Brian Boru and the GAA in Dublin

?????????????????????????????Since an O’Brien played on the recent winning Kerry All Ireland football team, it seems like a good moment to highlight some of Brian Boru’s GAA connections, many of which (unsurprisingly) are linked to the Clontarf area and his native Co Clare.

Among the now defunct GAA clubs that once played in Dublin, two named Brian Boru were founded in the North Strand-Fairview and Clontarf areas (possible locations of the Battle of Clontarf) in the 1880s and 90s. And just as the current exhibition in the Long Room (Emperor of the Irish) features a poem on Brian by the Limerick-born American Civil War veteran Patrick Cudmore, so another American Civil War veteran, Joe Kavanagh of North Strand, was a hurling goalkeeper for Brian Boru G.A.C. as late as 1893!

Another defunct club, Kincora G.F.C. (named after Brian’s stronghold in Co Clare), played in Ballybough in the 1920s and 30s, the area where Sitriuc of Dublin’s army would have crossed the Tolka River on the way to Clontarf. Three Dublin clubs named Dalcassians (after Brian’s home kingdom of Dál Cais) operated between the 1890s and 1940s, in Balbriggan, Drumcondra and Inchicore (the latter was founded in 1913 by Claremen working on the nearby railway).

A special mention must also be made of the great nineteenth-century scholar (and Brian’s fellow Clareman) Eugene O’Curry, whose transcript of Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh (‘The War of the Irish with the Foreigners’) may be found in the first exhibition case. He too had the honour of a having a club named after him; the Eugene O’Curry’s G.F.C. competed for several years in junior and minor football competitions in the 1910s.

Sadly none of these clubs still exist. Nonetheless, Naomh Olaf GAA (St Olaf’s) in Stillorgan was founded in 1981 in an area known in Irish as Baile Mhic Amhlaoibh (‘The Town of the Son of Olaf’), and claim that the area was named for Sitriuc son of Olaf, Brian’s opponent at the Battle of Clontarf. Be that as it may, the saint in question was certainly not Sitriuc’s father (and husband of Gormlaith), but rather the Norwegian king Olaf Haraldsson, whose relics Sitriuc appears to have acquired for his principal ecclesiastical foundation, Christ Church Cathedral.

For fear of re-enacting the Battle of Clontarf, perhaps it’s just as well for all concerned that Naomh Olaf never met any of these clubs on the field — especially as Kincora G.F.C. was disbanded in controversy over player suspensions!

Denis Casey

[Main source: William Nolan, ed., The Gaelic Athletic Association in Dublin, 1884–2000 (3 vols., Geography Publications, Dublin, 2005); with thanks to Gerry Kavanagh of the National Library of Ireland].

The Exhibition Emperor of the Irish: Brain Boru and the Battle of Clontarf 1014 runs until 19 October 2014