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NAAS G.A.A. - THE BEGINNING - Priests, printers and doctors key figures in county town’s GAA story

Priests, printers and doctors key figures in county town’s GAA story
 Although the major championships are wrapped up for another season the GAA continues to feature in the sporting news both at national and at local levels. At national level there is continued controversy about  a grants scheme for senior inter county players not to mention on going debate about the configuration of the championships and revisions of the playing rules. At local level of course the various league and challenge games at all levels fill the sports pages of this newspaper.
The fact that the GAA manages to hold the attention of the sporting public even outside of its main playing season is testament to the deep and pervasive roots of the Association among Irish society. In Naas for example the club in the county town celebrated the 120th anniversary of its founding last month recalling an evening in October 1887 when a group of prominent figures in the locality convened to formally put a club structure in place. Indeed the GAA clarion call had already been heard in Naas three years earlier when the then editor of the Leinster Leader, John Wyse-Power attended the now legendary inaugural meeting of the GAA in Hayes Hotel, Thurles, on 1st November 1884. Wyse-Power’s tenure at the Leader was short-lived and he had left Naas well before the 16th October 1887 when the local branch of the Association was  inaugurated. There was no shortage of men representative of the upper echelons of Naas society present with the clergy, doctors, solicitors and high street merchants all prominent. Indeed the story of the formation of the Naas club gives an important insight into the urban dimension of the early years of the GAA – a history often lost sight of in the prevailing rural parish imagery of much GAA history.
Among those attending the inaugural meeting on 16 October 1887 were Dr. Smith, Messrs. S. J. Browne, W. Staples, James O’Hanlon, P.J. Duncan, J. Nanetti, W. Masterson, J. Donnellan, J. Clarke, M. Gogarty, Rev. E. Walsh and J.M. Ginnane. The most exotic name here is that of Nanetti, a printer in the Kildare Observer newspaper offices in the market square. In later years Nanetti became involved in metropolitan politics in Dublin, was elected the capital’s Lord Mayor, and is immortalised among the menagerie of characters in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Back to the story of the Naas GAA club the proceedings were monitored by two representatives from the central executive of the GAA – Messrs. Seery and Dunleavy – showing how the fledgling GAA had already established a tight organisational hierarchy. The formation of a branch was proposed by James O’Hanlon and seconded by William Staples and the meeting proceeded to elect the first club officers namely: President; Fr. E. Walsh CC; Vice- President; S.J.Browne, Secretary: J. M. Ginnane and Treasurer J O’Hanlon.
The early games were played in fields near the Naas branch of the canal while gymnastic equipment was installed in the Town Hall and, indicating the political character of the early GAA, the club held debates in the Hall on Sunday nights.
The centenary of the Naas club was marked in October 1987 with the unveiling of a fine plaque on the façade of the Town Hall; the 120th anniversary was marked last month with a function also in the Town Hall.
Indeed for GAA stalwarts in Kildare,  this year and next mark a number of notable anniversaries: this year is the 80th anniversary of Kildare’s victory over Kerry in the 1927 All Ireland while next year will similarly mark the 80th anniversary of Kildare’s last All Ireland victory, this time beating Cavan in the final. The 1928 All Ireland was also the first time that the Sam Maguire trophy was presented so while the Lilywhites have not succeeded in lifting the cup since at least supporters can trump those from other counties by pointing out that Kildare was the first county to have its name inscribed on one of the world’s most iconic sporting trophies.
  • To Spooner’s Lane and beyond Naas GAA 1887-1987 by Liam McManus gives a full account of the founding of the Naas club.
Series No. 41

An interesting article on the early years of the G.A.A. in Naas by Liam Kenny from his regular column in the Leinster Leader, 'Nothing New Under the Sun, dated 15 November 2007.

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