The GAA Commissioned by the GAA to celebrate its 125th anniversary, this is the story of how it carved a unique place at the heart of Irish life. Lavishly illustrated with photographs and historical documents, this is a book with absorbing insights into a world both uniquely Irish and global. Full description...
|Title||:||The GAA: A People's History|
|Number of Pages||:||429 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
|Last checked||:||21 Minutes ago!|
The GAA: A People's History Reviews
Note: I am a PhD Student at Northeastern University in Boston, and wrote this reaction for an independent study on sports histories.Cronin, Duncan, and Rouse’s The GAA: A People’s History is a dynamic history of the Gaelic Athletic Association, a unique sports organization compared to most worldwide, both historically and current-day. The book itself is somewhat aimed at the Irish fan of their national games, Hurling and Gaelic Football, and therefore it reads as a celebration of the GAA, which, at the time of the publication of the book, it indeed, was celebrating its 125th anniversary. That said, the book does avoid being totally heavy handed in glorifying the GAA, and each of the authors are noted Irish scholars. Mike Cronin is the academic director at Boston College Ireland in Dublin. Mark Duncan is also a professor of Irish History at Boston College Dublin, and former director of the GAA Oral History Project, of which the book is derived. Paul Rouse is a professor of Irish history and sports history at University College Dublin. While its glossy pages remind one of celebratory books put out by leagues to celebrate themselves, and the manuscript does a fair amount of celebrating and romanticizing of the GAA, if one looks between the lines, there is critiques of the GAA. The GAA, above else, is a fairly unique organization, in that it was founded as part of a general Irish cultural renaissance in the late 19th century to differentiate itself from Britishness. As opposed to sports throughout much of the rest of the British Empire, where the colonized sought to defeat the British at their own games, Irish nationalists sought to build their own Irish sports institutions. In addition to Irish literature, Irish language promotion, economic battles in the form of rent strikes and boycotts, parliamentary efforts to fight for Home Rule, and of course, the Irish Republican Brotherhood clandestine organization that struggled for independence, the GAA is, as Duncan et al. point out, is the only surviving organization of these that has real lasting influence in Ireland (381). Early on, it sought to codify Irish folk games like hurling or create the game of Gaelic football, in addition to pushing out “foreign games” (in other words, British games) like cricket, soccer, rugby, as a way to help form Irish identity. As cricket and rugby had a few decades earlier, and as soccer was in the process of formalizing, the GAA was founded in 1884 amidst the growth of nationalism in Ireland. The GAA early on forbid its members from playing or attending “foreign games”, a ban which continued until the 1970s, and still exists in the form of banning non-GAA sports from its facilities (though even that is beginning to fall by the wayside.) The book’s strengths are identifying the political undertones of the GAA without specifically embracing them. Though the GAA has always stated it is a non-sectarian organization, Cronin et al. noted that it was always a heavily Catholic organization with a large amount of Catholic symbology, as well as being organized historically around parish boundaries. Early on, the organization was heavily infiltrated by the IRB, which pushed it even further from the grey area of so-called nonsectarian sports to outright political action, and banned members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, which were the paramilitary colonial police force of Ireland, as well as any members of British military. Thus, the GAA from early on positioned itself as a separatist organization in every aspect, as building a Muscular Celticism, as opposed to the Victorian Muscular Christianity. The GAA became so wide spread that it helped push the independence movement into the mainstream of Irish politics. Its clubs would name themselves after Irish historical heroes, such as Wolfe Tone, or clearly nationalist names like the football team the Young Irelands of Dublin. The hurling or Gaelic football playing became so common that it became an uncontrollable subversive activity in itself. For instance, Cronin et al. noted that the Easter Rebellion participants were armed by a raid on a British armory which surprised the soldiers by pretending to play a game of Gaelic football. Furthermore, during the war of independence, it was a massacre of a Gaelic football match at the famous Croke stadium by British forces which turned a field of sport into a sacred blood soaked ground with martyrs of imperial repression (154). In the post Civil War period, the GAA