By John Scally
You could say that in a GAA context Tom Burke did it all. And in a political context he had a remarkable life also. He was a player, referee, administrator and freedom fighter.
In the world of Gaelic Games Louth has an honourable pedigree, being at the forefront of the Gaelic Athletic Association since its formation in 1884.
In May, 1885, a branch of the Association was set up in the county following Michael Cusack’s visit to Drogheda. Shortly after, clubs sprung up the length and breadth of the county.
Louth were represented by Young Irelands from Dundalk in the first football All-Ireland final held at the Benburbs club grounds, Donnybrook on 29th April, 1888.
In the early 1900s, Louth qualified for three All-Ireland football finals, losing the 1909 final to Kerry but victorious in 1910 and 1912, wins gained at the expense of Kerry (in a walk-over) and Antrim respectively.
In 1916 Tom Burke answered the “call to arms’’ and was interned in Frongoch Prison (North Wales) where he met Michael Collins.
Following the 1916 Rising, 1,800 Irish rebels were arrested and interned at that Prisoner of War camp.
In the aftermath of the Insurrection, 3,000 Irish rebels were arrested in all, and were marched to Dublin Port to board boats destined for internment camps in Britain.
Over the next six months, the internees included leading lights of the struggle for independence like Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy, Terence MacSwiney and Sam Maguire, formed deep bonds of friendship while sharing their knowledge and skills.
The lessons of the Rising had been learnt and republican networks were strengthened within Frongoch’s North and South camps, located at a former Welsh whisky distillery. The testimony of one of those men arrested, Johnny Flynn, exists today, “We were lined up at Richmond barracks, marched down along the quays, and along the North Wall. There were two rows of soldiers either side of us, with a lorry behind us with a machine gun mounted upon it.
“We certainly weren’t very popular as we were marched down to the boat. But for the soldiers either side of us, we might have fared very badly with the women of Dublin. Many of them were shouting ‘shoot the b******s’.”