Cusack, Michael

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Cusack, Michael

Michael Cusack (1847–1906), founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, was born in the Burren, Co. Clare, on 20 September and qualified in 1866 as a primary-level schoolteacher. In 1877, three years after he moved to Dublin, he opened the Civil Service Academy, preparing students for the army, police, and civil service. He also ran weekly courses in the educational column of a nationalist magazine.

From boyhood Cusack had participated in the traditional athletics of rural Ireland, and in Dublin he joined in the management of amateur athletics. Convinced that Irish athletics urgently needed reforming to open them to nationalist youths, who were de facto barred from competing, and to end abuses such as betting and rigging of results, he advocated the formation of a new athletics body. However, largely because of his quarrelsome personality and his constant preaching of nationalist views to loyalist audiences, his efforts were continually thwarted. In 1882 he decided to go it alone.

In 1884 Cusack received backing from Maurice Davin, an Irish athlete of international repute, to start a new body that would revive the ancient Celtic game of hurling and reform athletics. At a meeting in the Tipperary town of Thurles on 1 November 1884, Cusack and Davin launched the Gaelic Athletic Association. Because Cusack had carefully laid the organizational foundations in provincial Ireland, the new body spread rapidly. But rifts in the association's executive led to Cusack's dismissal as chief officer in July 1886, and for the remaining twenty years of his life he remained on the fringes of the association.

By the late 1890s Cusack, dependent on private tutoring for his livelihood, had met the undergraduate James Joyce. By then having lived more than twenty years in Dublin, Cusack was a familiar figure in the city—with a bushy beard, frock coat, and broad-brimmed hat, and accompanied by his dog Garryowen. He became the model for the Citizen, the main character in the Cyclops episode of Joyce's Ulysses, who dominates the boisterous gathering in Kiernan's pub near Green Street courthouse. Both as the founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association and as the model for an immortal character in Ulysses, Michael Cusack carved out his own distinctive niche in Irish history.

SEE ALSO Gaelic Revivalism: The Gaelic Athletic Association; Literacy and Popular Culture


de Búrca, Marcus. Michael Cusack and the GAA. 1989.

Ó Caithnia, Liam P. Micheál Cíosóg. 1982.

Marcus de Búrca