Wednesday 17 January 2018

Origins of sport in Ireland explored in considerable detail

Alan Aherne

Sport & Ireland - A History
Sport & Ireland - A History

Most of us with a keen interest in sport don't tend to dwell too long on its origins, preferring instead to live in the moment and focus on the next game or competition.

Only those with a passion for history will have investigated the stories behind the beginnings of many of our favourite pastimes.

There are exceptions of course; for example, most people with even a passing interest in the G.A.A. will identify 1884 as the year of its foundation, particularly those in the 40-plus age bracket who will still remember the many events laid on to mark its centenary.

Nonetheless, there's a lot to be learned about many aspects of our sporting background, and these are thoroughly addressed in 'Sport & Ireland - A History' by Paul Rouse who is a lecturer in U.C.D. and a prominent member of the Tullamore G.A.A. club.

This is an academic look at the first steps taken to get sport off the ground, and in that regard it's not the type of book that one will read from cover to cover in just a few sittings.

It's an offering to delve in and out of, and the comprehensive index is very helpful with that in mind as it pinpoints the many references to our own county for example.

Many interesting facts are gleaned from the book, such as the survival of a song in the Yola dialect from south Wexford which indicates that hurling was a popular pastime in the barony of Forth in the late seventeenth century, long before Michael Cusack and his colleagues came together to establish the game on a formal footing.

Robert Devereaux's poem from 1779 entitled 'Carrigmenan' is also recorded as further proof of the passion for the game. However, this book isn't just about hurling and the G.A.A., and that's one of its real strengths as it covers the widest possible base of sports ranging from all ball games to the role played by dogs and horses in racing and hunting.

Not alone that, but it recalls a bygone age when fighting and baiting were very popular among the population as cocks, bulls and bears were all put to the ultimate test.

It's interesting to note that drinking and gambling went hand-in-hand with organised sport from its earliest days, something that mightn't sit well with those working to combat their influence but an undeniable fact nonetheless based on the comprehensive evidence unearthed by the author.

The history stretches from the Middle Ages all the way up to the new millennium, so it covers every possible aspect of the development of sport and is very educational as a result.

It highlights the fact that, while many customs and traditions are unique to Ireland, at the same time a lot of sporting activities were initially developed elsewhere before being adapted on these shores.

While many baulk at the reality, the fact of the matter is that there has always been more to sport than what merely happens on the playing fields.

By that I mean that history, politics and sport have been intertwined for longer than we care to remember, and this topic is explored in great detail as well.

Sport has played a key role in how policy is shaped in modern states, while the book also explores the influence of the British Empire on our culture, and the impact of partition on our playing activities.

It's a comprehensive study, a welcome addition to the growing library of well-researched sporting historical tomes, and adorned by an evocative front cover photograph.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

Wexford People

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