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Some Irish history

The contentious "Rule 21" of the GAA, Ireland

2 November 2001 —

The Gaelic Athletic Association is mostly associated with the two major purely-Irish sports — hurling and Gaelic football.

Last week, the Gaelic Athletic Association decided to review Rule 21, with an eye toward eliminating it. Votes are currently circulating through the counties of Ireland.

Rule 21, instituted in 1886, prohibits membership in the GAA (Ireland's amateur sporting body) to members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British defense forces. Additionally, it prevents GAA members from attending social events with such folk.

It is unusual that a sporting body is so blatantly political — but this is the GAA. This has been a quasipolitical organization since its inception in 1884. Advocacy of Gaelic games, indeed, was an act of patriotism, and love of sport was blended with a defiance of cultural domination.*

Gaelic games were first illegalized in 1366 by the infamous "Statutes of Kilkenny," in which the Anglo-Norman overlords decreed against the Gaelicization of their imported culture.

In practical terms, Rule 21 has probably had little real effect; few of those disallowed would have been likely to want to join. But the issue is divisive by its nature — obviously — and remains contentious. Votes in Derry this week — which like Armagh opposed the change — coincided with bomb threats at two Derry clubs.

On 23 October, 2001, the IRA decommissioned a cache of weapons — the first time ever. The next day, the British governance in the North dismantled four armed watchtowers there.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary itself is to be disbanded, and a new policing force will replace it. It is possible that some members of the GAA will want to join the newly-forming police force; this may provide a dynamic that will offer further reason to review the statute, in addition to the generally changing atmosphere in Ireland's politics.

In any case, the matter is up for a vote.**

If it's been a while since a sporting rule could be considered of historical importance, Rule 21 is candidate.

— 2 Nov. 2001


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* Many Irish used to refer to soccer ("football" in European-English) as "that English game."

The first soccer match in the national stadium, Croke Park in Dublin, was in March 2007. (Ireland beat Wales, 1-0.)

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  ↑ Return to "defiance of cultural domination" ...


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** In a special congress held on the 17th of November, 2001, the GAA voted to eliminate Rule 21 from its charter.

Those electing to strike the rule were able to gain a two-thirds majority amongst 34 votes cast — one vote from each of the 32 counties, and one vote each from London and New York.

Of the "six counties," those of the Ulster province which are under British rule, only County Down voted in favor of lifting the ban.

  ↑ Return to "matter is up for a vote" ...