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The Celtic Times: Michael Cusack's Gaelic Games Newspaper 1887 Book Cover
The Celtic Times:
Michael Cusack's Gaelic Games Newspaper 1887

The Clare Champion
20th June 2003

The Celtic Times: Michael Cusack’s Gaelic Games Newspaper 1887
Citizen Cusack’s Paper, Joe Ó Muircheartaigh

Citizen Cusack was a remarkable man. The movement he founded on a November day in 1884 in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel in Thurles became a mass one, the greatest movement in modern Ireland because it went to the heart and soul of every parish in Ireland. A way of gauging this phenomenal success is to look into the heart and soul of these parishes. At a time when the FAI and the IRFU dither over providing proper facilities for their members, the GAA just gets on with things.

You have Croke Park in the parish of Summerhill while nearly every other parish in the country has its own field and club rooms. From Beara to Belfast and everywhere in between Citizen Cusack’s endeavours can be seen. And, this is the same Cusack who was put down by Joyce in Ulysses. He was referred to as Citizen but Joyce got it wrong in his putting down portrayal of the man. The truth is, Cusack was the man because his work has lived on long after his death.
Joyce has Bloomsday in early June every year, Cusack has loads of days every year, the boom boom of championship hurling and football nearly every Saturday and Sunday of summer, not to mind the big club days from Beara to Belfast and everywhere in between. No contest really! Citizen Cusack of Carron and Clare put Joyce in the ha’penny place, whatever those high browed intellectuals and Joycean scholars who wear their boater hats for a day in June might tell you.
That he was the man can be gleaned by looking through the pages of The Celtic Times, Citizen Cusack’s own newspaper that was published way back in 1887. That these newspapers have survived to this day is a testimony to a pride in Cusack and his GAA crusade. The Celtic Times was passed on and with it a piece of publishing history was passed on. Cusack was a guardian of Gaelic games and since his death in 1906; the baton has been passed to other guardians to guard The Celtic Times.
The current guardian is Clare County Library under the stewardship of County Librarian Noel Crowley. How Clare County Library acquired The Celtic Times is worth recalling. It’s a tale of devotion to Citizen Cusack and his lively sentinel that was The Celtic Times. Journalist and newspaper publisher Breandán MacLua takes up the story. MacLua is from Lisdoonvarna, a few miles over the road from Cusack country in Carron.

“In 1969, I received a verbal message that Tommy Moore wanted to see me. That meant calling on him at his pub in Dublin’s Cathedral Street. I presented myself the following afternoon. Tommy Moore was a legendary figure from near Castlecomber in Kilkenny. As a young man he came to Dublin to learn the pub trade. He won senior All-Ireland hurling medals with Dublin in 1917 and 1920. He nodded his head approvingly at my arrival and he said: ‘I like your book the Steadfast Rule, and I want you to have this. With that, he reached under the counter and handed me a large brown paper parcel.

He didn’t say what it was, nor did I ask. If Tommy Moore wanted to elaborate, he would have. I thanked him and drove home to Rathfarnham. I opened the parcel on the kitchen table and found that I was in possession of the complete file of The Celtic Times. I was overwhelmed. It was as if I had been appointed the guardian of the Holy Grail.”

Twenty years on Breandán MacLua handed the Holy Grail over to the Clare County Library because in his own words, “I reckoned that it would be Cusack’s choice, and I too was from the rocky Burren of North Clare.”

Since then, the County Library has been the guardian of the Holy Grail, but now the Holy Grail is for people to buy themselves because all the surviving issues of The Celtic Times have been published in one volume by Clasp Press. It tells a tale of Citizen Cusack’s Ireland, his vision for a Gaelic Games Ireland and a vision that was backed by such luminaries as Charles Stewart Parnell.

“I cannot but recognise the urgent necessity which exists for a movement like that which you are organising with such zeal,” said the ‘Uncrowned King’ in a letter to Citizen Cusack in 1884. And, there was certainly a zeal to The Celtic Times, Citizen Cusack’s zeal to see that an organ promoting the GAA hit the streets every week. It hit the streets for over a year, from January 1887 to early 1888. It lost money, which ultimately brought about its demise, but such was Citizen Cusack’s devotion to the idea that he sold his gold watch to fund the last issue.

