The GAA and the Tailteann Games
In founding the GAA one of the primary aims of Michael Cusack and Maurice Davin was the revival of the ancient Tailteann Games (Aonach Tailteann), a Celtic Olympics associated with the ancient Queen Tailté.
The failure of the 1888 American Invasion Tour (which had been undertaken to raise funds for a Tailteann Festival) meant that the idea all but disappeared from the agenda of the GAA.
Before the ratification of the Treaty, the Dáil in 1921 decided to resurrect the festival as a very public and international expression of an independent Irish nation. J.J. Walsh was put in charge of organising the Festival and in January 1922 the idea was aired publicly for the first time.
Realising that one of the early ambitions of the Association was about to come true, the GAA welcomed the proposed festival enthusiastically. To some extent the GAA regarded the idea as their own and tried to get complete control of the games. In the end they had to settle for generous representation on the Government’s Tailteann Committee and the promise that Croke Park would be the centrepiece of the festival.
In 1921 the Dáil (again before the ratification of the Treaty) voted to dedicate a sum of £10,000 to the games on the implicit understanding that the money would be spent in making Croke Park suitable for the event. As early as February 1922 the GAA refused permission to the Dublin Boy Scouts to rent Croke Park as the GAA anticipated major construction work being carried out there. At their next meeting a quantity surveyor was appointed and six companies were invited to submit tenders for the construction of two covered stands. These stands were completed by August 1922. GAA Museum records also show that the GAA purchased at this time its first set of lawn-mowers (one hand-drawn and one horse-drawn) and it agreed to have the cycling track surrounding the pitch repaired.
It also investigated the possibility of having heating and running water introduced to the dressing rooms and the turnstiles and the main entrance gate were altered to cope with the expected crowds.
In the mean-time the Irish Civil War had broken out and the Tailteann Games had to be postponed.
With the Civil War over and a degree of normality returning to Ireland (following the release of the anti-treaty prisoners) the Cosgrave Government again pressed ahead with the planning of the Tailteann Games, to be held in August 1924.
The Tailteann Games were to be an exhibition of the best in Irish sports and Irish athletes. It was decided that the competitions would be open to all people of Irish birth and also all people whose parents or grandparents were Irish.
The competitions were also open to all those who were resident in Ireland during the 12 months previous to August 1 1924. With the exception of the ‘Literary and Arts’ competitors, all competitors were to be amateur.
A glance through the programmes for the 16 day event (August 2 1924-18 August 1924) show that the Festival was spread throughout Dublin and the events varied considerably.
There was a grand parade of industrial exhibits through Dublin on the opening day and throughout the festival there were international contests in hurling, football, camogie, athletics and boxing.
There was also a daily chess tournament in Trinity College and daily Billiards in the Catholic Club on O’Connell Street. In the evenings there were music competitions, dances, operas and plays throughout the city. As well as hosting the major athletic events, Croke Park also held two great fireworks displays. The festival ended with a great reception and banquet for all competitors which was held in the Central Hall, R.D.S., Ballsbridge.
By all accounts the Tailteann Games were a phenomenal success. The 1924 Olympics were in Paris and many of the athletes attending them ‘stopped over’ in Ireland for the Tailteann Games. A total of 6,500 athletes took part with 2,225 individual prizes awarded.
The Tailteann games brought mixed fortunes to the GAA. As seen the Government contributed £10,000 towards two new stands (one of which was to be named the Hogan Stand in 1925) and after the games the Tailteann Committee sold to the GAA some ‘property left on Croke Park’ at a discounted price which included ticket selling booths and a ‘trestle stand’ which was originally offered to the Association at £259 but ultimately bought for £60.
However the Central Council had to bear the cost for the upkeep of the competing teams representing Ireland and this was to include hotel arrangements for almost three weeks together with rail and car fares. Before the games Luke O’Toole, General Secretary, reported to the Association that the only revenue the GAA could raise to meet this huge outlay was from the trial games held to choose who would represent Ireland during the games. One of the provisos of the GAA Central Council receiving the £10,000 to refurbish Croke Park was that no entrance fee would be charged into the Stadium. In October 1924 the Council appointed a deputation to wait on the Director of the Tailteann Games with a view of recouping some of the £700 loss accrued by the Association.
While the Games were to be played again in 1928 and 1932, with the GAA and Croke Park playing a significant role again; it is the 1924 games that are considered the most successful, both in terms of the athletic ability on display and the international publicity received.