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Leinster Leader 25th March 2010

Leader editor a founding member of the GAA

For two decades after it first rolled off the presses in 1880 the Leinster Leader was a campaigning newspaper, enthusiastically supporting the Land League and the Home Rule movement. Its first editor, Patrick Cahill, was imprisoned for his outspoken views in support of the Land League. However it was Cahill’s successor, the double-barrelled John Wyse Power, who was to connect the Leinster Leader with a nationalist movement as enduring as any – the Gaelic Athletic Association.  An urgency in the late 19th century to shape a particular kind of Irish identity was fuelled by the formation of a number of organisations including the Gaelic League, dedicated to reviving the Irish language; the Home Rule movement, which aimed to achieve an Irish parliament; and the GAA which set out to create a code for athletics and field games distinctive to an Irish setting. The prime movers behind this markedly Irish sporting ambition were Michael Cusack of Clare and Maurice Davin of Tipperary. They signed a circular convening a meeting scheduled for Thurles on 1st November 1884. According to reports of the time, the meeting was attended by seven men generally representative of nationalist opinion. A week later the Leinster Leader published an account of the meeting which in its level of detail looked to be from an ‘inside’ source. And so it was, as one of the seven in attendance at that foundation meeting of the GAA was the then editor of the Leinster Leader - John Wyse Power. The report represented something of a ‘scoop’ for the paper, even if its historical significance was not appreciated at the time.  Wyse Power was a man of many parts. A native of Waterford he had worked for a time in the Civil Service , but resigned because its English tone jarred with his radical nationalism. In police reports he was described as being a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a prominent Fenian. He first came to Naas in late 1881 but not of his own free will – he was interned in Naas jail for protesting against landlordism in Baltinglass. He was released in March 1882 and resumed his work as a journalist contributing to the Freeman’s Journal, the leading home rule paper of its day. Baltinglass was to feature again in his life but in a happier context when in July 1883 he married Jennie O’Toole, a native of the Slaneyside town. It was a marriage which was to become a powerful political force in nationalist circles into the 20th century. Shortly before their wedding he returned to Naas (this time in a willing capacity) when he was appointed editor of the Leinster Leader in June 1883. It was a logical progression for a campaigning journalist, the Leader had been set up with an unequivocal nationalist agenda. It was during his time in the editor’s chair in Naas that he responded to Michael Cusack’s invitation to join in the inaugural meeting of the GAA. His ambition was such that he did not stay long with the Leader and by early 1885 he had moved to the staff of the Freeman’s Journal in Dublin. Nor did he stay long with the GAA leadership, parting over nuances of its approach to Irish nationalism.  However he left an important legacy being instrumental in the establishment of the association’s Dublin County Board. His dedication to nationalist activism continued; he joined the Irish Parliamentary Party and became a loyal disciple of its leader, Charles Stuart Parnell. So loyal that when the party ruptured over the ‘Parnell split’ he maintained steadfast to the hounded leader and became a spokesman for the pro-Parnell side of the divide. Even after Parnell’s death Wyse Power carried the torch and in June 1892 a report in the New York Times related how he accompanied John Redmond, by then leader of what remained of the Irish Parliamentary Party, on a visit to rally Irish-American support. Such was Wyse Power’s reputation across the Atlantic that the New York Times reported how a number of city journalists hosted a dinner in the prestigious New York Press Club to mark his arrival.  In later years he continued in journalism with the Irish Independent but his commitment to nationalism was transformed into support for his wife Jennie whose status, in a rare role reversal in a male dominated world, was to surpass that of her husband as an activist and leader across an array of nationalist organisations. Indeed such was her prominence that her career has been documented in book form. No book has been written about John Wyse Power but his role as a founder member of the GAA has been given enduring notice with the erection earlier this month of a commemorative plaque on the Leinster Leader premises at South Main Street, Naas. Series no: 170 (the knowledge of Mr. Stan Hickey, newspaper historian, is much appreciated). 

Liam Kenny in his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun'  recalls John Wyse Power, a founder member of the GAA, who has been given enduring notice with the erection of a commemorative plaque on the Leinster Leader premises at Sth. Main St., Naas. 

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