An Irishman's Diary
The news that the Tipperary hurlers are to wear a redesigned jersey - though the familiar blue and gold colours will remain unchanged - focuses attention on the whole matter of GAA county colours, and how they came to be devised. The origin of some county colours is lost in the mist of years, but the history of many others have been well authenticated. Research reveals some interesting information.
Take the red jerseys of the Corkmen, for example. County colours became standardised in 1913 when Cork wore saffron and blue jerseys with a large C in front. In a raid in 1919 by British troops on the county board rooms in Cook Street, the county jerseys were taken. For the Munster senior hurling championship that year against Waterford, the Cork county board used the jerseys of the St Finbarr's Total Abstinence Hall team, which had merged with St Finbarr's the previous year. The jerseys were a dark red colour, almost maroon. This was the first time Cork wore red jerseys and they have retained the colours since that time.
Early in 1913, a special meeting was held of the Dublin county GAA board at which it was decided to adopt as county colours a light blue jersey with white breast-shields bearing the city arms, namely Three Castles, and white knicks. In 1974, it became necessary to change the knicks to navy blue for television purposes.
Kilkenny wore black and amber jerseys in their first All-Ireland final appearance in 1893. They had been bought from the Thomas Larkin Football Club, which had gone out of existence. Kilkenny wore black and amber in the 1905 final when they beat Cork in a replay. According to my friend and colleague Peter Holohan, the retired chief reporter of the Kilkenny People, who knows more about Kilkenny hurling than any man living, there were many disputes about colours in the early years of the century, in which Mooncoin and Tullaroan figured. The disputes ended in November 1911 when the then chairman of Kilkenny County Council, John F. Drennan, presented a set of black and amber jerseys to the county board.
The origin of the Wexford colours, purple and yellow, can be traced to the patronage of hurling teams by the great landlord or land-propertied families of the 17th and 18th centuries such as the Colcloughs of Tintern Abbey, the Carews of Castleboro and the Devereuxes of Carrigmannon. According to my friend the Wexford historian Nicky Furlong, tradition has it that in the James I period, Colclough brought a team of hurlers to Cornwall where another landlord had a team.
Wagers were reported to have been heavy. The Wexford men wore yellow sashes around their waists and James I was reputed to have been at the game and to have expressed his admiration for the "yellow bellies". The name remained. In modern times, the first Wexford jersey was yellow from breast to waist and purple from breast to shoulders. In these colours Wexford won one hurling All-Ireland (1910) and an as yet unsurpassed record of four football All-Irelands in a row (1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918).
In former times, Armagh, who now wear orange colours with white trim, played in black and amber stripes. In 1926 Armagh played Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final and wore jerseys in the present colours, said to have been knitted by nuns in Omeath.
Kildare's first jerseys are said to have been made from the white flour bags of Odlum mills. Hence, perhaps, the all-white county jerseys worn today.
Arguably, the green and red Mayo jersey and the red, green and yellow colours of Carlow are the most fetching colours of all. One of the most celebrated clubs of all in Mayo in the early days of the GAA was Tower Hill, which had for its motto "The Green Above the Red". In the 1880s, Dick Walsh, the county secretary, summoned a meeting in Castlebar to decide on county colours. After a long debate, one delegate stood up and announced: "Well that's settled, the Mayo colours are red and green".
Dick Walsh rejoined: "Not so. The Mayo colours are the green above the red. God forbid that Mayo should ever have red above the green."
Carlow wore the colours of the county champions until 1910. Then, that year, a set of jerseys in green with red and yellow hoops were presented to the county team, and these, with some variations, have remained the colours since.
There are those who, with considerable justification, will argue that the demarcation lines of most Irish counties were drawn in an uncaring manner by English surveyors. However true that be, the counties as constructed are likely to remain and, however ironic, county GAA games and colours appear destined to copper-fasten that fact.