Australia’s hurling history revealed

It began with a story this autumn on these pages — but no-one could have imagined the treasure trove of photographic memorabilia the Irish Examiner would help unearth.

Australia’s hurling history revealed

The September 17 story headlined Hurling played Down Under in era before GAA founded was based on a speech by historian Dr Pat Bracken at a sports history conference.

Dr Bracken had uncovered a set of hurling rules from the Lauriston Hurling Club, adopted by the Victorian Hurling Association in 1878 — six years prior to the foundation of the GAA — to cater for clubs in Melbourne, Kyneton, Collingwood Brighton, Prahran, and Richmond.

The story came to the attention of Terry O’Connor, an Australian researching his family history. His great grandfather Edward emigrated from Bansha, Tipperary to Victoria, in 1862 and became secretary of Lauriston Hurling Club 15 years later.

Lauriston Hurling Team c.1880s

O’Connor subsequently made contact with Bracken and has provided a treasure trove of information and images from the era in recent days. Bracken, a librarian in Thurles, who has undertaken research at the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University, Leicester described the link up with O’Connor and “phenomenal piece of good fortune.”

“The information which Terry has provided, and his personal connection to the formative years of hurling in Australia via the O’Connor family, is truly remarkable. I have been fascinated by the growth of the game in Australia, at a time when there was a perception that hurling was in decline in Ireland, if not even extinct in some places.

“The connection of a Tipperary man as captain of the team supports my view the game was widespread in rural Munster in the 1870s.”

But why did this corner of Australia become such a hurling stronghold? Bracken explained: “Lauriston was home to a booming gold mining and agricultural community. It was not unusual for families to emigrate at this time, and the spread of hurling in Australia reflected this pattern. An important element in Australian sport at this time was that the codification of games and recreations was an integral part of the sporting ethos.

“Australian Rules football was one of the earliest ball games codified in 1859, and this helped set in motion the great Australian love of sport.”

Bracken said the rules and regulations which the Lauriston officials introduced to the state showed a remarkable level of detail.

“The Lauriston rules of 1878 detail aspects of the game from the provision of umpires, the number of players, goals and side posts and even the act of chopping down on an opponents hurley,” he said.

Kyneton Hurling team, Champions of Victoria 1903

“These all point to a game, in my opinion, which had structure and codification prior to the emigration of these men from Ireland.”

The Lauriston team photograph taken around the turn of the century reveals the attire of the era. Dr Bracken explained: “You may also see there is a sash on the vests/waistcoats of the players, which for all intents and purposes is the team colours. The man in the centre front holds a very large sliotar, not too unlike the size of the sliotar which was used in Ireland at that time.”

Players from that Lauriston area formed the nucleus of the Kyneton District Hurling Team who were crowned champions of Victoria in 1903. And Bracken notes that those who posed for a photograph taken 111 years ago were keen to display their Irish background for future generations. “The text Kyneton District Hurling Team at the very top of the image is written by using hurleys, which interlock, or are turned around or upside down to make the text. It is a very novel way of denoting the Irish heritage of many of the men, something I have not seen used in any hurling photo previously.”

Edward O’Connor

Terry O’Connor feels that the publication of these pictures and reporting of this era is fitting tribute to his great grandfather and those who introduced hurling to Australia.

“I think my great grandfather would be very happy to see his hurling deeds reported in an Irish newspaper, long after his career in Victoria had ended. There was a whole network of hurling clubs in Victoria at this time, not only Lauriston. Kyneton, Collingwood, Brighton, Prahran, and Richmond were also active hurling centres. But it is the men of Lauriston who are dearest to my heart. I am delighted Pat has brought the hurling men of Lauriston to light — they deserve to share in hurling’s great story.”

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