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Kildare’s county town scores in Croke Park and not a ball kicked

Kildare has this month again written its name into the illustrious story of Croke Park … and all without a ball being kicked. On Friday last a party from the county town’s GAA club made a presentation to the archive and museum at GAA Headquarters which will be a first-class resource for students of the history of Gaelic organisation. The Naas GAA Club through the good offices of club historian Liam McManus handed over a minute book recording the earliest months of the Naas club for two years from its foundation in October 1887.
The story of the GAA countrywide in its early days is a fluid one with many clubs forming in the mid 1880s only to evaporate just as quickly. There was constant turmoil in the officer boards of clubs and the preservation of minutes and records was haphazard. Thus the Naas GAA minute book represents one of the very few documentary insights into the story of club formation in the Association in the mid 1880s. 
And while the minute books were welcomed with open arms by Croke Park archivist Mark Reynolds the best news of all is that the information in the minute books is not lost to Naas but is available to be viewed by all with access to the internet.
In a labour of love spanning several years Liam McManus transcribed the minutes into a typescript form where they could be scanned by computer.
In a gesture of great generosity the Naas GAA club has uploaded the full set of minutes on to club’s popular website. This means that while the original minute book might fascinate researchers at GAA headquarters their content is now available to local people and historians near and far. 
Records are like oxygen to the local historian but in bygone times were often held in archives and libraries with restricted access and limited opening hours. By putting such records on the web the information is available for study by researchers at all times and in any part of the world. Would that many other clubs and firms would follow the example of Naas GAA club and make their records available in such a democratic manner.
And there is plenty to intrigue and entertain in the Naas club minutes. Happily this newspaper can claim a role in the nurturing of the embryonic club as its first secretary was J M Ginnane, a staff member of the Leinster Leader Ltd., who killed two birds with one stone by discharging his minute-taking functions in the form of a printed report in the paper.  He then pasted the relevant cuttings into the minute book so that for a few weeks in autumn 1887 the minutes of the club comprise cuttings from the local paper.
Ginnane did not remain in the position for very long and soon was succeeded by one P J Doyle who lived in South Main Street, Naas – later moving to Yeomanstown, Caragh – who from November 1887 began to write the first manuscript minutes into the book.  Although completed in 1889 the first book was passed through various caring hands until it arrived into Liam McManus’s home in the late 1980s shortly after he had completed his seminal book “To Spooner’s lane and beyond” which charted the history of the Naas club through the early 20th century and up to the 1980s.
Returning to the early minute books the accounts of the meetings make for dramatic reading with politics – internal or external – often eclipsing the business of playing games. And the Naas club – in its earliest days titled the John Dillon branch, GAA, Naas, was not shy about its political connections. Its earliest fundraising activity was to invite John Redmond, who was one of the leading Irish MPs in Westminister to give a lecture in Naas Town Hall in December 1887 on the patriotic subject of “Hugh O’Neill” – one of the last Irish chieftains. And even at that the object of such a high  profile fund raising was not – as might have been expected – to raise funds for equipping a football team but rather to collect money to set up a brass band which would entertain at matches in Naas and further afield.  The night was clearly a success with a clipping pasted into the minutes from the Leader recording that “A splendid gathering of the manhood of Naas assembled in the Naas Town Hall on Monday evening …..”  No mention of the womanhood of Naas in those pre-suffragette times but in later years the Gaelic women of the county town would make their mark on the club’s fortunes.
John Redmond’s visit to Naas in December 1887 was reciprocated by the Naas club the following year when the minutes record that club members passed a motion “That we the members of the John Dillon (Naas) Branch, GAA, protest against the scandalous imprisonment of Mr John Redmond MP and offer to him in his prison cell the expression of our sincere sympathy with him in adding the sacrifice of his liberty to the many services he has rendered to the cause of Ireland.”
This highly charged motion is just a snippet from the treasury of human interest recorded in the Naas GAA minute book which now takes pride of place in Croke Park’s archives but whose contents have been given a permanent presence accessible to all on the world wide web.

Postscript: Just to show that some things never change the following is a quote from a letter written by a soldier in the Curragh in 1914: “A friend of mine sold a bad hunter to a sausageman the other day and got a better price for it as meat than he would have as a hunter. The man told him that horses weigh so much more than beef and are better value in that way!” Acknowledgement to reader Eamonn T. Gardiner for this digestive gem with a modern echo. no: 319.


Looking Back Series no. 319: Naas GAA Club handed over a minute book recording the earliest months of the Naas club for two years from its foundation in October 1887.

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