By Seán Ua Cearnaigh
When the GAA was founded at Hayes’ Hotel, Thurles in 1884, Maurice Davin was appointed President (pictured). Davin, of Carrick-on-Suir, was a much acclaimed retired athlete, an unofficial world champion in his day.
The first All-Ireland senior hurling and football finals for the year 1887 were played in the late spring of 1888 and Tipperary emerged as hurling champions, while Limerick took the football honours. However, no finals were played for the year 1888.
This was due to what has been called the American invasion. Maurice Davin, believing that Irish athletes were second to none in the world and wishing also, to display the talents of Ireland’s hurlers to a wider public, selected 51 young men to travel with him and other officials to America. It was hoped that the expected large attendances at matches and athletic meetings would defray the costs of the tour. Sadly, this did not happen.
In October, 1888, the party left for New York. Of the 51 participants, some 45 were hurlers, drawn from Tipperary and other counties. Several of these hurlers, including Maurice Davin’s brother, Pat, were also splendid athletes. Pat Davin was widely acknowledged as the world’s greatest all-round athlete.
Unfortunately, the Irish tour, which included hurling matches and athletic meetings in New York, Chicago and other American cities, coincided with the 1888 Presidential Campaign, involving Grover Cleeveland and Benjamin Harrison. Millions of Americans were involved and this reacted badly on attendances at the Irish sporting events.
To make matters worse, more than half of the 51 Irishmen decided to remain in America for employment purposes, following the end of the tour.