Friday 14 December 2018

Tailteann Games' place in history going for a song

Seán Diffley

THE new seven wonders of the world, chosen we're told by 100 million people worldwide is, in my opinion, a load of hogwash - a bit like the voting for the Eurovision song contest.

Ireland didn't bother attending the World Heritage Committee in New Zealand where such momentous decisions were made, so nary a hope of a mention in the new wonders of such Irish classics as Martin Cullen's electronic voting machines.

Among the old wonders, Newgrange and Skeilig Michael get honourable mention but are far removed from the top spots in the list of the old, classic wonders. It seems that we Irish are not really interested in publishing our quite remarkable heritage.

Of the old seven wonders only the pyramids of Egypt are older than the Tailteann Games, which was an annual sports festival that lasted 30 days and is said to have begun back in 1829 BC.

The Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are of much later vintage, as is the Statue of Zeus which was erected on the sacred grove of Olympus a thousand years after the Tailteann Games began.

The ancient Olympic Games began in 776 BC when the Tailteann Games had already had 1,053 annual celebrations. Yet we Irish have virtually ignored one of the most prestigious and celebrated events in the history of our planet.

But, then, I suppose when we are ready to bulldoze through the Hill of Tara we shouldn't expect too much.

The site of the Games was in Royal Meath and in what is the townland now known as Telltown. There was a half-hearted effort in 1924 and 1932 to revive the Games when a modern Tailteann was staged in Croke Park but the affair was never pursued.

But the ancient Games? Here is what Melvyn Watman wrote in the opening paragraph of his authorative History of British Athletics.

"Possibly the most ancient of all sports festivals were the Tailteann Games which are believed to have been established as long ago as 1829 BC. Staged in County Meath, Ireland, this annual thirty day gathering included such events as foot racing and stone throwing and it survived in all its splendour until the Norman invasion in AD 1168. The first Olympic Games, of which there is documentary evidence, took place in Greece in 776 BC."

There was an Irishman present in Paris in 1894 when Baron de Coubertin had a meeting to found the modern Olympics.

That was Lawrence Bulger, a doctor, originally from Clare, then Blackrock College and Trinity and a Lions wing in South Africa in 1896.

But Athens was awarded the first Olympics and the Tailteann Games were swept under the carpet where they still preserve their quaint anonymity. Ah well, we can always vote for the Eurovision song!

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