The Kerry Footballers Strike of 1910

by Weeshie Fogarty

The recent threatened strike by the members of the Gaelic Players Association could have had serious implications for the National League; thankfully they pulled back from the brink at the last moment and confined their protest to delayed starting times of games all over the country. The media had a field day covering the run up the that particular round of games wondering would the first ever strike of GAA players take place and how would the general, public respond. However with all the speculation of a strike I never once heard or for that matter saw written about the most famous stand down of all in the history of the Association.  None other than by our own Kerry senior football team and 1910 was the year. So his week I am delighted to bring back memories of a stand taken by Kerry against all the odds, a stand which in my opinion ultimately cost us another all Ireland title. Once again here we saw Kerry leading the way.

So just why did the Kingdom stand down in that year of 1910, the full facts have never been fully explained so for the record lets recount to those who are unfamiliar with events which are now shrouded in the mists of time. Let's remember that the previous year 1909 Kerry captained by Tom Costello and including Dick Fitzgerald in their line out had beaten Louth in the final, 1-9 to 1-6. Louth were captained by the legendary Jack "Sandman" Carvin, historically described as one of the Wee county's greatest ever footballers 

The following year Kerry retained their Munster title defeating Cork; 4 points to 2, Louth won out in Leinster and for the second successive year qualified to meet Kerry in the All Ireland final. The game was fixed for November 13th at Jones Road, (now Croke Park). It was never played. Kerry refused to travel and Louth were awarded and accepted a walk- over from the Centrel Council. 

The Great Southern Railway Company management of the time was regarded in Gaelic circles as hostile to the national game. In fact a Dublin publication at the time, the Dublin Leader referred to them as "The Great Sourface Railway". County boards around the country were severely handicapped when arranging matches or national demonstrations, then a feature of The Home Rule movement, by lack of co-operation on the part of the railway authorities. Excessive fares would be set and proper traveling facilities were not provided. Kerry supporters traveling to big matches were often delayed for hours, however for rugby matches it is reported that first class facilities were laid on at all times.

Now consider the traveling facilities for our great players at the time and the terrible conditions they had to endure and if you will match them with the luxury air and rail travel available to Kerry players to day. In the early nineteen hundreds two trains left Tralee for Dublin on Saturday; however the railway Company would not permit the players to travel on the 1-50 pm better, more comfortable mail train. They always had to make the trip on the second 3.20 pm. train. This was as slow as a wet week and was generally overcrowded, arriving late in Dublin. Players in two's and threes were mixed with the other passengers. Confusion was increased in Killarney where Saturday was market day and crowds of country shoppers boarded the train with baskets, bags, parcels,  live chickens, turkeys or ducks. Can you imagine the conditions for the players therefore, men traveling to play in an All Ireland final on the following day?

The late Tim Healy, former player and selector told me in an interview before his death last year that his father, a farmer, the legendary Paddy Healy of Headford would leave the fields or the bog on the Saturday, collect his boots and togs and a parcel of sandwiches wrapped in newspaper at home. The train would have an unscheduled stop near his home; he would clamor on board and maybe stand all the way to Dublin. On the return journey the following the train would drop the great Kerry player off on the side of the track and the following day at the crack of dawn it was back to his heavy farming work. There was widespread resentment at the attitude at the Railway Company and the Kerry County Board sent a strongly worded letter asking for concessions that included tickets at excursion rates be allowed the ten officials traveling with the team. The following letter in reply was received from the railway company and a photo copy of this letter which gives a fascinating insight into the thinking at the time came into my possession many years ago. Here it is word for word.
Kingsbridge, Dublin
November 9th.1910
"Dear Sir,- I am in receipt of your letter of yesterdays date and in reply beg to inform you that there will be sufficient room in the 3.20 pm train for the Kerry team traveling to Dublin on Saturday next, and it will not be necessary to provide a through coach as requested by you.

