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Former foe is now friend of the British hierarchy

Recently released files dating back to 1981 detail how the late Ulster Unionist MP Harold McCusker once described the GAA as a "malignant organisation".

He made the remark when asked for his view on the decision of the British army to acquire part of the Crossmaglen GAA grounds in 1974 to build a helicopter pad.

But if such a view was held towards the GAA in the North, then the GAA's healthy presence in the English capital must have bemused Unionists.

Sam Maguire captained the Hibernian club to four consecutive London Championships between 1901 and 1904 and he led the Exiles to three All-Ireland finals. In 1907, he was elected chairman of the London County Board.

While in the Gaelic League in London, Maguire joined up with the Irish Republican Brotherhood and it is claimed it was he who recruited Michael Collins into the movement in 1909.

While working in the Post Office he found that he could intercept military documents. The man whose name would be given to the senior football cup decades later soon rose to the rank of major general and chief intelligence officer of the IRA in Britain.

Recent events including the queen's visit to Croke Park, the opening up of the same ground to soccer and rugby, the establishment of the Metropolitan Police-backed GAA club, Heston Gaels, not to mention the diverse cultural background of young GAA players here today, show that the Association is now viewed with warmth by the British hierarchy.

But a look through history could paint the founding fathers of the GAA in London as a threat behind enemy lines.

Irish Independent