Hurley from Cork’s First All-Ireland – Aghabullogue 1890
Many of the radical generation that led the struggle for Irish independence cut their teeth in the Gaelic League, the organisation set up in 1893 by Douglas Hyde and Eoin MacNeill to revive the Irish language and culture; many of its most active members who were also members of the secretive IRB (who had infiltrated the organisation) would go on to be key organisers and participants in the Easter Rising.
Less than a decade earlier another cultural revival movement, The Gaelic Athletic Association also attracted the attention of the IRB to its ranks, however to a lesser extent than they would achieve later with the Gaelic League. Nonetheless the GAA membership would go on to be closely involved in the struggle for Irish Independence; later on in the War of Independence many of the local commanders of the Irish Volunteers (like the GAA organised parochially) would be selected by the men on the basis of their standing in the local GAA club.
The Gaelic Athletic Association was founded in Hayes Hotel in Thurles, County Tipperary on November 1, 1884, with the aim of the “Cultivation and Preservation of National Pastimes”; a major part of this cultivation would be the establishment of a national competition that involved the Gaelic games of Gaelic football and hurling. By January 1885, the new organisation set about standardising the playing of the ancient game of hurling when new rules were drawn up and these were soon published in local newspapers throughout the country. In 1886 county boards were created to run the affairs of the various counties that participated in the competition.
By 1887 the first All-Ireland Hurling Championship took place with five teams participating. The first winner was Tipperary who was represented by Thurles Sarsfields, as winners of the 1887 Tipperary Hurling Championship. Cork was not represented in the 1887 competition due to a dispute over which club side would represent the County!
However by 1890, in only their second appearance in the competition, Cork, represented by Aghabullogue, as Cork Senior Hurling Championship winners, won their first All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship; Aghabullogue would also win the Munster Senior Hurling Championship in that year.
Incidentally Cork, represented by Midleton, also won the 1890 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship; although the game was not actually played for logistical reasons until 1892. Cork thus were the first winners of the Double (Hurling and Football titles) a feat The Rebels would famously repeat exactly 100 years later in 1990.
The hurling final itself against Wexford, represented by Castlebridge, was played at Clonturk Park in Dublin’s Northside. Both sides played in their bare feet, even though the game was played in mid-November! Cork were by most accounts the more superior hurlers on the day and when Wexford adopted less-than-sportsmanlike tactics in the second half, the Cork captain, Dan Lane, withdrew his team from the field with the referee’s permission; the referee awarding the unfinished game to the Cork side who had suffered so many injuries. The score of the unfinished game was Cork 1-6, Wexford 2-2 (which meant that by the scoring system at the time Wexford were leading) however the match was subsequently awarded to Cork given the ‘excessively rough play’ on the part of the Wexfordmen.
When the victorious Aghabullogue team arrived at the Cork train terminus on that Sunday evening the only giveaway that they were in a hurling game rather than a skirmish, such were the amount of bandaged heads and hands, was the ash sticks carried by each man. One of these hurley sticks is the one on permanent display in The Independence Museum Kilmurry.
This hurley stick would make another trip to Dublin 94 years later for the Centenary celebrations for the founding of The GAA in 1984; even featuring on a Late Late Show Special on the founding of the organisation transmitted on 22nd of September 1984.