AS of going to print on Monday night the goodship county board hadn’t yet decided when the Special Convention of Clare GAA will take place later this month.
We’re assured it will be sometime in January. It could be Tuesday, January 22, or maybe Wednesday or Thursday of that week.
But, here’s the thing – why not have it on Sunday, January 27. It would be fitting, not just because a weekend day was always the traditional occasion for county conventions, but because of the significance of the date in the history of Clare GAA.
It might be lost on the current generation of GAA rulers, but it’s certainly a case of lest we ever forget because January 27 next will be 90 years to the day of one of the most famous episodes of Clare GAA.
The day when the very future of Clare GAA was threatened – when the seeds were sewn for Clare to become the only county in the country and in the history of the association to have two county boards at the same time.
I suppose it was fitting that it should happen in Clare – that the banner for dysfunction on the grand scale of having simultaneous county boards should be raised first in Clare, the county that through Citizen Cusack had given the world the GAA in the first place.
It all came about because of the Civil War, when the hostilities between former comrades exploded to the surface of Clare GAA during a memorable County Convention that took place in the Ennis Town Hall.
It had all do with a spat between two members of the top table of Clare GAA – a real spat, compared to the handbags stuff that might go on from time to time at county board meetings and conventions.
In one corner you had Fr Michael Hamilton – he was only three years into his marathon stint of being county board chairman that lasted a quarter of a century, but he was a formidable figure even then, in the way he went about ruling GAA affairs his way, which was the only way.
In the other corner you had the county board treasurer, Sean McNamara from Crusheen, a figure just as formidable as the controversial cleric and a man of real principle.
The stage was set for a confrontation that will have to loom large in any Clare GAA history, if it ever comes to be written.
The backdrop was that only seven days previous, the secretary of the Clare County Board, Paddy Hennessy from Clooney, along with his fellow GAA man and clubman Con McMahon, was executed in Limerick Prison.
The two GAA men had only been arrested the previous Tuesday, were summarily charged with being in possession of ammunition, implicated in the destruction of Ardsollus Railway Station and then taken out of their cells at 8am on Saturday, January 20 and shot.
No wonder the convention gathering seven days later was much more than handbags. It was inevitable – the GAA was political, despite its protestations (then and now) of being above politics, with Sean McNamara taking to the floor and giving an emotional speech that must rank as one of the greatest ever delivered at a County Convention.
“We are living in extraordinary times,” said McNamara. “Brother is pitted against brother in deadly warfare. Comrades on the hurling field some years ago and even last year are now up in arms against each other with drawn swords, each seeking to first kill the other.
“To my mind it is not a time that we should have enjoyments such as sport, hurling or football matches or anything in that line. I think that as an organised body our place should be more or less as peacemakers. Let us try to show the world that conditions are normal in Ireland at present and there is nothing extraordinary happening.
“You are watching to see how we kill one another. You have before you the case of our late secretary Paddy Hennessy.
“Where is he today? He is gone to meet his God, by Irishmen. It may happen that any of you may also be sent by Irishmen to meet your God. I do not wish to say much on the subject. The less said, the soonest mended. I propose that we adjourn this Convention indefinitely or until such time as we have peace in this country,” he added.
Of course, Fr Hamilton was having none of it. Instead, he jumped in and said “I rule this motion out of order. That is part of the fundamental rules of our constitution. We are a non-political body and no reference or discussion of political matters should be introduced here. A motion of that kind is directly in contravention of the constitution of the GAA and I cannot accept it.”
The result was that Sean McNamara severed his links with Clare GAA, refused to let his name go forward for re-election and walked out of the Convention.
Within a year a rival Clare County Board was established, with McNamara sending out the clarion call, asking “Gaels of Clare” to “give a lead to Ireland and join up with the new board”.
Twenty two clubs did and the board lasted a couple of years before being subsumed back into to original board as peace broke out between all Gaels in the county.
It would be fitting for Clare GAA to remember this historic anniversary – 90 years to the day of it taking place. And at the upcoming convention. And while we’re at it, why not have it in the Old Ground Hotel, where the old Town Hall used to be housed.
Of course, we don’t expect it to happen. Remember last year was also an historic year for Clare GAA, with February 14 being more than just Valentine’s Day – it was the 125th anniversary of the founding of Clare GAA through the establishment of the first ever Clare County Board.
And, that meeting that got organised GAA in Clare going was also staged in the Town Hall.
Last year we suggested that the February meeting of the county board take place in the Town Hall on February 14, by way of marking the 125 years. It never happened, indeed right throughout what was Clare GAA 125, there was nothing made of the anniversary.
There’ll be nothing made of Con McMahon, Paddy Hennessy either, or of Sean McNamara and Fr Michael Hamilton for that matter.
It’s a pity.
That’s why we decided to mark the 90th anniversary here.
Lest we forget, after all.

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Joe Ó Muircheartaigh graduated from University College Dublin in 1989 with a degree in history and politics. After completing a Diploma in Journalism at The College of Commerce, Rathmines in 1991, he embarked on a career in journalism. Joe spent four years with Clare FM from 1992 and was with The Clare Champion from 1996 to 2005. He has won two McNamee Awards for GAA journalism and has published two books. Contact Joe on [email protected]

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