The ban on foreign games: an instrument of nationalism of the GAA (1885-1935)

Cathal Billings


The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) first implemented the ban on its members from participating in the events of other sporting associations on St Patrick’s Day 1885. This initial ban had little political or ideological importance, however, and was instead a very practical measure that would ensure a loyal membership for the fledgling association. When the ban was enforced again in 1905 on a national level, subsequently remaining in force until 1971, the political aspect of it was far greater and it illustrated the increasingly nationalist atmosphere that sustained the cultural revival, in which the GAA was to the fore.

It was the traditional aspect of the GAA’s games that differentiated them from the banned foreign games. The founders of the GAA placed great emphasis on this tradition and claimed hurling and Gaelic football to have a distinct ancient heritage that was purely Gaelic. This achieved for them and the association a unique status in Irish national life at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. This same tradition allowed the GAA, with the help of other nationalist organisations and with the assistance of the government after the foundation of the state, to conduct a relentless propaganda campaign against foreign games, all in the name of national protection. This campaign revealed that some games were more foreign than others, however, and the ban was implemented inconsistently. This article will examine the ideology and evolution of the ban on foreign games during the period 1885–1935 as a cultural defence mechanism and will illustrate that this ban was of great advantage to the GAA in competing with its major rivals in Irish sporting life.

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© Comhar Teoranta, 2016.
ISSN: 2009-8626