Thursday 26 April 2018

Flashback 1973: Dev and Childers at the All-Ireland final

This week 42 years ago Erskine Childers and Eamon de Valera enjoyed an All-Ireland hurling final between Limerick and Kilkenny

Eamonn De Valera (left) and Erskine Childers in Croke Park. September 1973
Eamonn De Valera (left) and Erskine Childers in Croke Park. September 1973

Enjoying the hospitality of the GAA on All-Ireland final day is one of the great perks of being President, and in 1973 the newly elected Erskine Childers was joined by his predecessor Eamon de Valera for the hurling final between Limerick and Kilkenny.

London-born Childers had been elected four months before in what was widely seen as a surprise victory over Fine Gael's Tom O'Higgins.

Erskine Childers was the son of the novelist of the same name who was executed during the Civil War, shortly after asking 16-year-old Erskine to promise he would shake the hand of each man who signed his death warrant. After school and university in England, and work in France, young Erskine came to Ireland at the suggestion of De Valera, who made him advertising manager of his Irish Press newspaper. He became naturalised as Irish in 1938 when he was also elected a Fianna Fáil TD.

It is unknown whether Childers ever played Gaelic games - and De Valera was famously more interested in rugby and cricket - but the GAA had an uneasy relationship with the office of President at various times in its history.

The ill-feeling blew up in 1938 when President Douglas Hyde, and then-Taoiseach De Valera, were invited by the FAI to attend a soccer match between Ireland and Poland at Dalymount Park. The pair accepted, believing they could not ignore an invite to watch a side representing Ireland.

The GAA was furious, and its central council removed Dr Hyde as patron and banned him from attending games. As De Valera was not a member of the Association he was beyond its wrath. The Association was roundly attacked by many county boards - Roscommon compared it to Hitler and Mussolini - as well as politicians of all sides, the media and clergy. Hyde never again watched a GAA match as president but when he was succeeded by Seán T O'Kelly normal relations resumed.

De Valera dutifully turned up at Croke Park when invited, but in 1957 he spoke of his regret that he had not been at a rugby match for more than 40 years. He had once been a good enough player to earn a trial for Munster.

"There is no football game to match rugby," he told a dinner at his old school, Blackrock College.

"If all our young men played rugby not only would we beat England and Wales, but France and the whole lot of them together." After he was elected President in 1959 he became a regular visitor to Lansdowne Road for Five Nations games.

Erskine Childers would attend only one more set of All-Ireland finals before his untimely death in November 1974, while De Valera died in August the following year, aged 92.

Limerick won the final by 1-21 to 1-14, but haven't won an All-Ireland since. Kilkenny recently claimed their 18th title since 1973.

Irish Independent

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