Tuesday 20 November 2018

Memories of a giant

GAApioneer remembered in ceremony Gaels from many parts of Ireland gathered at Ballycumber in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains on Saturday to celebrate the election of a great Wicklow man, Luke O'Toole, as General Secretary of the Gaelic Athletic Association one hundred years ago.

O'Toole, described as a 'GAA Pioneer' by his grandson, Padraig, was to become the first full-time administrator in the Association and there to unveil a plaque at the place of his birth was the present Ard Stiuthoir, Liam Mulvihill.

Speakers at the unveiling ceremony included Andy 0'Brien, Chairman of the Organising Committee and M.C. at the function; Jim Hogan, Chairman of the TinaheIy Club; Donal McGillycuddy, Chairman of the Co. Board; Padraig 0'Toole, author of the O'Toole story 'The Glory And The Anguish'; and Iar Uachtaran, Jack Boothman.

Other guests included Seamus Aldridge, Chairman of Leinster Council, and Peadar MacEochaidh, President of Wicklow County Board, who later laid a wreath on the grave of Luke O'Toole at Killavaney.

Others present included George O'Toole, President of the Community Games; Paddy Byrne, from the London / Wicklowmen's Association; and grandchildren and many direct decendants of Luke O'Toole.

The blessing of the stone was performed by Fr Gahan, PP, and Rev Dunn.

Jim Hogan said the people of Tinahely had always been very proud that one of their own played such a vital role in the early development and progress of the GAA. While the work of Luke O'Toole for the Association was legendary, he also found time to help other organisations and projects.

'Today we are pleased to have this monument to the memory of a great man from a small townsland in the Wicklow Hills,' he said.

Donal McGillycuddy said this was a very special occasion in the life of the community in Tinahely and in the history of the GAA.

'O'Toole was a great administrator, diplomatic, negotiator Ð a true Gael and loyal Wicklow man. He carved his name into Irish history and this evening we carved his name into the granite of his native Wicklow that he loved so dearl,' he said.

Unveiling the stone Liam Mulvihill said that Luke had taken up office in the most difficult time in the history of the GAA and steered it through the most troubled years. To have been able to keep the Association united and in the end to come out stronger than ever showed the calibre of the man.

Padraig O'Toole said his grandfather was born and reared in Ballycumbe and after moving to set up in business in the city as a young man he became involved in Dublin GAA and in administration.

In 1901 at the Congress in Thurles he was elected General Secretary of the Association, beating Michael Cusack on a vote of 19 to 17. At the time of his election the GAA was an organisation in disarray without a full-time secretary, a headquarters, proper structures or a well organised programme of matches.

Some thirty years later when O'Toole died, still in office, he left behind an organisation which was prosperous, efficient, owned its own grounds and offices, ran splendid championships, and had structures in place. He was the central figure in the negotiations leading to the site at Jones Road, now Croke Park, in 1913.

He was a member of a four man delegation given the task of bringing both sides in the Civil War together in 1923.

Co-Ordinator of the Tailtean Games in 1924 and again in 1928.

He somehow found ways of pumping money into the development of Croke Park and oversaw much of the work.

When he died, still in office, in July 1929, he left behind a strong, vibrant and well financed Association of which we can all be proud.