The Genesis of the G.A.A.
Pat Davin’s Diary of the “Gaelic-American Invasion”, 1888
Davin (Pat) (1851 – 1949) A highly important original Manuscript Diary, Notes, kept by Pat Davin, ‘The World’s All-Round Athletic Champion’ and brother of GAA co-founder Maurice Davin, recounting the expedition of a group of athletes to the eastern USA in the fall of 1888 to showcase Irish hurling and athletics and raise funds for the Association.
The present collection (from family sources) includes a reproduced Chancellor photograph of Pat Davin wearing his medals; an original programme for a fund-raising exhibition by ‘the Gaelic-American team’ in advance of their American tour, 1888, held at Young Ireland Athletic Grounds, Dundalk; a programme for a Grand Reception and Concert by the Nationalists of New York to the Gaelic Athletic Association at Tammany Hall, October 29 1888, featuring ‘God Save Ireland’ to be sung by the entire audience; a note in Pat Davin’s hand dated 3 Oct. 1888, ‘Team went on excursion down the Harbour with members of the Irish Society. Visited Deer Island Gaol or House of Detention, were shown all over the place by the Gov., an Irishman ..’; and about 20 other manuscript letters and notes in Davin’s hand, mostly concerning their American tour.
The “Gaelic-American Invasion” was the brainchild of Maurice Davin of Deerpark, Carrick-on-Suir. Davin, a farmer and river haulier, had founded the GAA in 1884 together with Michael Cusack and had drawn up rules for hurling and football and organised the Association on a parish and county basis. He and his brothers Pat and Tom were athletes of world class ability. The plan was to send a party of some fifty hurlers and athletes to America, where over the course of a month they would tour the Irish centres of the eastern seaboard, draw American attention to the superb quality of Irish sportsmen, extend the work of the Association, and above all raise money. The financial target was £5,000, with which it was hoped to revive the Aonach Tailteann, the national sporting festival which had been played on the Hill of Tara in ancient times.
After a week of exhibition matches intended to raise the profile of the event, the group embarked from Queenstown on 16 September aboard the Guion Line’s Wisconsin, together with a cargo of 200 hurleys with green labels marked “Gaelic-American Invasion”, and arrived in New York nine days later. Everywhere they were feted enthusiastically. However, the enterprise was dogged by misfortune: bad weather resulted in poor attendance at matches; Irish-American societies were occupied with the excitements of the US presidential election, due on 6 November; and rivalry between the two main athletic bodies in America resulted in a lack of opposition teams – often the “invaders” were left to put on exhibition matches among themselves.
Financially the expedition was a disaster. Far from raising money, the Association was only able to fund the return journey thanks to a generous loan of £450 from its patron Michael Davitt. The group embarked from New York on 31 October aboard the Anchor Line’s City of Rome – “widely regarded as the most beautiful liner ever to cross the Western Ocean” – and reached Cork on 8 November.
The failure of the venture encouraged hard-line IRB elements within the GAA to renew their attacks on Maurice Davin, who resigned as President in January 1889 and withdrew from his central role in the GAA.
Pat Davin’s diary covers most days of the “invasion” from leaving Deerpark on 8 September until the last day of the return voyage. His comments, are detailed, vivid, often amusing and occasionally sad. Like all Irish people, he “networked” furiously with compatriots met in foreign parts, naming many old acquaintances from south Tipperary and mid-Waterford. On the two voyages he mentions sickness in rough seas (“steerage passengers thrown about the deck like dead dogs, men women & children in heaps together”); dancing and drinking in fine weather, and competing to out-sing a Salvation Army choir (“our fellows had the best of it and silenced the Salvations with God Save Ireland”).
In America he reports on receptions, parades, outings and banquets, finding it hard to meet the hectic combination of socialising and athletics. He praises the step-dancing of the girls: “their proficiency at this amusement was enough to make one overlook their shortcomings in the matter of good looks”. He gives details of the various sporting events, in which the Irish acquitted themselves well in spite of bad weather (“small attendance, day slobbery”) and injuries to themselves and their hurleys (substitute hurleys made of hickory “went to matchwood first trial”).
As he left New York homeward bound, Davin noted somberly: “City of Rome sailed away at 2.30 today bearing home the sad remnant of the 53 hurlers and athletes who landed on American soil just five weeks yesterday. Only twenty-four men returned; most of the others remained permanently in America.” And some of the twenty-four later went to join their comrades – a poignant reflection on the allure of the New World in the Ireland of 1888.
A collection of the first importance. During the 1880’s the three Davin Brothers from Carrick-on-Suir, Maurice, Tom & Pat, held more than half of the Worlds Records for running, jumping, hurdling and weight throwing. The Davin family was the most important in the early history of the G.A.A. and of Irish Athletics in General.
Provenance: By direct family descent.