The issues that remain paint a picture of an emerging Ireland, an Ireland imbued with the spirit of Gaeldom, playing the games of hurling and football, handball and athletics which was under GAA rules at the time. Branches of the GAA mushroomed up around the country and The Celtic Times was dedicated to the cause of promoting these branches. This promotion was in Clare and everywhere, as a scan through the pages shows. One report sticks out from Clare. It is from a ‘special reporter’, who could have been Citizen Cusack himself. It was May Day in 1887 and Gaels converged on the Clonroad in Ennis. All roads led there, as that cliché goes.

“In delightful weather and in the presence of an enthusiastic multitude of people, certainly not less than 15,000, the third rounds of the championship ties were commenced. The field, generously placed at the disposal of the committee of Mrs. Roughan of Clonroad, is admirably suited for hurling, and the commanding view of the noble panorama stretching along the South and East of the county would, in itself, well repay a visit to it. Shortly before one o’clock, the vast army of Gaelic soldiers, with their numerous sympathisers, assembled in the O’Connell Square, and with discipline that would do credit to experienced and well-trained men, formed themselves into battalions and marched in their picturesque costume and carrying their camans on their shoulders to the scene of action.

Their sturdy and resolute appearance affrighted the timid knots of self-important disciplines of the foreign faction who peered from behind the curtains at the steady step of their triumphant foes, who are ready to take up arms at a moments notice to fight for the supremacy of their respective parishes. As they filed past the gate and took up their positions in the field, they presented a grand spectacle, and had B (presumably Britain) been there to witness their calm indifference to his nefarious attempt to coerce them, he would learn a lesson which would imprint itself on his memory from these honest and straightforward Claremen.”

This kind of colourful language is sprinkled all over The Celtic Times, it’s all about facing down the ‘foreign faction’ as Citizen Cusack calls them. One such occasion was later in May when there were championship matches in Crusheen.

“Anything tending towards undermining or sapping the purity of the Association, and thereby placing it on a level with the doings of the foreign faction, ought to be put down with a strong hand, and the erring clubs dealt with very severely. Squaring and roping, and the infernal practice of the betting ring, must not be tolerated in Gaelic circles,” The Celtic Times warned.

Another thing that Cusack could not tolerate was the attitude to members of the R.I.C. playing Gaelic Games. He was in favour of their playing the games, and said so in and open letter to Michael Davitt in late 1887.

“The police were excluded this year. I believe this to be a retrograde movement. I am prepared to believe that there may be even a thousand un-conscionable ruffians in the ranks of the ten or twelve thousand men of the Royal Irish Constabulary; but I am also prepared to believe that there is as large a percentage of men who work for hire in any body of Irishmen. I am well aware that the feeling is very strong against the constabulary in many places; but I believe that sufficient justice has not been done to the obstinacy and loyalty of Celtic character. I desired to see the R.I.C. joining us in our sports. You approved. Could you say a kind and softening word now?”

Strong stuff and the message was clear. Citizen Cusack wanted the games opened up to everyone, but in June, 1887, even he could do little about opening it up to the people of Bodyke who were down to play Cloona in Tulla.

“The little town of Tulla was the scene of one of the largest gatherings which has ever collected to witness athletic feats in that part of the country,” reported The Celtic Times. Tulla played Kilnamona, Ogonnelloe played Dysart and Garranboy played Ruan.
“A fourth match was to have been played between the teams of Bodyke and Cloona,” reported The Celtic Times. But in consequence of the eviction campaign in the former district some of the team were on trial, and consequently, unable to attend,” the report added.

Politics mixed with sport interfered with the GAA and, in this case, interfered with the wonderful game of hurling. The Celtic Times told this to the world in June, 1887. The Celtic Times is telling it to the world again in June, 2003.

Back to The Celtic Times

Other Reviews

Books Ireland,
May 2004

Irish Examiner,
12th July 2003

Irish Times,
12th July 2003

Clare County Express,
July 2003