helped reunite the Republic, which had been torn apart by the Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty factions, though Cronin et al. pointed out that this should not be overemphasized. Furthermore, in the North, being a member of the GAA was, and is, seen as embracing Republicanism, which is underscored by how few Protestants are in the GAA. The GAA was often used during the Troubles, for instance, to raise money for political prisoners, and provincial GAA fields are named after Republicans. Unionists are absent, presumably playing rugby and soccer.One of the book’s weaknesses is that is does seem geared towards people familiar with the GAA already, which excludes most people outside of Ireland and possibly the Irish diaspora. It was not totally clear to me how the GAA was structured by the end of the book, beyond that it was community driven and supported by local volunteers. It took some checking with colleagues in the department familiar with the GAA, Simon Purdue and Bridget Keown, that I confirmed that very few people are paid in the GAA, mostly top ranking administrators, and it is a mostly mass participation affair. That said, unlike most other highly amateur leagues outside of college leagues, it is a cross-class mass project, as opposed to simply a sport of the middle class as other leagues who embrace amateurism, especially in rural areas. The GAA has a sort of socialist feel, in that the line between fans, athletes, and people running the events is blurred. No one is paid, and in many towns, Cronin et al. argued that the center of town life is both in the dressing rooms and the stands of GAA stadiums. Since no one is being paid, from the ushers to the athletes, all the money raised goes back into the stadium, which makes it feel more like a community event. Consulting Keown & Purdue confirmed that this actually exists and not just an overromanticized projection of the Cronin et al, particularly in rural towns, making the GAA field as much a center of Irish town life as the pub or parish. Membership dues, according to Keown & Purdue, are low, and range depending on the individual club, with urban club membership dues being higher than rural clubs. Still, it makes me curious to one day travel to Ireland to confirm it, because an amateur sports organization with a mass following across class lines seems to be unique, with the closest comparison being that of US college sports, but even then, the comparison breaks down pretty quickly everyone else working a college facility are paid at football or basketball events, while other collegiate sports are barely followed. The GAA, on the other hand, seems to be a more central aspect of Irish national identity, particularly in town life.The book has some limitations, however. While organized thematically, Cronin et al. details aspects like history, politics, and centrality of religion, games, and media in much more detail, and other aspects seem more limited. The GAA seems to mostly exclude Protestants unofficially, especially with its historical ban on people who played or attended British games. Though that ban has disappeared, and most likely helped cement hurling and Gaelic football as the games of Irish national identity, I am curious how the GAA treated people who had attended Celtic FC games in Glasgow, which is generally accepted as the international team of Irish Republicanism. Furthermore, while the book has a few pages of the rise of women’s sports, I would have liked further discussion on the role of women in the GAA. Do they participate in men’s games as volunteers? What is the breakdown in membership by gender, or is mostly a men’s organization? How did the construction of the GAA help build Irish masculinity in the wake of the so-called feminization of Ireland as a victim of the Potato Famine in the eyes of the British Empire? Cronin et al. write about the relationship of the GAA with Australian Rules Football (AFL), a game which developed independently in Australia separately as a mostly apolitical project. Which brings the question, why did the GAA never develop ties with American football? Perhaps because of the sense of elitism in early 20th century American football (it was mostly a college game, the domain of upper middle class to elite men) and later the NFL, and further American exceptionalism tied to the American identity which limited GAA activity to Irish diaspora and nationalist communities in East Coast cities, and even there, in limited capacities. Despite these limitations, and despite a tendency to overromanticize an organization that the authors are infatuated with (a problem of all sports historians, since we clearly are fans of our subject matter), they manage to keep their voice neutral enough to write about some of the sectarian, international, and financial limitations of the GAA. Overall, the book is a fascinating look at an anti-colonial sports project that has grown into a hugely influential institution in Ireland, and unique to Ireland.