflict, Duggan joined the local GAA club, Mitchels. Mitchels was the dominant force in Kerry club football in the early twentieth century, and its players back-boned that Kerry team. Duggan made his debut appearance for the county in their narrow 0-4 to 0-3 win over Waterford in the first round of the 1902 Munster final, played in May 1903. He would retain his place for Kerry’s semi-final victory over Cork that August, but they lost the Munster final to Tipperary in a replay.

Duggan remained an important part of the Kerry team and started every game of the 1903 Munster championship, delayed until 1904. It witnessed Kerry defeat Cork by 1-7 to 0-3 to win the Munster Football Final for only the second time in their history. Duggan kept his place for the semi-final win over Mayo and started in the renowned drawn and replayed All-Ireland final games against Kildare, played in July and September 1905. However, he was injured for the third match against Kildare that October, which saw Kerry finally claim that elusive first title.

Settling down to civilian life in his native town, Duggan remained a British Army reservist. With Britain’s declaration of war against Germany in August 1914, its military reserves were immediately called up. Consequently, Duggan, at the age of 37, became one of a large number of men from Tralee who would eventually fight. Quickly deployed with the Munster Fusiliers as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France, Duggan saw action at the Battle of Mons, the first major British engagement of the conflict in late August. He was wounded in the leg by a German bayonet during the general retreat which followed the battle and evacuated to London.

Duggan survived his war time service and returned to Tralee following his demobilisation from the Army in 1919.

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