He was speaking at the final celebration marking the foundation of the GAA in 1884, which was a commemoration of its second ever meeting, one which took place in the Victoria Hotel in Cork city centre and in the same room where Archbishop Croke’s famous letter was read for the first time exactly 125 years ago.
Symbolically, the attendance included Dr Dermot Clifford – the sixth Archbishop of Cashel (and Emly) to hold the position of GAA patron, as well as the Lord Mayor of Cork, Dara Murphy.
The Cork meeting – held on December 27, 1884 – was presided over by Alderman Paul Madden, then Mayor-elect of Cork. The group of 17 present (predominantly from Cork and Dublin) included the president of the fledgling organisation, Maurice Davin, and Michael Cusack then Joint Secretary.
Also present was journalist John McKay, who worked with the then Cork Examiner (later with the Irish News), who, it was pointed out, went to Thurles to report on the inaugural meeting and ended up being elected Joint Secretary!
Archbishop Croke, described by GAA historian Marcus de Burca as a leading nationalist member of the Catholic hierarchy, wrote what Christy Cooney referred to as ‘a sensational letter’ to the Cork meeting. In responding to Michael Cusack’s letter inviting him to become a patron, he ‘went out on a limb,’ in accepting the honour, he said, pointing out that the Catholic church didn’t give its full support to the new association until the 1920s.
Addressing the meeting, Cooney said that the greatest challenge now facing the GAA is ‘to carry on their marvellous legacy’ and bring it forward to make it stronger and more vibrant than ever before.
“I believe that the leadership exists in the Association at all levels and I believe more than ever that the leadership exists at grassroots level. The word ‘voluntary’ is the strongest that exists in our association, because it depicts that people give of their time freely. They do it because of their love of the Association, so, the message from me today is ‘upwards and stronger’.”
Again expressing the view that Lá na gClub had been a particular highlight, he said: “it brought people back into clubs and really set a path for being strong as a club unit over the next 125 years. It also gave a vibrancy to the Association and a vibrancy to the nation as well in what has been a difficult economic time for our country. That’s really what has been created – a memory of our founders, a memory of where we come from. But, it also shows the great movement forward that the Association has taken since 1884 and then in 1984.
“Now it’s about keeping our units strong and vibrant, about celebrating our Association being 125 years in a special way but not over-doing it in any significant way – just a reminder to people what we stand for and the ideals and aims that the Association has.
“Thankfully our clubs are still the focal point in nearly every community throughout the length and breadth of the country and also now in a significant way overseas.’’
The attendance also included the Chairman of the Munster Council, Jimmy O’Gorman, CEO Pat Fitzgerald, Cork County Board Chairman Jerry O’Sullivan, Secretary Frank Murphy and other officers, as well as hotel proprietor Monica King, who was made a presentation of a framed copy of the Croke letter.