Michael Cusack

Life
1847-1906 (Micheál Cíosóig); b. Carron, Co. Clare; became teacher in the West of Ireland, briefly working in Kiltartin, Co. Galway; spent some years in USA; taught Newry, Blackrock College, and Clongowes Wood; a keen athlete, he initially played rugby but “soon realised that my colleagues were viciously West British” and called them the main opponents of the GAA; opened the Civil Service Academy, a lucrative Dublin crammer; fnd. a hurling club there;

fnd. GAA at meeting in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel, with Maurice Davin, 1 Nov. 1884; also present were John-Wyse Power, (ed. Leinster Leader), P. J. O’Ryan, John McKay (Cork Examiner), J. K. Bracken (f. of Brendan Bracken); a vituperative speaker, he was ousted from secretaryship, 1886; did not support the ban on RIC members but continued to support ban on “foreign games”; regarded as the model for Joyce's hyper-nationalist character The Citizen, in the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses (1922); the standard biography, issued in Irish, is by Liam P. Ó Caithnia (1982). DIB DIH [FDA]

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Works
The Celtic Times: Michael Cusack’s Gaelic Games Newspaper 1887 (Clasp Press 2003), 364pp.

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Criticism
Liam P. Ó Caithnia, Micheál Cíosóig [Leabhair thaighde, 39] (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar 1982), xiv, 336pp., ill. [8 pls.; facsim., ports.]. David H. Greene, ‘Michael Cusack and the Rise of the GAA’, in The Shaping of Modern Ireland, ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien, (1960); See also T. F. O’Sullivan, The Story of the GAA (Dublin 1916); Art Ó Maolfabhail, Camán: 2,000 Years of Hurling in Ireland (Dundalgan 1973)

There is a biog. sketch in Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed. Seamus Deane (1992), p.977, n. See also Maureen Murphy, contrib. [chap], in James Joyce: The Artist and the Labyrinth, ed. Augustine Martin (1990), and Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Nationalism (Routledge 1994), in both of which Cusack is defended.

Note: Liam Ó Caithnia, a Christian Brother, has also written Scéal na hIomána: ó thosach ama go 1880 [The Story of Hurling] Baile Átha Cliath Chlóchomhar 1980), xix, 826pp. [ill., ports], and Báirí Cos in Éirinn [Football Games in Ireland] (Baile Átha Cliath: Chlóchomhar 1984), xv, 204pp.; as well as a studies of Irish poetry, 1220-1600 and an edition of Art Ó Bionaid. [See longer title list in COPAC - online.]

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Commentary
Kevin Whelan, ‘The Basis of Regionalism’, in Prionsais Ó Drisceoil, ed., Culture in Ireland, Regions, Identity and Power [Proceedings of the Cultures of Ireland Group Conference, 27-29 Nov. 1992] (QUB: Inst. of Irish Studies 1993), comments on the manner in which Cusack ‘codified a synthetic version’ of hurling, based on the iomáin of Co. Clare (as opposed to the cán or ‘commons’ version played in northern parts; and the rules of the association ‘bristling like a porcupine with protective nationalist quills on which its perceived opponents would have to impale themselves’ (p.35).

Barry McLoughlin, review of Ireland 1870-1914: Coercion and Conciliation, ed. Donnchadh Ó Corráin & Tomás O’Riordan (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2011), 328pp.
[...] Michael Cusack, accused by other sporting bodies, which were generally elitist, that the GAA was in breach of sabbatarianism, countered effectively: working men had only Sunday off. The institution of All-Ireland championships in 1886 elicited great enthusiasm, but the GAA was soon in trouble: Cusack was forced to resign (administrative failure, dictatorial temperament) and the introduction of the ban on RIC members drove two prominent members, John Wyse Power and Maurice Davin, out of the association. The hard line adopted towards th e crown forces was due to IRB infiltration, but Fenian influence waxed and waned, suffering a major setback when the GAA backed Parnell during the infamous split. The Church, always wary of games on Sunday because of drunkenness at match venues and non-attendance at Mass, withdrew support during the Parnell divorce saga and the GAA virtually collapsed in the early 189os. Subsequently the GAA became politically moderate, removingthe police ban in 1893 and that on 'foreign games'three years later. However, during the Gaelic revival and in the wake of the centenary celebrations of the 1798 rebellion, separatist elements in the GAA gained ground once more, reintroducing the police ban in and proclaiming in mos one of its most egregious statutes: the ban on watching foreign sports.
—in Books Ireland (Nov. 2011), p.217.

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Marcus de Burca, Michael Cusack and the GAA (1989): Cusack a burly bearded man; Irish shot-putting champ; resisted Anglo-Irish control of Irish Athletics, which involved among other things the ban on games on Sunday-traditionally, the holiday in Irish villages. By basing his organisation in the Parishes, he dovetailed with local nationalism. He chose summer hurley as the national game. rather than Scots Gaelic shinty favoured at TCD. The ‘ban’ on foreign games-rugby, soccer, cricket-came the following year [1885] and lasted till 1971. He was tactless and immodest, and was soon pushed aside once the GAA was up and running. Cusack was accorded a monster funeral. (Trevor West, Linenhall Review, April 1991.)

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Anthony Alcock, Understanding Ulster (1994): ‘Under GAA rules, still in force today, members of the British army forces and RUC were barred from membership, doubtless because in its early days its activities also involved drilling for revolution under the guise of training.’ (p.27.)

