Heritage week launch for sporting venue database


A PROJECT to create a database of all sporting venues built in Ireland over the last 150 years is to be launched during National Heritage Week at the end of August.

Funded by the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, www.irishsportingheritage.com will be live at the end of the month for members of the public to “upload” or place information they have about sporting venues that existed in their locality, whether through photographs, programmes, building plans or knowledge they have about the venue.

Sports historian Dr Roisín Higgins of Boston College-Ireland said there was no inventory of Ireland’s sporting heritage, which “is as important a part of our history and tells us as much about ourselves as any other form of heritage”.

Speaking at the Parnell Summer School at Avondale, Co Wicklow, Dr Higgins said “there is a sense that the places of high politics, power, wealth, commerce or religion are more important” than places of sports and leisure, but these are “where people congregate voluntarily”.

Dr Higgins highlighted the development of Wicklow and as a “planted” county, how it mimicked English society through its sporting, hunting and golf clubs, of which there are 25. There is evidence that golf was played in Bray in 1762, but the first golf course in Ireland was formally established in the Curragh in 1852, while the first golf club, Royal Belfast, was set up in 1881. Between 1888 and 1900 some 122 clubs were established across Ireland, she said.

Sport came to represent the manifestation of the ideal society from the English public school idea of “muscular Christianity to the GAA’s emphasis on amateurism, self-discipline and a free and Gaelic Ireland”.

But what sort of society did golf reflect? The golf course was an expanse of land that was “rough but manicured” – natural environment “harnessed for the good of men, for health and wealth”. It was outdoors but “highly civilised” and primarily middle-class. However, while golf clubs tended to avoid the overtly political, during the first World War soldiers and sailors in uniform played for free and competitions raised money for the Belgian Relief Fund.

Director of the summer school, Prof Mike Cronin, said that as far as he was aware, not a single sporting site in the State is a listed building. A lot of redevelopment of sports venues is linked to health and safety. But in Lansdowne Road, for example, “that sporting heritage – the old stands, the turnstiles, the mock Tudor building – has been levelled”.