The Removal of Douglas Hyde as Patron of the Association, 1938
Until 1971 the GAA had a ban on its members playing or attending so-called “foreign games”, including soccer, rugby and hockey. This was commonly known as ‘the exclusion rule’ or simply ‘The Ban’. It was enforced by ‘Vigilance Committees’ made up of men who would attend ‘excluded games’ and report on GAA members who were either playing or watching these games. Those found at such games would be liable to a lengthy suspension.
This ban was a key feature in the early years of the GAA but in 1897 the decision was taken to suspend it. With the IRB gaining more and more influence the ban was re-introduced in 1901, throughout its existence the ban caused divisions within the Association.
At the 1911 Annual Convention the London County Board was refused permission to repeal the ban locally (i.e. the ban would no longer apply in London). Liam MacCarthy, Chairman of the London Board, refused to attend this meeting as he did not want to be associated with any call for a relaxation or repeal of the ban.
In 1912 permission was given to four clubs in London to form a new County Board as the existing one consisted of members who ‘had been playing foreign games’.
In 1913 the Governing Body of the GAA (the Central Council) decided not to invite the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Dublin to the All-Ireland Football Final as he had recently accepted the Honorary Presidency of soccer’s Leinster Football Association.
However the biggest controversy came in 1938 when the GAA removed Douglas Hyde, President of Ireland, as a Patron of the Association for attending an international soccer match in Dalymount Park, Dublin.
Douglas Hyde rose to prominence as a distinguished Gaelic scholar and founding member of the Gaelic League. It was these Gaelic qualities that convinced the GAA to invite him to become Patron of the Association.
When the new Irish constitution came into operation in 1938 the political parties took the unusual gesture of unanimously agreeing not to oppose Hyde’s nomination as President of the State. Late in 1938 Hyde, as President of Ireland, attended an international soccer match (between Ireland and Poland) in Dalymount Park, Dublin.
At a regular Central Council meeting, held in December 1938, Padraig McNamee, President of the G.A.A., ruled that a patron of the Association ceased to be a patron if his duties ‘bring him into conflict with the fundamental rules of the Association’ In making the ruling McNamee stated that it brought him no pleasure but he saw no other course.
While the removal of Hyde did cause some discontent at grassroots level, it caused uproar within the media. The Irish Times was particularly scathing. In its issue of December 19th 1938, the newspaper commented on the ban itself saying that ‘the notion that the game by which a round ball is kicked only, and not punched as well as kicked, is detrimental to the national culture, is of course, the most utterly childish form of humbug’ adding that ‘the loss will be to GAA…Their little victory over President Hyde will be Pyrrhic, because the head of the State will continue to be the representative of all the people, and not of any clique, however large it may be’
In the face of this criticism, however, delegates at the GAA’s 1939 Annual Congress voted overwhelmingly against the motion to re-instate Hyde by 120 votes to 11, with 5 members abstaining. At this Congress the Presidential Address focussed not on the merits of the ban itself but rather the right of the GAA to have a ban if it so chooses.
In 1945 Sean T.O’Kelly succeeded Douglas Hyde as the President of Ireland. O’Kelly was the Fianna Fail nomination and Taoiseach Eamon DeValera moved quickly to bring an end to the embarrassing stand-off between the GAA and the Government. A series of meetings were arranged between DeValera and Padraig Ó Caoimh, General Secretary of the GAA, with the aim of restoring an amicable relationship between the GAA and the President.
Records held by the GAA Museum offer an insight into the differing views of the Government and the GAA on the matter. Minutes of these meetings between Ó Caoimh and DeValera highlight that DeValera felt that if the GAA had explicitly drawn Hyde’s attention to the implications of the ‘foreign games rule’ then Hyde would have voluntarily (and quietly) resigned as a Patron of the Association, thus the ‘unfortunate incident’ would never have taken place. DeValera also suggested that the position of Patron does not necessarily connote membership of an organisation and ‘Dr. Hyde, as Patron, was in a quite different category from the ordinary members of the GAA’
Ó Caoimh, on the other hand, argued that a Patron was just as bound to the rules as any member, possibly more so as he should be leading by example, and that responsibility for advising Hyde on the implications of the ‘foreign games rule’ lay just as much with the Presidents advisers as with the GAA.
Both sides agreed that the incident itself was ‘unfortunate’ and should never happen again. DeValera agreed that a representation from the GAA should be received by the new President while the GAA agreed that the President should be invited to the principal functions of the Association. However DeValera was adamant that if the President was to receive a GAA deputation, or accept an invitation to a GAA function, the GAA must understand that the ‘President is the President of all sections of the community’ and that such acceptance did not mean he would restrict himself from accepting invitations from other sporting or athletic bodies.
When the Central Council met and discussed Ó Caoimh’s report they agreed that the President should be invited to all principal GAA functions. They also understood, and agreed, that the President cannot be seen to favour any section of the community over the other; however they also intimated that this was the decision of the present Central Council only and that future Councils may adopt a different view.