Staunton family’s sterling service to the history of Gaelic games

Silversmiths crafted Sam Maguire, Liam MacCarthy and New Ireland cups

Limerick’s Darragh O’Donovan celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy after his team’s All-Ireland final victory over Galway. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Limerick’s Darragh O’Donovan celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy after his team’s All-Ireland final victory over Galway. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

With the Allianz Football League about to start, it is worth recalling that the New Ireland Cup, which will be presented to the winners in April, celebrates its 90th anniversary this year.

I also believe there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the cup was actually the handiwork of the same family of silversmiths, who had already fashioned the two most famous trophies in Irish sport, the Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy Cups presented for winning the senior All-Ireland titles in football and hurling.

That would mean that the father and son, Mathew J and Mathew Staunton, crafted three of the most important trophies in Gaelic games.

The original Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy cups have been replaced with newer replicas and are now housed in a glass case in the GAA Museum in Croke Park but the New Ireland Cup is still the original silverware from 1929.

It is fully acknowledged in GAA circles that the creator of the Sam Maguire Cup in 1928 was Mathew J Staunton of D’Olier St, Dublin. In an interview with his son, Maitiú Standún, regarding his family’s involvement with the GAA cups, further information emerged.

Firstly, to recap: Maitiú’s father, Mathew J Staunton had served his time as a silversmith under his father, also known as Mathew, with the renowned silversmiths Edmond Johnson and Company Ltd of Grafton Street.

Johnson had carried on the well-established family silversmith business founded in 1760 by James Johnson. One of his major assignments was to clean and restore the Ardagh Chalice, discovered by two men in 1868 in Limerick and on which the Sam Maguire Cup is based, on behalf of the Royal Irish Academy.

When Maguire, an early GAA and IRB activist, died early at the age of 49 in 1927 a memorial committee commissioned Hopkins and Hopkins, jewellers and watchmakers of O’Connell Bridge to make a cup to honour him.

As the company did not have the expertise to do so, they requested the assistance of Staunton. He was the craftsman who hammered a sheet of metal into the bowl to form the main part of the cup. He also made the stem and the base.

With all the intricacies involved in crafting the cup, he did not do it entirely himself. According to John Doyle who worked with Staunton, he had some assistance from skilled men like Michael Mackey who chased (the technique used to detail silver) the cup, Henry Quinn who polished it and John Birch who was the engraver.

Limited company

When the cup was crafted it was sent back to Hopkins and Hopkins who brought it to the Assay Office in Dublin Castle for stamping. As it was they who were commissioned to make it their maker’s mark (H&H) was stamped on the cup, with no sign of Staunton’s mark (MS) anywhere.

It went into retirement in 1988 when the new cup, crafted by Des Byrne in Kilkenny, was first presented to the Meath captain Joe Cassells.

The original Liam MacCarthy cup is also in retirement. Many contemporary records state that it was made by Edmond Johnson. This could not be correct because Johnson, as published in the Evening Herald, had passed away on 27th September 1900 at the age of 60 years.

So, who made the Liam MacCarthy cup?

In 1896, just four years prior to his death Edmond Johnson had converted his business into a limited company. The Freeman’s Journal of February 21st 1923 reported “that the cup has been manufactured on the premises of Messrs Johnsons, Grafton Street where it is at present on view”.

While discussing his father’s input into the crafting of the Sam Maguire cup, Maitiú Standún revealed to me that his grandfather, Mathew Staunton senior, had told his son, Mathew J, that he had the overall responsibility of crafting the Liam MacCarthy cup in 1922.

Mathew Staunton senior was the chief silversmith in the Johnson company at the time the Liam MacCarthy cup was created. One of his roles was to hammer out the shape of the cups.

As in the manner of making all cups of this quality, a team of skilled craftsmen would have assisted in chasing, embossing, engraving and polishing the piece. Mathew Snr. would have presided over the complete process of creating this iconic trophy.

Present cup

It was first presented to Bob McConkey captain of the Limerick team that won the 1921 All-Ireland Hurling final played on March 4th 1923.

Mathew Staunton Snr continued to work for Edmond Johnson Ltd until it closed for business in 1927.

Tipperary were the last team to win the original cup in 1991 and Kilkenny were the first winners of the present cup crafted by James M. Kelly in Kilkenny in 1992.

In 1929 the Irish National Assurance Company presented the National Football League cup to the GAA. Similar to the case of the Sam Maguire Cup, Hopkins and Hopkins hallmark appears on the cup itself. Kerry defeated Kildare in that year’s final on December 1st to become the first county to lift the new trophy.

In the National Museum, Collins Barracks, it can be seen that Mathew J Staunton’s preliminary drawings outlining the dimensions of the National Football League (New Ireland) Cup are remarkably similar if not identical to drawings he made of the Sam Maguire in 1928.

It is therefore highly likely that Mathew J Staunton also crafted this cup in 1929 on behalf of Hopkins and Hopkins just a year after he completed the Sam Maguire.

Humphrey Kelleher is author of GAA Family Silver: The people and stories behind 101 cups trophies (published 2013).

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