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New book examines life of Sam Maguire - and the history of the trophy named in his honour

The book examines the life of Sam Maguire and the history of the trophy named in his honour. Picture by Mark Marlow
John Monaghan

As the Dublin and Mayo footballers thrilled fans at Croke Park yesterday in their pursuit of the Sam Maguire Cup, a new book sheds light on the man, his life and the trophy named in his honour. John Monaghan reports.

IT is the ultimate prize in GAA - a trophy named Sam Maguire, after an influential figure in the London GAA and a former footballer from a small town in west Cork.

So when a relative commented to author Kieran Connolly - who grew up in the same town as the prominent republican - that Dunmanway "wasn't making more" of the fact that Maguire was from the area, he decided to delve into his background.

A retired lecturer in economics and statistics at the Dublin Institute of Technology, Mr Connolly said: "I don't think I was really conscious of the fact that he was born and bred in the town. Forty years after that comment I came back to the idea and started researching and writing about it.

"I suppose as the saying goes - a prophet is never recognised in his own land."

In Sam Maguire: The Man and the Cup, Connolly chronicles Maguire's early days in Cork to his emigration to London; his role in the GAA and Irish Republican Brotherhood and close friendship with Michael Collins, through to his return to Ireland and his death, penniless, from TB in 1927.

After moving to London to work in the Post Office, Maguire - a Protestant - became heavily involved in the GAA, serving as chair of the London County Board and playing in three All-Ireland finals in the early years of the 20th century.

He also volunteered as an active member of the IRB, with the book claiming that Maguire was recruited to the republican organisation in 1902 by Liam MacCarthy, whom the All-Ireland hurling trophy is named after.

The book notes: "Maguire, in turn, seems to have sworn in Michael Collins as a member of the organisation in 1909."

By 1918, Maguire was the "main point of contact and organiser" for IRA operations in the British capital.

"He became Collins' main agent in London, and anyone who was staying in London had to get in contact with Maguire," said Mr Connolly.

Following the split amongst republicans after the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty, Maguire supported his friend Michael Collins and the agreement.

After the IRA murder of Sir Henry Wilson, the North Down MP and former senior British soldier, at his home in London in 1922, Maguire left for Ireland, with a "suggestion that his departure...may have been due to a Scotland Yard investigation to find out if he was involved".

Upon his return to Ireland, Maguire took up a job in the Post Office of the newly formed civil service.

However, within a year of coming home, he was dismissed from the Post Office after being accused of conspiring in the mutiny amongst the members of the Free State Army in 1924.

Mr Connolly said: "He was thrown out of his job without a pension or anything.

"In the words of one TD he was wandering the streets of Dublin a broken and homeless man. He returned to Dunmanway and died there from TB in 1927, penniless at the age of 49."

The Sam Maguire Cup, organised by his friends after his death in recognition of his contribution to the GAA, was presented in his honour to the association in 1928.

The final chapters of the book take a look back at facts, figures and significant moments from All-Ireland football finals of years gone by.

Sam Maguire is buried at St Mary's Church of Ireland in Dunmanway, and every year on the second weekend of September a ceremony takes place in his honour at the church.

Last weekend eight bells, known as 'The Sam Maguire Community Bells', were installed at the church during a service of thanksgiving attended by GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghaíl, who has written a foreword to the book.

Researching his life was made difficult by the fact that Maguire left "no diaries, no documents and no letters".

Mr Connolly said: "Anything we know about him is from stories from other people. He seems to have been the sort of man who kept himself in the background and who was very quiet and dedicated to his work."

 

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