“Establishing a Tradition”
Cumann na mBunscol
The idea of founding a Primary Schools’ League to promote Gaelic culture was formalised at 100 Seville Place in St Laurence O’Toole’s parish around Easter 1928. Informal inter-school competition had been going on for many years previously. Teachers who had discussed the idea over tea, chat and tin-whistle playing in the home of Frank Cahill – the inspirational figure behind O’Toole’s GFC, met and drew up plans for a league. Only eight schools were represented but it marked the formal beginning of Cumann na mBunscol as we know it today.
Securing Croke Park for finals provided a massive boost for the fledgling organisation. The granting of a half-day off school for finalists was a gem of a promotional idea and gave a major boost to playing numbers.
Christian Brothers’ Schools dominated the league in the early decades. In the ’30’s Marino and Artane were to the fore. Br.O Connor was a huge influence in Artane and he was also heavily involved in The Artane Boys’ Band. From Marino school in 1931 the St Vincent’s club was formed to provide an opportunity for Gaelic games for past pupils. St Vincent’s Glasnevin, – from where the Na Fianna Club grew. Westland Row, James’s St. and Brunswick St. were also prominent at this time. There are some great stories Br.O’Shea in Brunswick St. making hurleys in the classroom. He would have been at ease with the New Curriculum with its emphasis on ‘learning by doing’.
The Brothers school in Crumlin was opened in the late thirties and immediately establised itself as a force. They were competing with Marino and Artane for Herald Cup honours in the 40’s. A club – St.Columba’s, now Crumlin – grew and produced the Timmons brothers for football and the Boothman brothers for Dublin hurling. St.Canice’s, St.Michael’s and Francis St. were making good progress at the time with ‘Franner’ taking the Herald Cup in 1946. Synge St. was also beginning to make an impact.
Scoil Chiarain, Donnycarney, came to prominence, particularly in hurling, in the 50’s. Dun Laoghaire CBS arrived on the scene and took the Sweet Afton Cup. The old stalwarts -Marino and Artane, were still strong and Oatlands appeared to add more spice to the mix. DeLa Salle, Ballyfermot, emerged and famed Joey’s, of Fairview, were thriving in junior competition.
Crumlin won the Herald Cup four times in the 60’s while Marino were top dogs in the Northside. Bros. Coffey and Aherne in St.Canice’s enjoyed great success with excellent teams. Brunswick St. captured some silverware and Oatlands, Mount Merrion.
It was in the 70’s that Dun Laoghaire CBS, from which Cuala Casements club grew, made a massive impact in hurling, winning the Herald Cup on several occasions. CBS Sutton, St. David’s and De La Salle, Churchtown, were formidable in football, as were Drimnagh Castle and Westland Row.
The 80’s and 90’s saw great changes in The Schools’ League. The decline of the Brothers and the rapid urbanisation of Dublin wrought a substantial change in the balance of football and hurling power in Cumann na mBunscol. Teams from Tallaght, Knocklyon, Rathfarnham and Dublin West – Blanchardstown, Coolmine – challenged the hegemony of the established powers.
Anonymous urban sprawl is the antithesis of the type of community in which the GAA thrives. The lack of community identity made the job of promoting Gaelic games a much more formidable challenge. Cumann na mBunscol met the challenge head-on and geared its promotions towards making Gaelic games attractive, fun and inclusive. A comprehensive menu of activities including the INTO-GAA Mini-Sevens, hurlng-shinty exchanges with Scotland, inter-county friendly games, ‘Junior Whistler’ refereeing schemes, international trips to Luxembourg and Brussels, was provided .The annual fixtures and Information booklet was brought to a new level of professionalism, 37 different approaches to promotng hurling were pioneered and the organisations Public Relations machine was put into overdrive.
The morale of Cumann na mBunscol was greatly boosted by the acknowledgement received from 18 Roadstone National Awards in recent years. The fixtures booklet, hurling initiatives and public relations projects were deemed the best in the country and Cumann na mBunscol. Ath Cliath was declared ‘market leader in games promotion and development’.
Two fixtures and information booklets, one for the Autumn football programme, one for the second and third term Hurling/Camogie leagues, are prepared. Three thousand of these 48-page volumes are distributed to the schools with a diary of fax, phone and e-mail addresses. The 2,750 inter school games are chronicled in the booklet and fixtures and venues for these games are decided at the weekly Monday meeting in Club na Muinteoirí where the business of the evening is conducted through the medium of Gaeilge, a tradition since 1928.
Cumann na mBunscol encourages a whole school approach to the preparation of ‘Best Match Programme’, ‘Best Banner’, ‘Most Colourful Supporters’ and ‘Face in the Crowd’ as schools prepare for football and hurling/camogie finals. The scheme involving pupils in all classes in devising word puzzles, poems, pen-pal stories, school songs and other art work for the match programme has, in reality, inspired many pupils to take up hurling/camogie and football resulting in a scheme that started out as a fun project becoming a very powerful games promotion tool.
The founding members in 1928 faced many obstacles and threats to their culture. It is no different today excepting, perhaps, that the threats and challenges are of a more awesome variety. The sophisticated urban youngsters of the 21st. century are harder to please, harder to convince that their heritage is worth preserving. Many of them would prefer to sit at a computer game or a television screen than participate in active sport. The attractions of international sport have captured their minds and hearts like never before.
Cumann na mBunscol is extremely successful in providing opportunities for the primary school children of the capital city to participate in Gaelic games.