Founder of Athenry G.A.A.: Patrick C. Kelly 1885 and Parish Splits by Ronan Killeen

This is an extract from Jarlath Cloonan's book Athenry GAA Story: A History of Gaelic Games in Athenry and for those of you in the world that never learned Irish history read the introduction to my article on the Athenry Land League Part 1.



Patrick C.Kelly: Courtesy of Athenry GAA website


During 1885 G.A.A. clubs, or as they were known then were called branches and established all over the country. Athenry was no exception and was among the first to affiliate to the new association. The club elected Patrick C. Kelly of Cross Street as Captain and his election immediately caused divisions within the Parish.
   The National League was opposed to Kelly and had refused him admission to the League. They claimed he had ‘taken land from which a tenant had been evicted’ and they started a hurling club of their own in opposition the one headed by Kelly.

Patrick C. Kelly never intended that his club should be the cause of disunity within the parish and hoped that it would help the League in its aims and objectives. An attempt was made by the Hurling club for unity, when a meeting of the League was asked if the ‘Hurlers’ could join the League. The Rev. Chairman told the young man who asked the question that as far as the National League were concerned no such organisation existed and anyone wishing to do so in the normal way.
   The Athenry Branch were refusing to acknowledge the existence of the Hurling Club and the Association to which it was affiliated because of Kelly, and belief that the G.A.A. was rival organization.
   Despite the opposition the Hurling Club prospered by winning all their games except one which had been against Craughwell on the 29 August 1885 which was played in Athenry. After two hours play the game was abandoned with the scores level. Craughwell late claimed that they had won the game, but, according to the Athenry men, the issue had still to be decided.

On St. Patrick’s 1886 Kelly made a speech at the Hurler’s Ball in the Athenry Hotel:

‘Brothers Hurlers, the way you have received my name gives me great pleasure and the confidence you placed in me when you elected me as your Captain was not misplaced. Through many matches we played I led you to victory except against Craughwell which is still to be settled and I have great hopes victory will be hours.’

In 1886 the National League forwareded their affiliation fee to the Central Branch of the G.A.A. The split in the parish worsened with all kinds of allegations being made by each side against the other. After recieving the League letter Michael Cusack, then General Secretary of G.A.A. wrote:

'There is a most flourishing Branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association in the Parish of Athenry, Mr. P. C. Kelly is Captain. The National League has started another Branch but I have neither the power authority to recognise it. The president Mr. Davin's opinion is that I should write to the Captain of the team which took the field first and ask him if it is desirable that another club be formed in the Parish.
If Mr. Kelly answers 'yes' I have no doubt the executive will gladly announce the new club and accept the affilation fees which I have recieved. 
Should  Mr. Kelly, however, express himself satisfied that our movement is in a sufficiently flourishing condition in Athenry and that it does not stand in need fo another prop, the matter drops for the present and thos who desire to abide by the recommendation of the Thurles meeting can be hardly play with the Athenry Branch of the National League'


Cusack's appiontment of Kelly as arbitrator in the dispute led to widespread critism 'If the G.A.A. continues to acknowledge P.C. Kelly's club in preference to the exponents of the Natioanl Movement in Athenry the sooner the G.A.A. was the cry from the local press. They had claimed the young fellows he led were expelled from various Branches of the National League and challenged him to produce even 21 players whose condcut in Nationalisht affairs could bear investigation..
   The Hurling Club and Kelly were infuriated by the allegations, as were many other clubs in the County. A week later Michael Connolly, Secretary of the Craughwell Branch of the National League and Hurling Club, spoke in favour of Kelly - 'he leads a thousand men who can bear the strictes investigation and who are members of the League and Hurling Club and it is a gross falsehood to state that the men he leads were expelled from the League'.
   Kelly and the rest of the hurling club were enraged by these allegations, as were many other clubs in the County. Appeals for unity to the Leagues and hurlers from leading personalities failed and the split spread into several parishes.
   Kelly's replied to Cusack's letter to him regarding the situation in Athenry and arranged the largest Hurling Tournament ever held in the Country up to that time in a show of strength. He invited the Central Branch of the Association to send a representative to Athenry  on the day of the Tournament, Ascension Thursday, June 3rd. So deep were the divisions in the parish that on the same day the National League arranged a tournament game against Newcastle also at Athenry. The Constabulary (see Royal Irish Constabury Athenry on this blog) moved reinforcements to the town on the day and they patrolled the streets with loaded revolvers. Their action was unnecessary and, apart from a few minor incidents, everything passed off quietly.
   The split itself continued and on Sunday 25 July both Clubs were invited to play in hurling tournaments at Craughwell. Again the local press represented by one of Kelly's biggest critics, and his comments added further to the already explosive relationship that existed between the two factions in the Parish. He wrote 'P.C. Kelly's Club started early in the morning, they had five cars, including the sub-agents trap supplied by 'Gerared himself for the benefit of the boys who are doing the work of the landlores so well'. The article then went on to state that 'the National League did not leave until after mass'.

