On the Shoulders of Giants





Sean Mac Connell



BELIEVE it or not, the sporting and cultural citadel established on the fringe of Marlay Park 30 years ago by the visionaries who wanted a GAA club to serve the local population, formalised a long heritage stretching back to the pre-history of the area.



When asked to write a series of articles to mark the setting up of the club three decades ago, I did not realise I would during my research , end up rubbing shoulders with characters like Fionn Mc Cool.



He and his ratpack group of friends, and they were a rough bunch of lads who behaved in a very anti-social way a lot of the time, spent some time around the area, a fact marked by the naming of at least two of the local mountains to their time here.



Its not unreasonable to assume when Fionn and his mates, who had been thrown out of their own homes to test their ability to survive on their own, played hurling on the slopes of Seefinn or Seefinhan, only a few miles away.



The first written reference to hurling in south county Dublin goes back to the scene of the massacre by the mountain septs, on Easter Monday, 1209, of the Bristolian settlers who had assembled here for holiday sports, the chief item of which was to have been a great hurling match between two parties of the citizens.



All this neighbourhood was then wild country, covered with forest, brushwood, and heather, affording excellent facilities for an ambuscade. According to Frank Hopkins, the local historian and writer, this was probably the area between Ranelagh and the Dodder river and the victims were Freemen of Dublin, mainly from Bristol.






Stanyhurst, writing in 1584, gives the following quaint account of this episode of the early settlement of Dublin: – "The citizens having over great affiance [confidence] in the multitude of the people, and so consequently retchless [reckless] in heeding the mountain enemie that lurched under their noses, were wont to roam and royle in clusters, sometimes three or four miles from towne.



“The Irish enemie, espying that the citizens were accustomed to fetch such odd vagaries on holydays, and having an inckling withal by means of some claterfert [traitor] or other that a company of them would range abroad on Monday in the Easter week, towards the woode of Cullen, they lay in a state very well appointed, and layde in sundry places for their coming.



“ The citizens rather minding the pleasure they should presently enjoy than forecasting the hurt that might ensue, flockt unarmed from the citie to the woode. where being intercepted by their lying in ambush, were to the number of 500, misererably slayne.



“The citizens, deeming that unlucky tyme to be a cross or dysmal day, gave it the appellation of Black Monday. The citie being soon after, peopled by a fresh supply of Bristolians, to dare the Irish enemie, agreed to bancket yearly in that place.



“ For the mayor and the sheriffs, with the citizens, repayre to the Woode of Cullen, in which place the Mayor bestoweth a costly dinner within a moate or roundell, and both the sheriffes within another, where they are so well guarded by the youth of the citie, as the mountain enemie dareth not attempt to snatch so much as a pastye crust from thence."



For hundreds of years afterwards the colonists kept up the tradition of the tragedy by marching out on the anniversary, thereafter called Black Monday, to Cullenswood, fully accoutred and armed, headed by a black standard, and formally challenging the mountain tribes to combat.



In 1316 the O’Tooles attempted a similar surprise of the settlers, who, however, sallied forth in numbers from the city, with their black standard, and routed their assailants, pursuing them for miles into the mountains. It has been generally stated by modern writers that the actual scene of the massacre of 1209 is the locality known as "The Bloody Fields," now almost entirely built over.






A further reference to hurling and its popularity in Dublin in the 18th Century can be gleaned from the newspapers which reported Crumlin Commons and Irishtown Green were the main areas where the game was played.



There seems to have been a few shillings involved in hurling because one report refers to a forthcoming game between “Married men and Batchelors at Irishtown for a purse of 50 guineas”.



In more recent times and a lot closer to home was the first reference I could find to football in the area which came from Faulkners Dublin Journal of 12th February 1789 which described a football match which had taken place on the previous Sunday evening.



The report said: “A party of mountaineers engaged in a game of football at the foot of a mountain known locally as the Three Rock with a party from the neighbouring valley.



It goes on; “ A desperate quarrel ensued with much much bloodshed and battery as a consequence”.


The Journal does not tell us which side won the game and it seems there was no referees report either, but I will keep looking.