Book Launch: A Social and Cultural History of Sport in Ireland

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Next week, just before Ireland prepare to take on Italy in their final group game of Euro 2016, a new book will be launched in Boston College on St. Stephen’s Green. The book, A Social and Cultural History of Sport in Ireland, edited by Richard McElligott and David Hassan brings together some of the most up-to-date research on the history Irish sport from a social and cultural perspective. I am just one of the many contributors to this excellent volume. So, if you want to make a whole evening of that final group game, why not go along if you find yourself in Dublin!

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Soccer in Munster: One Year On

So this week marks a year since the publication and launch of my book, Soccer in Munster: A Social History, 1877-1937 by Cork University Press. As Ireland, and many other countries around Europe gear up for the beginning of the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament in France, it seems a fitting time to remind people why it is I wrote the book. As I said on the night of the book launch in Cork last year:

Sport matters. It matters hugely to me. It matters hugely to millions of people. Soccer matters. To me and to millions. Yes it’s a commercial behemoth that appears to have overtaken and sullied much that is good about sport. Yes it means FIFA, Sepp Blatter, and the deaths of thousands in Qatar. But soccer is so much more than FIFA and the Premier League… Soccer is much more than twenty-two men on a field kicking an inflated pig bladder. It is, and was, a central part of the lives of many Irish people. I hope my book, arguing why that is the case will, in your hands and in your minds, amount to much more than the paper and ink it is printed on but will help you see our past a little differently – with a little more colour and a little more community.

I still hope that that is the case .

That’s why, in this week when we hope that Irish dreams of something like glory on the international footballing stage will become reality, remember that the history of football, or soccer, or whatever you like to call it, is a long one in Ireland. The sport as it was played over one-hundred and fifty years ago would be nearly unrecognisable to us today, but some kernel of the same drive and desire to represent your community – whether your street, city, or country – can be found across time. For now though, it’s enough to shout: Come on You Boys in Green!

Frank Edwards: International Brigader, Teacher, Rugby Player

This year is the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, which ran from 1936-1939 and ended ultimately in victory for Franco and his military dictatorship. One of the most remarkable aspects of the republican side of the Spanish civil war was the International Brigades, which drew people from across the left spectrum to Spain to fight in aid of the Spanish republicans during the war.

Many men from across Ireland fought and died in the Spanish Civil War, including several from Waterford. Most famous of the Waterford international brigaders is Peter O’Connor but I want to focus today on Frank Edwards. Edwards was the son of Belfast Catholics who moved to Waterford and where Edwards would grow up. Edwards would train to be a teacher and would have a stint in Waterford’s famous Mount Sion school.

There are many references to Edwards in the local press before he went to fight in Spain. The earliest is a reference to his exam success in 1925, when he “passed with considerable credit the Easter Examination for teachers, and has entered on his course for training.” (Sept. 25 1925) Among the other early references to him, which might be a surprise to some, are in relation to his involvement with rugby. Although he played his rugby with his school Waterpark, the earliest sporting reference to Edwards was his inclusion in a CYMS team that played against Fethard (Oct. 11 1929). In 1930, he was elected team secretary of the Waterford City Rugby Club (Sept. 19 1930). His involvement with Waterpark did not abate and he was elected an officer of the Old Boy’s club in 1928. Edwards turned out for Waterpark in a game against Waterford when the new rugby grounds at Ballinaneeshagh, on the site of the old Bully’s Acre was opened in 1928 (Octo. 12 1928). When a Waterford selection took on Limerick’s Young Munster’s the following month, Edwards was a part of the team (Nov. 16 1928).

Edwards was also in a Waterford selection that played a Cork selection for trials for a junior interprovincial game in 1929 (Feb. 9 1929). The same year Edwards was elected onto the committee of the Waterford Boat Club (March 8 1929). He would remain a stalwart of the local rugby scene however and was part of the Waterford City team that bear Dolphin in 1930 at the Mardyke to win the Munster Junior Cup (May 9 1930).

Edwards’ interests extended well beyond sport, and he was also a  member of the local Gaelic League, being a committee member of the city branch (Oct. 14 1932). Edwards, before he went to Spain worked as a teacher in Waterford, and was admitted to the Waterford branch of the INTO (Irish National Teacher’s Organisation) in 1928 (Jan. 27, 1928). By 1934, he was treasurer of the East Waterford branch of the INTO and was also involved as treasure of the Waterford Workers’ Council. (Feb. 2 1934; March 29 1935).

It was through his membership of the INTO and the Republican Congress that he would become well-known in Waterford beyond the city’s small rugby fraternity. As a member of the Waterford Workers’ Council he was critical of the then Fianna Fáil government being quoted as saying in 1933 that in his view the government did not “sypmathise with the masses” (March 24 1933). Only a month before, he let it be known that he felt that the people of Waterford would be better served by the provision of more housing, rather “than in the erection of houses for stray cats, one of which was being provided in this country on the most up-t0-date lines.” (Feb. 10 1933)

Edwards was the head of the local Republican Congress and was speaking when a major riot broke out between those who supported the Republican Congress and the Blueshirts in 1934. (June 8 1934). His involvement in the Republican Congress saw Edwards fired from his post in Mount Sion, and his students went on sympathetic strike to have him re-instated in 1835, causing uproar locally. During the course of the strike, the parents and children who were divided on Edwards and his situation clashed, leading the Civic Guards to charging at the crowd with their battons. (Jan. 18 1935)

Edwards remained in Waterford after this fiasco but went to Spain in December 1936, just two months after the passing of his mother. After the Spanish Civil War, he would return to Ireland, and would spend the remainder of his teaching career at the Zion School in South Dublin, a primary school for Dublin’s Jewish community.