Humble Bike and the Sunday afternoon game
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
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
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 the30s, 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
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