The team will be issued cheap tickets and the necessary order will be sent through Mr. O Tool, who is making arrangements. I regret that cheap tickets can not be issued generally by the ordinary trains on Saturday and nothing better than the usual Saturday to Monday tickets can be given to those desirous of traveling to Dublin on the day.
The Company has arranged a special fast train at a reasonable fare on Sunday for the covenience of the Kerry people anxious to witness the match.

Yours truly. S. Cooper, Chadwick

The opening paragraph incensed the Kerrymen, familiar as they especially were with the circumstances and the Railway Company's hostile attitude. They decided not to travel, preferring to sacrifice the All Ireland rather than submit to the shocking treatment meted out to them by the Company. Kerry's action created a sensation and widespread disappointment. Many people thought that having beaten Louth the previous year by double scores it was very foolish to throw away another All Ireland title. Others however held that a great principle was involved and that the time had arrived to take on the railway company and public bodies in Kerry passed resolutions endorsing the attitudes of the players. Nationalist organizations throughout the country did like wise. The strike was causing uproar around the country.

The Gaelic League in Ennis passed the following resolution. "That we applaud the Kerrymen for the sacrifice they made in refusing to meet Louth, in order to bring to light the grave scandal which exists in the scant courtesy with which the chief railway Company of Ireland treats the various nationalist's organizations the matter of traveling facilities".

The Munster counties fully supported Kerry's stand, many of them applauded it. On the other hand at a meeting of the Dublin county board the action of the Kerrymen was strongly condemmned and a resolution was passed calling on the central council to expel Kerry from the Association for five years. It should be recorded here that Cork stood four square behind their great Kerry rivals and a well known Cork Gael was quoted as saying, "if Kerry go into the wilderness we go with them". On December 4th Kerry's "stand down" as it was referred to, not a strike, came before the Central Council and on a vote a resolution that the match be re-fixed was defeated by seven votes to six. Five Munster men including Kerrys Austin Stack and Kilkenny's Jim Lawler were the six minority votes. The title was awarded to Louth.

Kerry later issued a challenge to play Louth and in the event of winning said that they would not accept the medals. There was no answer from Louth except stating that were "under no obligation to a bombastic challenge from Tralee". The chairman of the Louth county board however wrote to the Dublin papers saying Louth's second string would meet the Kingdom. Kerry answered back saying that they were perfectly willing to meet Louth's second string provided Louths seniors played Kerry on the same date and venue. Again no Louth reply. It was later stated at a central council meeting that as the final was not played there was no funds available and no medals would be presented to Louth. Then one paper scribe sarcastically suggested that Central Council should buy leather medals and present them to Louth because "Paper Champions" richly deserved such trophies.

A serious split in the association was barely avoided, following a suggesting that a Munster body independent of the Central Council be established, however wiser heads prevailed and the unthinkable was not followed through. This historic Kerry-Louth affair was to have great beneficial results and there was a change in the attitude of the railway company and things did improve for the Kerry players. However it must be added that in my opinion every year as far as I can recall there are still problems with the train arrangements whenever Kerry reach an All Ireland. While conditions are generally good and light years away from the 1910 scandel we have now reached a stage where you can not go by train to Dublin unless you queue up for long periods and secure not alone a ticket but also a boarding pass. And even at the end you may not even get a rail ticket. And it is still a common sight and I have experienced this myself, that you could spend the whole journey from Dublin following a game sitting on the floor between carriages or as I have also done sitting on a toilet seat. And this is not twenty years ago, but more recent.

It's only right and fitting that the present Kerry players travel in the utmost comfort to and from Dublin, God knows there are putting in enough time sweat and effort and deserve all the attention they get. However none of us should ever forget the magnificent brave stand taken at the huge expense of throwing away an All Ireland by the men of 1910. There actions should be applauded by all Kerry people and never forgotten. And in this day and age as I have often pointed out in this column more and more in my opinion our history is being pushed farther and father back, " out of sight, out of mind". We are bombarded by so much of to-day and to-morrow. Everything except our past and if you forget your past you have no future. Whatever others may say I believe that our tradition here in Kerry is the life blood of the Association at the grass roots. 

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