Co-authors Noel Hynes and Brian Willoughby spent several years cataloguing the players for Gaurdians of the GAA, a book which also explores various aspects of the relationship between the country’s police force and the Association.
Hynes is from Kilworth in north Cork (“Hurling and handball, no football”) and joined the Garda Síochána in 1955.
“There were six inter-county players there with me, the likes of Eric Ryan who played for Cork, and Seamie O’Donnell of Louth - who won an All-Ireland when Louth beat Cork in 1957.
“I never played for the county myself, just junior, but I was always interested in Gaelic games.”
Hynes retired over 30 years ago and like many another man who made it to the pension, wondered about filling his days.
“I often had the idea about a book because I believed it had never been done, a book about the inter-county players who were also Gardaí. In 1998 I started researching in the Garda Museum in Dublin, and found that while there had been plenty of articles written on the subject, there’d never been a book dedicated to the topic.”
Hynes was up and running, but his wife fell ill a couple of years after he began and passed away in 2007, and he put the project to one side. About four years ago he got a phone call from a serving Garda, Brian Willoughby.
“Brian is the detective sergeant down in Mullingar and had sent me a lot of names of intercounty players before. When he rang he asked if I’d ever published the book. I explained what had happened and so on, but in the course of the conversation the spark took again, if you like, and I said to him, ‘would you come on board with it and we’d finish it together?”
Willoughby jumped at the chance and the book was back on.
“Since then we put the boot down and got it done, and we came up with over 1,600 names,” says Hynes. “We started in 1922 and went to 2017. Early on I was thinking in terms of a couple of hundred names, but even when my wife got ill I was at 800 names already. When Brian got on board, as a serving Garda he was able to get information on current Gardaí, and the number soon went up. The book isn’t just a list of names either. We have articles on the history of the Gardaí and the GAA, starting off with General Eoin O’Duffy.”
The first Commissioner of the force, O’Duffy looms large over the early days of the Gardaí. From the start, in the early twenties, he saw the GAA as an ideal vehicle for an early form of community policing. When recruits were sent all over Ireland in that unsettled decade they were encouraged to join sports clubs near their barracks and stations to integrate. That’s something O’Duffy favoured, that link, because the RIC, which the Gardai were replacing, didn’t do that and were never really part of the community. It worked out well because they got involved in coaching and administration as well as playing, and that in turn helped with the tensions from the Civil War, which was very recent.
Some of O’Duffy’s interventions were more focused on silverware than policing. Hynes points out that he brought a lot of the good intercounty players up to Dublin early on to the Gardaí, forming the Garda GAA club there, with benefits for the Dublin county team.
“In 1927 Dublin hurlers beat Cork in the All-Ireland final, which was a big surprise.
“But on the Dublin side there were nine Gardaí - and five Gardaí among the subs. Fourteen members, which isn’t a record you’d see beaten any time soon. That’s because the likes of Mick Gill, Garrett Howard and Fowler McInerney were all on that team, they’d been brought up to Dublin by O’Duffy. Dublin wasn’t the only place with a Garda team, of course - there was a Garda club team in Cork which won the Cork senior football title in 1951, the famous Phil ‘Gunner’ Brady of Cavan played on that team.
A lot of the players are just names with no information behind them,” says Hynes, “Just a name and the county they played for, those names are in a separate list to the rest, at the back of the book.” - but a lot of them are well known, from current stars such as Padraic Maher of Tipperary and Mayo’s David Clarke down the decades to Brian Murphy of Cork and Frank Cummins of Kilkenny.
Hynes got a couple of good ones to launch the book (last night?) in Copper Face Jack’s in Dublin, too. Serving Gardaí Eddie Brennan of Kilkenny and Aidan O’Mahony of Kerry did the honours. Just the 14 All-Ireland medals between them.