BANishing Rule 27: The GAA remembers

My late father was one of five Roscommon delegates who attended that historic Congress in 1971. Just over a month later, he died suddenly at the age of 45

On April 11th 1971, at its annual Congress in Belfast, the GAA took the momentous decision to abolish the controversial Rule 27, which banned members of the Association from playing or watching other sports such as rugby, soccer or hockey. The rule was in place from 1905 to 1971.

The so-called ‘Ban’ had become an increasingly controversial issue in the GAA throughout the early years of the 20th century. Such was the consensus among counties for its removal in 1971, there was little or no debate at the Congress. On the day, the removal of Rule 27 was proposed by Dublin and seconded by Antrim, and Pat Fanning, the President at the time, declared that the rule had been abolished.

There were several controversies in the GAA prior to the removal of the ban, with well-known players using assumed names when playing soccer or rugby, and GAA members who attended so-called ‘foreign games’ also being liable for suspension. The most high profile incident happened in 1938, when President of Ireland, Roscommon man Douglas Hyde attended a soccer international at Dalymount Park between Ireland and Poland, alongside the Taoiseach at the time, Éamon de Valera.

Hyde was a patron of the GAA, and his attendance at the game prompted many calls to have him removed from that role. On December 17th, 1938 at a meeting of the GAA, Hyde was indeed removed from his position. Meanwhile, de Valera faced no sanction as he was not a GAA member.

My late father, also Seamus Duke, was one of five Roscommon delegates who attended that historic Congress in 1971. Just over a month later, he died suddenly at the age of 45.

This week, the GAA have been holding a number of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the lifting of the ban. There was a webinar on Monday night featuring author and historian Cormac Moore, and on Thursday (15th), Donal McAllen hosts a discussion with former Republic of Ireland soccer manager and ex-GAA inter-county player, Martin O’Neill.

I was contacted by the GAA to take part in the webinars this week, which was a welcome surprise. I greatly appreciate that my father was remembered after all this time.