Kilkenny-Limerick deluge and criticism of All-Ireland referee – welcome to 1912

Record auction of GAA medals evokes fascinating modern resonances

Last week the GAA passed a little-discussed landmark when Fonsie Meally Auctioneers in Kilkenny knocked down an All-Ireland hurling collection for what George F Meally said was "the highest price ever paid for Irish sports medals".

The firm has developed a speciality in sports memorabilia and in the past has sold All-Ireland medals from more than 100 years ago, as well as something as rare as a medal from the GAA’s ill-fated American invasion in 1888 – the attempt to make the association as rich as Croesus through a series of exhibition matches.

Like many such schemes, this one ended in ruin some weeks later with the large travelling party having to borrow the fare home.

Last week's trove for auction was headlined by a collection of All-Ireland medals accumulated by John Power from Piltown – like his more recent Callan namesake, a farmer – who was goalkeeper in Kilkenny's three All-Ireland victories in 1907, '11 and '13.


Together with a framed certificate from the Kilkenny city council, the lot fetched €40,000 – a fair hop up from the estimate of €10-15,000. It was bought by a local businessman John O’Shea, of the agribusiness company Iverk produce, and repatriated to the Piltown GAA club.

Part of the Power collection was the sliotar from the 1913 All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Tipperary. In case anyone imagines that by now everyone in the country must have a ball from a Kilkenny-Tipperary final, the item fetched €2,100 (estimate €800-€1,200) and was bought by the Croke Park Museum.

Historic final As noted by the auctioneers, this was an historic final, the first to be played at Croke Park, which had been acquired by the GAA only a week previously, and the first to feature 15-a-side.

Arguably though the 1911 final against Limerick was more interesting and certainly has more resonance for the modern reader. It was, amongst other things, the first time Kilkenny wore the now-iconic black-and-amber jerseys; it also included a deluge and Noreside grievances about a referee.

Central Council minutes record that the All-Ireland finals for that year had been put back – even farther than usual – until the beginning of 1912 because of a rail strike. The GAA was, however, conscious of the need to hype up the hurling final between Limerick and Kilkenny.

“The Council, recognising the importance of the contest, spared no expense in perfecting arrangements for the match, advertising being carried out on a very extensive scale all over the country. No fewer than 16 special trains had been requisitioned, tapping almost every county in Leinster and Munster.”

Unfortunately, the minutes also have to note: “Rain fell continuously and the match had to be postponed.”

The GAA by this stage had the additional advantage of a dedicated magazine, the first ever to be published on a weekly basis. The Gaelic Athlete had the twin impacts of giving detailed coverage to the games and also exerting pressure on other – and what the GAA saw as more recalcitrant – national newspapers.

The postponed 1911 hurling final coincided with the first publication of The Gaelic Athlete in early 1912. The coverage was indeed extensive ("All the news that interests. Articles by the best writers. Notes from all parts") with correspondents based in both Kilkenny and Limerick and interviews with the captains – both of whom, unrecognisably by modern conventions, briskly talk up their own teams and confidently predict victory.

It emerges in the pages of the publication that there is unhappiness in Kilkenny at the referee, both because the suspicion is that it won’t be a Leinster official and because no one’s informing them one way or another.

“A considerable amount of dissatisfaction exists amongst the officials, players and followers alike regarding the question of referee. Those interested are kept in the dark up to the present as to who will be entrusted with the whistle and it is a point which may bring about a crux if that selection does not prove satisfactory to Kilkenny.

Tacit arrangement

“There has been a tacit arrangement between the provinces that when a match was played in Munster, a Leinster referee would officiate, and vice versa. Kilkenny to say the least has not been catered for in any respect by Central Council.

“The venue is without doubt an unsuitable one as regards distance etc and they have not been acquainted as regards the principal official in any contest – namely the referee.”

The final was due to be played in the Cork Athletic Grounds on February 18th, 1912. Tom Kenny from Galway was appointed referee and, according to estimates, between 12,000 and 14,000 travelled to attend the match.

Limerick were particularly keen, having beaten Tipperary. The team was captained by John ‘Tyler’ Mackey, father of the legendary Mick and a Labour party councillor for the Castleconnell area, and was confident that this would be their year, a second All-Ireland for the county and the first of the 20th century. They were togged and ready to go.


Unfortunately, the rain came down in sheets and although Limerick pushed hard to have it played, at one o’clock on the afternoon of the match the referee and members of Central Council declared the pitch unplayable and declared that the re-fixture would be in Thurles.

Limerick refused, declaring implacably, “Cork or nowhere!”. Reluctantly, you’d imagine given the marketing blitz, Central Council were forced to award the All-Ireland to Kilkenny.

The book was thrown at Limerick, whose county board was suspended and a replacement event organised in Dungarvan between Kilkenny and Tipperary, which Kilkenny won.

Reviewing the final that never was The Gaelic Athlete concludes ambitiously: "Finally let us hope there will be no more rain on All-Ireland final days."