GAA "Ban"

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GAA "Ban"

The GAA ban rules, which varied in force and substance, ultimately decreed that anyone who played, promoted, or attended "foreign games" (cricket, hockey, rugby, and soccer), or who was a member of the British security forces, was prohibited from membership in the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Further, no GAA club was allowed to organize any entertainment at which "foreign dances" (essentially all dancing unrelated to Irish traditional, folk, or country music) were permitted, and any GAA member who attended dances run either by the British security forces or by foreign games clubs was liable to be suspended for two years. Although it was in the five decades after independence that these rules were strongest, the very first ban rules were introduced in January 1885, within two months of the founding of the GAA; they banned athletes who competed in athletics meetings run by other organizations from competing at GAA meetings. A similar ban relating to clubs involved in field games was introduced in March 1886. Essentially, both rules were intended to increase the administrative and organizational power of the GAA in its struggle to gain control of sport in Ireland. Land agitation and political turmoil in 1887 brought the GAA to ban members of the police, though not the army, from joining the GAA. When political division almost obliterated the organization in the early 1890s, it moved to remove the police ban in 1893, and then its foreign games ban in 1896, in an attempt to draw new members. By the early 1900s membership had improved as interest in organized sport increased. Nationalist sentiment in the country also grew, and this brought the return of the ban rules—involving for the first time the exclusion of army, navy, and prison officers, and all who watched foreign games—this time with the stated intention of drawing a divide between Irish Ireland and those portrayed as "West British."

The rules did not enjoy unanimous support within the association in the preindependence era, and there were almost annual attempts to have them weakened or removed—several of which failed only narrowly. After 1921 support for the ban hardened, and vigilance committees were established to police the rules, which were broadened to include a ban on "foreign music" between 1929 and 1932. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there was widespread evasion of the rules, and by the 1960s a serious campaign emerged calling for their elimination. The relative opening of Irish society in the 1960s, coupled with the televising of games from all sports, brought a reassessment of policy, and in 1971 the GAA voted to remove its ban on members playing foreign games and attending foreign dances. The ban on members of the British security forces was retained, and despite infrequent attempts at deletion, it remained until November 2001. The ban on the playing of foreign games on GAA pitches remained in place even after that date.

SEE ALSO Gaelic Revivalism: The Gaelic Athletic Association; Sport and Leisure


de Búrca, Marcus. The GAA: A History. 1999.

MacLua, Brendan. The Steadfast Rule: A History of the G.A.A. Ban. 1967.

Mandle, W. F. The Gaelic Athletic Association and Irish Nationalist Politics, 1884–1925. 1987.

Rouse, Paul. "The Politics of Culture and Sport in Ireland: A History of the GAA Ban on Foreign Games, 1884–1971.

Part One: 1884–1921." International Journal of the History of Sport 10, no. 3 (December 1993): 333–360.

Paul Rouse