Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Low Lie the Fields of Peckham Rye

One of the many untold stories of South East London is its contribution to the development of Irish sports, with playing fields from Peckham to New Eltham resounding to the sounds of hurling, Gaelic football and camogie.

London's oldest Gaelic Athletics Association club, the Bros Pearse GAA was founded by Jack Shalloe and others at Bolgers Hall, 3 Queens Road, Peckham, as Brothers Pearse Hurling and Football Club back in 1920. Today it is based in north west London, but the Dulwich Harps gaelic football teams still play at Peckham Rye.

For many years, the headquarters of the London GAA was in the borough of Bexley (then Greenwich following boundary changes), at Avery Hill Road in New Eltham, though it moved to Ruislip in the 1980s I believe. The derelict GAA ground there has been the focus of a campaign to keep it as an open space in recent years.

Liam McCarthy

In hurling, the trophy awarded to the winning team in the All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship is actually named after a Peckham resident. Liam McCarthy of Liam McCarthy Cup fame was born in London to parents from County Cork, who were living on the South Bank when Liam was born in 1853. By the age of 14 he was playing hurling on Clapham Common. He was working on the railways as a signals fitter and living in Peckham (1 Derwent Street) when in 1875 he married Alice Padbury at St. George's Cathedral, Southwark. The family regularly attended mass at the Friary in Peckham.

Alice's father William Padbury owned a Fancy Box factory at 176 Blackfriars Road, Southwark. Liam joined the firm, but then broke away to start his own cardboard box making business, called St. Brigid Works and based at 48 Haymerle Road, Peckham. There was a large Irish community in the area at the time, and McCarthy became the ward councillor for Peckham North Ward (1900-1912). The family moved to 48a Forest Hill Road in East Dulwich.

McCarthy played a key role in sports, as President of the London County Board of the GAA from 1898 to 1907, and 1909-1911. Other members of the board during his time were Michael Collins and Sam Maguire (after whom the Gaelic Football cup is named) and later Irish republican leader Michael Collins. McCarthy himself joined the nationalist Irish Volunteers and the clandestine Irish Republican Brotherhood which fought for Irish independence. He was also at one point Vice-President in London of the Gaelic League which promoted the Irish language.

McCarthy purchased the silver cup and donated it to the GAA in Dublin who agreed to make it the trophy for the national Hurling championship. The Liam McCarthy cup was first awarded in 1921 and every year since - albeit replaced by a replica in 1992.

McCarthy died in East Dulwich in 1928.

1 comment:

The Deptford Croppy: said...

Great piece on the London GAA: it's one of those 'hidden Londons' that many historians gloss over.
I've also heard stories about South London hurlers playing cricket against local West Indian sides in Hilly Fields park in decades gone by; one tale even has the two teams using a 'sliotar' (hurling ball) because they'd forgotten to bring a cricket ball!