Several All-Ireland finalists fought in first World War

Gap in GAA history ‘needed’ examination given silence around members’ involvement

Several All-Ireland finalists fought in the first World War and some were killed, according to a new book on the GAA.

Two won All-Ireland medals, John Fox with Clare in 1914, and Charlie Duggan with Kerry in 1903.

Fox was injured during the Battle of the Somme and was invalided home. Duggan was injured during the Battle of Mons in August 1914. Both survived the war.

At least two men who played in All-Ireland finals were killed. James Rossiter died 100 years ago on Thursday while serving with the Irish Guards. He was mortally wounded by a grenade during the Battle of Loos and died some days later. He played in an All-Ireland finals in 1913 and 1914.


In his last letter home he wrote that he was more nervous about playing in an All-Ireland final than going into battle.

Another All-Ireland finalist to die was Lance Sergeant William Manning of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who played for Antrim in the 1912 All-Ireland football final. He died in France in May 1918.

Series of essays

The details are contained in the book The GAA & Revolution in Ireland 1913-1923 which is one of the GAA's contributions to the decade of centenaries. It is a series of essays edited by NUI Galway historian Prof Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh covering all aspects of the association's involvement in that pivotal decade of Irish history.

The chapter on the GAA’s involvement in the first World War is written by Ross O’Carroll who has played both football and hurling for Dublin. It formed part of his MA thesis on the GAA between 1914 and 1918.

Mr O’Carroll said writing it was difficult given the subject matter and the silence that had surrounded GAA members’ involvement in the first World War.

“This may be due to a desire to edit the association’s official history down to solely a part of the Irish nationalist movement, and to ignore quietly the role thousands of GAA men played in a foreign war, or it may simply be the daunting challenge facing historians in gathering evidence on the topic,” he wrote.

"Nonetheless, this gap in GAA history needs to be examined. While the consequences of the war on the day-to-day running of the association are relatively straight forward to extract, the extent to which GAA members went to fight in Flanders Fields is difficult to quantify."

The exact number of GAA players who fought in the war has never been quantified but it is likely to run into the hundreds if not the thousands.

This was despite Rule 21 which banned members of the British security forces playing GAA sports which dated from 1897.

In 1915, the Laois County Board sought to bring a motion to congress to have the ban rescinded for the duration of the war, but hostility towards it meant they withdrew the motion.

The Gaelic Athlete newspaper stated: "There are many Gaels who will totally disagree with it . . . the only course they can adopt consistent with their duty to their fellow Gaels, is to withdraw."


The book was launched by GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail at the GAA museum in Croke Park. Mr Ó Fearghail stated that the book was reflective of “Ireland’s complex history and this publication has an inclusive approach”.

He added: “A great many GAA members fought in the first World War. More still remained deeply committed to the nationalist parliamentary tradition, and they all served their nation. It is fitting that this book explores all traditions and all human stories.”

Mr Ó Tuathaigh said the book was part of a change in Irish historical culture from a “sharply partisan” approach to one which acknowledged the complexities of Irish history at the time.

It also reflected the “history from below” approach, which is becoming increasingly popular, which looks at the rank and file of organisations rather than the leadership.

The book includes contributions from history professor Diarmaid Ferriter, Dr Dónal McAnallen, formerly of the Ulster Council, GAA Ard Stiúrthóir Páraic Duffy and The Irish Times GAA correspondent Seán Moran.

There are chapters on the GAA’s relationship with the Irish Parliamentary Party, its involvement in the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and Civil War and its role in rousing the diaspora abroad.

The GAA & Revolution in Ireland 1913-1923 is published by Collins Press, priced €29.99.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times