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Elaine Sisson, Pearse’s Patriots: St. Enda’s and the Cult of Boyhood, Dublin: Four Court’s Press 2004): ‘[...] A teacher by profession, [Cusack] ran a well-known crammer’s institute, Cusack’s Academy, in Dublin and encouraged his pupils to engage in physical exercise in their spare time. Originally from Clare, Cusack had seen at first hand the decline of native sports in the western counties in post-Famine times due to a combination of low community morale, poor physical health and emigration. He was angered and frustrated by the fact that most sporting days were organised by the local gentry, who promoted the more “genteel” sports of horse-riding and cricket at the expense of athletic competitions and Gaelic matches. The rise of cricket in the 1860s, encouraged by local gentry and patronised by members of the community loyal to the Crown, threatened to overshadow Gaelic games and proved to be a motivating factor for Cusack in founding the GAA. / Cusack was convinced that the dominance of “Imperial” sports was designed to degrade Irishmen by “Inveigling them into varieties of sporting competition in which they might readily be defeated”. In a series of three articles in the Irish Sportsman, a leading sporting publication in 1881, Cusack outlined the need for an indigenous, nonsectarian, non-class-biased athletic body. Deploring the decline in “athletic spirit”, Cusack voiced the anxiety that lack of bodily fitness could lead to a fall in public morals. In arguing that lack of public morals would have far-reaching consequences for the nation Cusack was, intentionally or not, echoing similarly stated imperialist concerns. Calling for a central public body to organise local and national competitions, Cusack argued that sport could erase political differences and could function as a bond of unity within a community. He pressed his point that unless communities took regional control of sporting events indigenous sports would be lost altogether.’ (p.117.)

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Dónal Mac an Ailín (Hist. Dept., NUI Galway), in “Letters”, The Irish Times (5 March 2007), gives an account of Cusack’s repugnance at the snobbery of Irish rugby, which he briefly played, and speaks of his lasting loyalty to Gaelic games after his ousting as secretary of the central committee. He writes: ‘Cusack’s main issue with regard to the use of sports grounds was that sections of the Phoenix Park were specially enclosed for polo and cricket - another sport from which he had turned away. In 1887 he declared that the increasing numbers of players in the park on Sundays represented a victory for “democratic Christian socialism”. / His attitude towards sports of English origin appeared only to harden, meanwhile. He condemned the IRFU’s “insufferably offensive” policies towards the labouring classes, pointing to its refusal to accept the affiliation cheque of the Cork drapers’ assistants. He later accused the MPs who acted as patrons of London Irish Rugby Club of “further anglicising the Irish in that city”. He also referred to the “Orange Catholics” involved in soccer in Dublin (1896).’ Mac an Ailín concludes: ‘: ‘Practically all leading sports organisations at that time had bans of one form or another, in order to gain the primary sporting allegiance of their members. Hence it was quite natural that Cusack, having experienced the restrictions on membership in other sports, including rugby, supported similar rules in the GAA for its advancement.[...] This does not mean, however, that he was the bigot that later commentators have tried to suggest. He was not an advocate of the ban on RIC members, and he seemed virtually alone in his efforts to attract northern Protestants into the GAA. He was undoubtedly a man of many faults, as seen in his frequent use of invective and constant entrenchment in arguments, but he cannot be pigeonholed, and the historical facts of his life should not be rewritten.’

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Manus O’Riordan (Finglas, Dublin), in “Letters”, The Irish Times (5 March 2007): ‘Kieran Fagan’s Irishman’s Diary paid well-deserved tribute to the sporting breadth of vision of GAA founder Michael Cusack (February 24). His column has only one small, but not unimportant, blemish. He writes: “James Joyce makes him [ Cusack] a figure of fun as “The Citizen” in Ulysses [...] Bloom remarked that Christ was a Jew and this made The Citizen apoplectic [...]”. / In Micheál Cíosóig (1982), Cusack’s Irish-language biographer Liam P. Ó Caithnia insisted that there was nothing anti-Semitic to be found in Cusack’s make-up. Furthermore, in a most impressive scholarly article in the Crane Bag, written to mark the Joyce centenary in 1982, the late Gerald Y. Goldberg, Cork’s only Jewish Lord Mayor, argued no less trenchantly: “Those who regard Michael Cusack as the prototype of the character travel a road that leads to nowhere: “The Citizen” is a composite reconstruction by Joyce of thoughts and sentiments expressed from time to time by Griffith and Gogarty, through their respective writings. The voice may be the voice of Cusack, but the hands and the heads and the thoughts are those of Griffith and Gogarty.” / If I may sum up in Joyce-speak: Citizen Cusack was no Blooming anti-Semite. - Yours, &c.

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Notes
James Joyce: see Joyce’s caricature of Cusack in the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses, employing hyperbolic styles of Gaelic translation as well as naturalistic methods capturing the vitubrative spirit of the man: ‘seated on a large boulder at the foot of a round tower ... a broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freely freckled shaggybearded widemouthed largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairylegged ruddyfaced sinewyarmed hero.’ And: ‘The curse of God light sideways on the bloody thicklugged sons of whores’ gets!’

Note: Alan Titley points out that Joyce uses the word ‘hu,rley’ as the name of the Irish game rather than ‘hurling’, the accepted form which was insistently used by Cusack himself. See ‘The English Respectability, and Football’, in Nailing Theses: Selected Essays, Belfast: Lagan Press 2011, p.67.) The essay chiefly draws up Liam P. Ó Caithnia, Micheál Cíosóig (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar 1982).

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