Variations of Gaelic Football have been played in Ireland for over 700 years. The earliest mention in Irish records dates back to 1308 where a spectator was arrested for 'accidentally stabbing' a player. No more detail on the incident is available at present, unfortunately.
From the 18th century onwards, a version of the game was played where matches took place ‘cross-country’, between parishes. The ball was ‘thrown in’ at the boundary between the two parishes. Victory was claimed by the team that carried the ball all the way to the center of the opponents’ parish, which could be denoted by a church or other landmark. Newspaper reports from the latter half of the 18th century portray a game with little cohesion and frequent outbreaks of violence.
Irish sports suffered greatly from the devastation of the Great Famine (1845 - 1852), and by 1880 Gaelic Football seemed to be dying out.
Irish sports experienced a renaissance with the establishment of the Gaelic Athletic Association - the GAA - in 1884. The GAA is still the governing body for Gaelic Sports. In 1887, the GAA codified the game as it's played today.
The association and the work it carried out in Ireland and abroad served to revive the sport in Ireland and lead to its phenomenal growth in the country in the 20th century.
Gaelic Football and Hurling have been played in the US since the first wave of Irish immigrants landed on our shores. Hurling was recorded as being played in the Colony of Newfoundland in 1788.
100 years later, under the auspices of the newly formed GAA, the first official tour from Ireland to the US took place in 1888. 45-50 athletes left Ireland and arrived in New York City for what they termed an “American Invasion Tour” intended to raise money and promote awareness of Gaelic sports in America. More than half of the athletes choose to stay, with one going to to win a medal for the US in the 1904 Olympics in St.Louis, Missouri.
This story in part demonstrates the Irish talent for assimilation and the desire to succeed in their new surroundings. To further integrate in the US, for many years Irish and Irish Americans tended to play US sports over Gaelic sports. By 1884 one third of professional baseball players were Irish.
Gaelic sports today are thriving on both sides of the Atlantic, with clubs continuing to pop up around the world. The US has the largest number of GAA clubs outside of Ireland and the game continues to grow in popularity. More...