The league Club played Dooris at Ballymana and it appears that Kelly's team played Craughwell G.A.A. at a different venue. On the way home the two sides met at Craughwell and hurley's were used in anger. A young man named Doherty was struck and injured by one of Kelly's team and in the row that followed the Craughwell Gaelics' favoured Kelly's side.
   With matches being played all over the country the need arose for a central body to contol the games. Notices appeared in the local papers calling on all G.A.A. Clubs to meet in Athenry on Sunday 24 October 1886. Arrangements for Galway's first county G.A.A. Convention were made by Patrick C. Kelly and took place in the Athenry Hotel at Cross street. It was hope that by meeting in Athenry the split could be resolv ed and the Central Branch sent the Assocaitions's Vice-President Mr. P. Hocter to the Convention.
   To amid loud applause Kelly was selected  to take the chair and addressed the gathering. He thanked the delegates for their great attendance and for calling on him to preside. Aince its inception, he told them, the G.A.A. had to contend with many difficultuies, yet it was still making progress. They wanted to keep the young men of Ireland at home and stop emigration.

Kelly continued ' In Athenry district he was sorry to say that they were opposed by a group that resorted to every device possible to destroy the movement in the interest of a rival association' . He trusted the meeting would have the effect of bringing all together in harmony and that the other side would see the folly of persisting further in their attitudes.
  They wanted all to be united in one family. Their opponents had accussed them of adjoining landlords and deserting the cause of the people and had written to their friends in America about them. The G.A.A., Kelly continued, wanted to revive the Old Irish games and pastimes and, in doing so, they would have the support of every true  Irishman without any relation to politics, which were not at all.
   The meeting had a very laudable  object in endeavouring  if possible to reconciled both sides. The delegates agreed that the disunity  was deplorable and disadvantageous to the two sectors.  Apart from the support and encouragement which the clergy gave the rival club, it had at its head John F. Broderick who was very popular in the district and whose energy was a great acquisition to the club. The National League reacted to the G.A.A. Convention by issuing a long statement. It read:

'The Chairman posed as an outraged man, he propagated sports which he considered would be a means of keeping the young men of Ireland at home and because of such action he was assailed without stint  or limit by the National League. The accusation if it could only hold, would, indeed justify any action he could take to defend the National Sports.
   Like the famous proclaimation  of Tooley Street went ofrth the mandate from Athenry that Galway should assemble in solemn conclave, and if it did respond, if a circumscribed area of half a score miles denote the compass of the County. The meeting we read was convened fro the purpose of cementing the feud but as it takes two to make a fight it also inferentially should take two to heal the wound.
   Mr. Hocter said that Athenry was the only town in Ireland in which any opposition was afforded the Gaelic Athletic Association . For his information be it known to him that the Athenry National League have no quarrell with the G.A.A. but that it cannot  stultify its mission, even for the sake of sport by accepting for leadership of national pastimes a man deemed unfit to enter its ranks. The G.A.A. is open to all sections according to the dictum of the Chairman. If this is the standard of its excellence the  Athenry National League can well afford to disassociate itself from them and pursue the tenor of its own way by alliance of National Sports and National Politics.
   The National League initiated Sports in Athenry under the auspicces of the G.A.A. and forwarded its affiliation fee to Mr. Cusack. The money was not acknowledged or refunded and the club today is as strong as the League and 'thee is perfect synonimity while on the opposite side the usual muter of a team of 21 can not be gathered from the extreme ends of the Parish. If a club so withered by decay presumes to speak for Galway, they are at liberty to do so outside the Parish of Athenry, as with that Athenry has no concern, but if it presumes to speak the voice of the Parish, the householders within a radius of 12 miles confine will attest to the contrary.

The National League Committee member s signed the statement. The accusations made left little room  for any move by the G.A.A. Central Branch to resolve the dispute. It as a clash between leading local personalities and two National Organisations' politics.Michael Cusack was dismissed as General Secretary of the Assocaition at a meeting in Dublin on 4 July 1886 for among other reasons, failing to keep accounts.
   On 23 October 1887- over 30 clubs were represented at the County Convention in Athenry. Michael Connolly and John Lynskey represented Athenry with Patrick C. Kelly present as Chairman of the County Committee. Delegates passed a motion 'that no Branch of the Association be allowed compete in the championship unless each member belong to the Parish'
  The motion became a rule of the Association  that has remained to the present day. Trouble at the National Congress in Thurles resulted in a split that would have smashed the Association were it not for the intervention of Dr. Croke. All rancour was rancour was removed and within six weeks the matter was settled.
   Patrick C. Kelly was one of the Galway delegation that attended a reconvened Congres on 4 January 1888. The split in Athenry was also finally resolved in 1888, with the acceptance by the Central Branch of the affiliation of 'Dr. Croke Footbal Club' and, 'The Old Guard Hurling club' from the Parish.







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