Michael Cusack trod on toes but Maurice Davin kept fledgling GAA together
Commemorative activities to take place in Carrick-on-Suir this weekend
Maurice Davin: a forensic and considered advocate for the GAA in its early years
It’s been quite a start to the football championship. The two big provincial matches, in Connacht and Ulster, may have been more easily won than most people had anticipated but they did their promotional bit by providing reference points for months in advance – and not just for Jim McGuinness – and even afterwards.
Championship moves on quickly and the focus becomes the next match fairly immediately once a fixture is settled and consigned to evidence and eventually, history.
An eventful month was completed at the weekend by the historic victory of London in the Connacht championship. This weekend an eventful May changes into June with a programme of – in prospect at any rate – lower-key matches, all part none the less of championship grist.
Quite below the radar this weekend is a very significant series of events taking place in Carrick-on-Suir, Tipperary. Central to these is the unveiling by GAA president Liam O’Neill of a statue of his very first predecessor Maurice Davin, who died in 1927.
As Croke Park’s turnstiles start to click for the first time this summer on Saturday there is a direct relevance to the commemorative activities honouring Davin, which will be in progress as spectators file into the seats in the stadium’s southern end, which also bears his name.
Amongst his many contributions to the GAA, Davin was the man who first codified the rules of Gaelic football.
If founder Michael Cusack became a little forgotten despite his own stand in Croke Park, Maurice Davin didn’t even get that far until recently. His stand used to be known as the Canal End until the modern redevelopment. Cusack eventually got a statue, which stands impressively outside the GAA Museum but Davin remains little known even within the association even though the old GAA headquarters behind the Hogan Stand was named after him.
Yet he was a crucial figure in establishing the GAA. In its early days the fledgling association owed much to Cusack’s fiery enthusiasm and driven nature, which sadly culminated within two years in his falling out with the organisation he had done more than anyone to establish – full reconciliation not taking place until shortly before his death in 1906.
Davin’s role was different. He had status as one of the most successful athletes of the late 19th century – a multiple Irish champion at field sports particularly hammer throwing. Contemporary reports record him as an elite performer who was also well-liked among, as well as friendly and courteous to, his opponents.
He had an international athletic reputation and led the American Invasion of 1888, a tour of the US by athletes and hurlers which was unsuccessful in its plan to raise funds for a revival of the Tailteann Games.
Born on 29th June 1842 into a prosperous family in Carrick-on-Suir, he and his brothers were top-class field athletes – a pursuit he took up relatively late, at 29, after a successful career as an oarsman. He was also an accomplished musician and dancer.
His popularity and the respect in which he was held made Davin a vital figurehead for the emerging GAA. His qualities made him the obvious candidate for president of the GAA at the now famous first meeting in Thurles in November 1884.
Like Cusack he was an advocate of Irish athletics taking control of its own affairs and breaking from the English-orientated bodies in Dublin, which arranged their affairs in a manner either hostile or indifferent to the involvement of ordinary people. This, to an even greater extent than the revival of the national games, was the priority of the GAA’s early years.
Forensic and considered
Cusack trod on toes, burned bridges and generally engaged in metaphors for disharmony but got things done. Davin held it all together. In the propaganda battle, Cusack specialised in polemic whereas Davin’s writings in defence of the GAA were forensic, moderate and considered.
This gravitas ensured he was highly regarded. Even though he was identifiably a GAA activist, he was still sufficiently highly regarded by sports bodies in general, according to reports in 1906, to be considered an acceptable mediator in the frequently incendiary disputes between the competing athletics’ bodies in Ireland at the time.
He was moderate by instinct but also principled. When the IRB infiltrated and took over the GAA executive, Davin resigned over abuses of the association constitution. But he was on hand to pick up the pieces by patiently driving the process of rebuilding, culminating in the reconstruction convention of 1888, which unanimously re-elected him president.
On Saturday he’ll be formally commemorated in Carrick-on-Suir but as tens of thousands head down Jones’s Road for the Leinster championship quarter-finals that too will be his memorial.
There will be a series of events this weekend to honour Davin’s memory. On Saturday the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore William Lee will lay a wreath at Davin’s grave. At 3.0 that afternoon the statue will be unveiled by GAA President Liam O’Neill and at 5.0 the Maurice Davin Historical Memorabilia Exhibition will be formally opened. On Sunday morning at 10.0 a fun-run will be sent off by former 5,000 metre world champion, Senator Eamon Coghlan. In the evening there will be an athletics competition with the final event that night will be a hurling match in Davin Park, Carrick-On-Suir.