GAA: People, Objects & Stories – a new exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland gives a new perspective on Ireland’s largest sporting organisation
Objects dating from the 15th century to the present day illustrate the influence of the GAA through the lens of social history, design and popular culture
Members of the public invited to engage with the multi-media exhibition by sharing their own memories
Objects from Co Wexford include Ursula Jacob’s hurling helmet, on display for the first time
A multi-media exhibition that offers a new perspective on the GAA’s influence through the lens of social history, design and popular culture was launched at the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks.
GAA: People, Objects & Stories is the creation of Dr Siobhán Doyle, who is the NMI’s Curator of Glass, Ceramics and Asian Collections, and author of the critically acclaimed A History of the GAA in 100 Objects, which was published last year. Minister of State for Sport and Physical Education, Thomas Byrne TD, visited the NMI for a tour of the exhibition and for a photocall to mark the launch of the new exhibition.
The exhibition includes objects dating from the 15th century to the present day, including many which will be on public display for the first time:
- A Medieval Mether, found at Corran in Co Armagh. The design of the iconic Liam MacCarthy cup
sis based on wooden methers, which are in the NMI permanent collection.
- A 10 carat gold GAA medal made in New York, dating 1936, which is thought to have been presented to one of the players from the Cavan football team or Limerick hurling team that travelled to play in New York in Yankee Stadium.
- A handwoven tweed camogie dress worn by Maeve Gilroy in the 1960s during a successful decade for Antrim camogie. Maeve was awarded the Cú Chulann camogie award in 1956 and went on to become a respected coach and referee.
- A medal presented to Austin Stack the Irish nationalist politician, militant republican and political prisoner, and celebrated athlete, when he was captain of the Kerry football team who won the Croke Cup competition in 1904-05. The Croke Cup Competition was one of the earliest inter-county tournaments in hurling and football.
- A yellow sliotar used in the 2020 All-Ireland senior hurling final between Limerick and Tipperary, which marked the first game in which the yellow sliotar replaced the traditional white sliotar. The 2020 All-Ireland hurling final was also the first final to be played behind closed doors, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- An illustration of camogie uniforms by fashion designer Neillí Mulcahy, from 1969. Camogie uniforms, like much of the attire of female athletes, has a history of discomfort with regulations and traditions being prioritised over athleticism. Néillí’s illustration is her suggestion for what camogie uniforms should look like.
- A commemorative porcelain plate designed by Oisín Kelly and manufactured by Belleek Pottery in 1976. The plate was commissioned by Erne Gaels GAA club as a fundraising venture to help finance the development of their playing facilities in Belleek, Co. Fermanagh.
Objects on display from Co Wexford include a hurling helmet worn by camogie player and former Wexford captain and now GAA analyst Ursula Jacob in the many All-Ireland finals in which she won medals from 2007 to 2020. This object is on display for the first time. Also featured is archival footage from The Women’s Programme featuring an interview with six sisters Mary, Ann, Edel, Claire, Marguerite and Assumpta who played football for Shelmaliers club in Wexford.
While the GAA was formally established in 1884, the oldest objects on display as part of the exhibition are hurling balls made from matted cow hair with plaited horsehair dating back to the 15th century, found in bogland areas in Co. Kerry, Mayo and Limerick. Also on display is a rugby football used by the prisoners to play Gaelic football in Frongoch internment camp in Wales in 1916 and a hurl owned by Michael Collins.
From the more recent past in the exhibition, is the baseball cap worn by one of the most successful managers in the history of hurling, Brian Cody, when he was Kilkenny senior hurling manager from 1999-2022.
On three feature walls, visitors to the exhibition will also be able to see digital reproductions of artworks, newly commissioned design and photographs of Gaelic Games. How the GAA has influenced artists in the 20th century, the evolution of GAA jersey designs and the crossover in design between the Sam Maguire Cup and the Ardagh Chalice, are amongst the themes that are explored.
Visitors to the exhibition will be invited to respond to it, with their own GAA memories. These responses will be compiled and included in an exhibition archive that will preserve the stories for future generations.
Minister of State for Sport and Physical Education, Thomas Byrne TD, said: “The GAA is a great national institution which has carved out a special place in Irish society. At its heart, the GAA is a community as well as a sporting organisation, and its clubs provide an invaluable outlet for sport, physical activity and social activity in every town and village in Ireland. The GAA has brought its sense of community and Irish identity abroad, and the association continues to thrive amongst the Irish diaspora and, indeed, new communities around the world. As the Association looks ahead to its 140th anniversary, I think it is timely that our National Museum has developed this unique exhibition which I am sure will be extremely popular and provide new insights into both the GAA and Irish life through the years.”
Tom Ryan Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA, said: “We are acutely aware of the reach of the GAA into everyday lives, not only across the island of Ireland but right around the globe and the fascinating gathering of artefacts overseen by Dr Siobhán Doyle bears this out.
“In many ways the GAA and our games present a mirror image of Ireland and its people and to that end it is no surprise to see that many of the exhibits are normal everyday possessions that one would expect to find in the average Irish home, albeit with a collector’s twist.
“Many of us derived huge enjoyment from Dr Doyle’s book and I warmly welcome the composition of this exhibition which I have no doubt will prove fascinating for GAA members and non-members alike.”
Lynn Scarff, Director of the National Museum of Ireland, said: “The GAA has been and continues to be an intrinsic part of Irish life for generations. Across Ireland and globally many of us have experienced key moments of national history through our connections to the supporting and playing of GAA games. We are delighted to launch this new exhibition, which takes a fresh look at the organisation’s history through the lens of social history, design and popular culture. With objects from almost every county in Ireland featured, we hope that it will appeal to people from all over the country, and to those in the growing number of GAA clubs abroad. Not only is it relevant for GAA fans, but also those interested in design history, and history in its most general sense, as the history of the GAA and our nation are so closely intertwined.”
Dr Siobhán Doyle, Curator of GAA: People, Objects & Stories, said; “All of the objects displayed as part of GAA: People, Objects & Stories are accompanied by narratives that illustrates their significance in the history of the GAA, and in Ireland. Whether it’s the evolution of camogie uniforms for women, or the rugby ball that was used in the Frongoch internment camp, they all tell a story of the GAA’s unique influence and role in Irish history right up to the current day. We are also inviting visitors to the exhibition to share their own GAA memories and images with us, so that they can be preserved for future generations.”