GAA - Sports in Mayo
The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) – An Cumann Luthchleas Gael – was established in 1884 as part of a wider cultural nationalist movement prevalent in Ireland in the closing decades of the 19th century. At a time of general growth in spectator sports, the GAA organised amateur team games of Gaelic football, hurling, camogie and rounders, initially on a club basis and later at both county and provincial level.
Two Mayo men, P.W. Nally (1856-91), of Balla and Michael Davitt (1846-1906), of Straide, played major roles in the founding of the GAA. P.W. Nally was born in Rockstown House, Balla in 1856. A prominent athlete, he became involved with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and was the Connaught representative on its Supreme Council. He organised athletic sports events in Mayo in 1879 and is acknowledged as being a major influence behind the establishment of the GAA. In March 1884, he was sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude for conspiracy and died in prison in 1891, two weeks short of his release date. In 1900, a memorial to P.W. Nally was unveiled in Balla and in 1953 the Nally Stand at Croke Park in Dublin, the Gaelic games national stadium, was dedicated in his honour.
Michael Davitt (1846-1906), founder of the Land League, was one of the initial patrons of the GAA and later provided the finance for a tour of the USA by GAA athletes in 1888. He is buried in his birthplace of Straide, where a memorial museum was opened in 1984. The local football team, the Moy Davitts, is named in his honour.
The Mayo County Board of the GAA was formed in 1888 and the Connaught Council established in 1902. The Council’s first President was Westport-man Joseph MacBride, a brother of Republican activist Major John MacBride (1865-1916). The Castlebar Mitchels, established in 1885, was the first GAA club in Mayo. Having won two senior football championships before the turn of the century, the club fell into decline for almost 30 years. Revived in the late 1930s, it acquired McHale Park now one of the top grounds in the country with an all-seater capacity of almost 30,000. Over the years, the Mitchels have produced many great players, most notably All-Ireland Senior Winners Josie Munnelly, Henry Kenny, Patsy Flannery, Mick Flanagan, Eamon Mongey and Joe Langan.
The Ballina Stephenites, founded in 1886, was the first Mayo club to win the Croke Cup Final – the nearest equivalent to the current All-Ireland Championship – defeating Kerry, Kildare and Waterford in 1907, 1908 and 1909. At that time, clubs played for the county championship and the winner represented their county in the provincial games, from which they qualified for the Croke Cup. In recent years, Mayo clubs that have contested the All-Ireland Championship Final include Garrymore(1982), Castlebar Mitchels (1994,2014,2016), Knockmore (1997), Crossmolina (2001) and Ballina Stephenites (1999) and who captured the title back in 2005.