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25/09/2021

Bansha man, Thomas St George McCarthy, the only GAA founder excluded from honoured memory

Big read in a recent edition of The Nationalist

Croke Park is expected to swell with more than 60,000 fans this Sunday. Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Croke Park

A Bansha man, Thomas St George McCarthy, was the only GAA founder to be excluded from honoured memory.

The reasons for this are that in 1888, the GAA prohibited any of its members from serving with either the RIC or the British Army. McCarthy was an RIC policeman and thus he was banned from membership.

District Inspector McCarthy, the last of the seven original GAA founders, was subsequently buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Dublin’s Deans Grange Cemetery.

In later years renowned RIC historian Jim Herlihy located the grave and set in motion the idea of rehabilitating McCarthy’s memory.

Jim McDonald, chairman of the George Cross Foundation, duly put the idea to Jarlath Burns, the former Armagh star who was heading the GAA's 125th anniversary organising committee.

Burns took up the challenge and subsequently a granite commemorative stone was unveiled on MaCarthy’s grave in November 2009.

This ceremony was attended by representatives of the GAA and of both an Garda Siochána and the PSNI, as an acknowledgement of McCarthy's membership of the RIC.

I have included McCarthy in my book 'Tipperary People of Great Note', one of a number of prominent Bansha people featured in the book.

However for many the name of Thomas St. George McCarthy would not be well known in his native village or indeed throughout the country.

Perhaps it is time therefore to recognise McCarthy in his native place with some form of appropriate memorial?

The Galtee Rovers GAA Club might take up the challenge in honouring the Bansha man who was one of the founders of the GAA in 1884. It would be fitting to see McCarthy recognised in the place where he was born and reared and where he began his sporting career.       

McCarthy was a sporting all-rounder. Born in Bansha, Co. Tipperary on the 11th of June 1862, he was a founder member of the Gaelic Athletic Association, being present at Hayes Hotel, Thurles, at the Association's inaugural meeting on 1 November 1884.

His father, George, a native of Kerry, was Lieutenant of the Revenue Police, County Inspector of the RIC and Resident Magistrate. He was married to Mary (Doherty) and was transferred to Bansha in 1858.

Thomas was educated at Tipperary Grammar School (now the Abbey School), an Erasmus Smith School situated in Tipperary Town.

Rugby was the sport of the school and here McCarthy took his first steps to an illustrious sporting career. He secured first place in Ireland in the R.I.C. cadetship examinations and at the time of the foundation of the GAA, was a District Inspector of the R.I.C. based at Templemore, County Tipperary.

He had a great love of the game of hurling, which he witnessed being played in his native village of Bansha, by the local enthusiasts, who were later to form the Galtee Rovers GAA club.

He was one of seven sports enthusiasts who gathered in Hayes' Hotel in Thurles in 1884, for the inaugural meeting of the GAA. He had been friends with Michael Cusack whom he met after he moved to Dublin in 1887.

Cusack had a cramming school and he coached McCarthy for the RIC cadetship examination in 1882, in which he took first place. McCarthy an accomplished athlete, won an international cap for the Irish rugby team against Wales in 1882.

He believed that the new gaelic association would encourage young men onto the sports field and away from the temptations of hard liquor. However, ironically, two years later he fell foul of the association's own rules when it instituted the controversial rule 21 that prohibited any member of the British forces from joining the association.

Prior to this McCarthy had been carving out a strong sporting career. In 1879 he played for Cusack's Academy rugby team and then joined Dublin University Football Club.

He was a member of the 1982 University team which won the Leinster Senior Cup, in the inaugural year of the competition, and that same year played for Ireland against Wales in the first international between the two countries.

He also played soccer for Limavady FC when he was stationed in the town in 1888, and captained both the town's football and cricket clubs.

He was a double winner of the County Derry senior cup in football and the inaugural County Londonderry Senior cricket cup final in 1888.

He rose to become vice-president of the North West of Ireland Football Association and captain of the County Londonderry representative cricket side that played against the Northern Cricket Union.

McCarthy's career took him around the country and he served as an RIC Officer in Derry, Tyrone, Louth, Kildare, Limerick, Mayo and Longford. In November 1887 he married Lucie Josephine Lynch in Dublin's Pro Cathedral.

They had a daughter Kathleen, an Abbey Actress, who later emigrated to Australia and a son George, who practiced law in Canada. When Thomas retired from the RIC in 1912 he went to live in the Ranelagh area of Dublin.

Following his retirement he was a regular attender at matches in Croke Park, with most people unaware that one of the founders of the GAA was in attendance.

His sister Kathleen, having died as an infant, is buried in the old cemetery in Bansha. Thomas St George McCarthy died at Linden Convalescent Home in Blackrock, Dublin, on 12th March, 1943, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Deans Grange cemetery. Because of reduced means he would have no headstone afforded him, to mark the grave he bought for himself, while still living.

For over 66 years, his remains lay unmarked and unrecognised in Deans Grange cemetery. While fellow founders like Maurice Davin, Michael Cusack and J. K. Bracken, were referred to by the GAA as household names, McCarthy lay with nothing to prove his personal legacy to the Irish Nation, until the GAA set about marking its 125th Anniversary in 2009.

The GAA chiefs went about righting McCarthy’s legacy by erecting a headstone on the grave to acknowledge his role as a founder member of the GAA.

The symbolic gesture came about after a police memorial group in Northern Ireland expressed concern to Jarlath Burns, the former Armagh star who was heading the GAA's 125th commemorations, that his contribution to gaelic games had been effectively airbrushed from history.

Jarlath took up the challenge and raised the matter with the GAA, who produced a fitting tribute to McCarthy which gives him the recognition he has always deserved.

The ceremony to mark the installation of McCarthy's headstone took place on November 18th, 2009 attended by Christy Cooney, Úachtarán C.L.G. and Padraig Duffy, Árd Stiúrathóir C.L.G., Garda Commissioner Facthna Murphy and Chief Superintendent of the PSNI Gerry O'Callaghan, other representatives of An Garda Siochána and the PSNI and family members.

When Rule 21 of the GAA Rulebook was removed, a trophy named in honour of Thomas St. George McCarthy was put up for inter Garda/PSNI Competition.

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