The Humble Bike and the Sunday afternoon game

Christy Whelehan goes back in time.

As one observes the modern travelling arrangements for GAA teams, it revives memories of times when the humble bike was the principal mode of transport at club level.

To the present generation, a description of those times seems difficult to envisage.

Nowadays at a local league or championship game, parking facilities are a consideration with a ratio of nearly equal numbers of vehicles to actual people present. A more affluent society is indicated at GAA activities as it is most areas of lreland in the times we live in.

It would no doubt be hard to convince a young player of today of the spirit and commitment shown by those of a previous era. They would find it difficult to understand that a past generation found employment and fulfilment in much less circumstances than the more comfortable standards that they now enjoy. But each generation marks the best of what is possible in the opportunities that are available in their lifetime. Likewise does this apply to the progress of the GAA as generation succeeds generation.

The particular decades I write about are the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Gradually from the ‘60s the ownership of cars began to be within the reach of many to develop to its present level of more cars in some families than would be in the whole membership of a club in the decades of which I write.
In the 1930s and 40s if you attended a club fixture, the majority of games were in a field given by a local farmer for the occasion. Both in the field and approaches, the number of parked bicycles more or less represented the total present, including officials and players. Cycling anything up to a limit of twelve miles would be a fair estimate of the journeys involved of those present. Those mileage estimates vary sometimes, but by and large fairly represent the usual situation then prevailing. This was made possible by competitions being organised in divisions, based on clubs bordering each other or reasonably near each other. When concluding stages of competitions were played only then did car hire or other arrangements become necessary and these were mostly for players. The more hardy or youthful supporters were still to be found pedalling their way in the support of their team. When I say other arrangements, this often meant a van or lorry, not always within the law for transporting people.
But the back way or bye-road, even though a bit longer kept the eyes of the law off their arrangements.
One may be tempted to ask what about weather conditions. Well weather conditions were taken as they came, the game had to go on except for the odd time such conditions may have been extreme.
It was quite usual to see a player or spectator on the bar of the carrier, being given a lift where the said person had no bicycle available, or where he had to abandon his own on the way with a puncture or mechanical failure. Even in those years there were a few cars often around, and these were always made generously available if any player needed to be brought for medical attention should an injury necessitate it.

I am referring mostly to the ‘30s and ‘40s up to now. The 40s brought their own particular problems due to the conditions brought about by World War II. Then both petrol and many other items were in short supply and rationing was a feature of life during those years, named in Ireland the ‘Emergency Years’. Public transport was curtailed as well and travelling to the big inter-county games was restricted by this means although to a lesser extent than usual. This gave rise to the popularity, especially to those used to cycling in their everyday work, or going on their bikes to venues that involved an early start and a late finish. As bicycles were also in short supply in the trade, with industry in Britain geared to the war effort, the care of the bicycle was very important to the owner. Spare parts were eagerly sought from those of used ones and the odd item from the prevailing black market was availed of.

The senior All-Ireland finals in Croke Park were the occasion of a considerable traffic in movement per cycling from all parts of the country to Dublin for those occasions. For many this was for a weekend stay and a holiday occasion as they enjoyed life in the capital for a few days. For the most part people went in groups, as cycling in company is always easier than when alone, and as well was more helpful should mechanical trouble or indeed anyone feeling unwell having to be dealt with. This long distance cycling to games mostly phased out as the war ended and after a few more years, conditions came back to a more normal level.

Of course, matches were not the only reason for much pushing of the bike in helping to keep the wheels of club activity on course. There were meetings to attend, contacting players and officials about games, and the many other tasks that needed to be done to keep everyone informed and happy. As club secretary I often cycled miles to round up a team for a forthcoming game. Now and again just as much to tell then it was postponed. Like the car, the phone had not then came into the average house as it is today.

As the next decade, the 1950s, arrived the gradual change showed signs of coming into focus. There was still the cyclist to be seen in numbers at games, but the car came more into play, and by degrees since then to its present capacity.

Just in case one might think that the times I recall were not enjoyable, then think again. They were part of a life that was on offer at the time, fully availed of and an appreciation of what you had and made the best use of it.

There was a camaraderie involved and treasured and an underlying spirit and loyalty that cannot be equaled, and some would say surpass anything that the more modern and sophisticated approach to GAA activities has to offer.

I refer in those few lines to the times I was involved myself, but of course the decades proceeding that were also ones that cycling and travelling to games in many ways led to their own distinctive identities. But I will leave them to another day or another pen to record them.

Generally speaking, the picture I draw of those decades of the’30s,’ 40s and ‘50s were the background that prevailed and to be seen nationwide, as regards how all, players, officials and supporters made their way to the games both to club and inter-county fixtures in those times.

I look back on them with much pleasure and thank God for the commitment, loyalty and dedicated enthusiasm that prevailed and that kept alive the tradition, often in difficult economic times, and handed over to a more affluent generation an association well nurtured and well preserved.
Well these few lines try to outline the progress from the 1930s to the 21st century as regards how travelling to the activities of the GAA, was accomplished during that period.

Forecasting how club and inter-county competitions would result in the year ahead is a favourite topic in GAA circles. So even if it may seem unlikely (or unwise) what about ending with a consecuture as to how travel would evolve in the years ahead in the GAA scene. Well from its early decades when walking, horse and donkey carts and traps and the occasional bicycle, it progressed to the bicycle being the main source. From that to cars, mini buses and buses as at the present time. Will the next change (if any), see the annual year requesting a present day member writing an article depicting the difficulties of travel to GAA activities with traffic jams, parking problems, costly travel expenses and other problems of the early 21st century? In doing so endeavouring to convince a future generation of how easy they have it with travelling as they make it around the GAA scene in private aeroplanes and helicopters.

Taken from Maroon & White 2004