Gaelic Football and the Civil War

Kerry’s dominance in Gaelic football over the past century is a testament to the county’s passion for the sport — a passion that was forged by the bitterness of the Civil War.

The worst atrocities occurred in Kerry. In retaliation for the killing of five Free State soldiers (including two members of the Dublin Brigade) in Knocknagoshel, nine Republicans were tied around a mine and blown up at Ballyseedy on 7 March 1923.

Five others were similarly treated at Countess Bridge near Killarney the same day. In each case one of the men escaped to tell what happened. The following week five IRA prisoners were taken from Caherciveen and tied around a mine. To make sure none escaped, they were shot in each knee before they were blown up. Those responsible for the atrocities were largely from the Dublin Brigade, which lent intensity to rivalry between the two counties.

It took decades for the bitterness to disappear, but Gaelic football became a great healing force within Kerry. Hence the passion was transferred to the game.

After the fighting, Free State Army captain Con Brosnan managed to get safe passage guarantees for Republican players like John Joe Sheehy and Joe Barrett to play games, and together they used football to help overcome the bitterness. When the team got together, they parked their politics and all talk of the Troubles.

Just one year after the civil war ended, Kerry won the All-Ireland with players who had fought on both sides. Six of that team went on to win six All-Ireland championships together. This helped to bind up the wounds.

“Con Brosnan was the political bridge-builder of our time,” explained JJ (Purty) Landers, a lifelong republican and last survivor of the five Stacks’ players on that Kerry team. “Regardless of pressure from within his own side of the divide, or from the other side, he did what he believed had to be done to bring about peace and healing. He was the ultimate peacemaker in Kerry football after the civil war.”

Brosnan went on to lift the Sam Maguire Cup in 1931, capping a magnificent example of true sportsmanship.

Long after his death Barrett’s son, Joe Joe, wrote In the name of the Game, a book about how his father and other footballers such as John Joe Sheehy and Con Brosnan were joined by their love of Gaelic football but took opposite sides in the Civil War. In 2007 he was enraged when it was announced that God Save the Queen would be played at Croke Park due to Ireland’s rugby international with England. Barrett withdrew his father’s medal collection from the adjoining GAA museum in protest.

Source: Ryle Dwyer

Photo: 1931 ALL IRELAND SENIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONS – In Front L-R: Tim “Roundy” Landers, Con Geaney
Seated L-R: Dan Ryan, Danno Keeffe, John Joe Sheehy, Ned “Pedlar” Sweeney, John Joe Landers
Standing: Dee O Connor, Paul Russell, Jack Walsh. Bob Stack, Tim O Donnell, Jackie Ryan, Johnny Riordan, Eamon Fitzgerald (1932 Olympian Hop Step and Jump in Los Angles), Miko Doyle
At Back L-R: Tommy Barrett, Con Brosnan, Paddy Whitty. Joe Barrett did not make the trip and Joe O’Sullivan joined the party in Boston.

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