The 'jewel in the crown' of the Gaelic League
It is believed that Camogie had its origins in the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League in Dublin in 1903. Following the footsteps of their male Hurling counterparts, those who formed the game did so in an age that frowned upon the active participation of women in sport. The aim of the Gaelic League was to influence a unique Irish culture, north and south, of which the people could be proud. Camogie was the ‘jewel in the crown’ of this policy, and was adopted as one of the official sports of the Gaelic Athletic Association in the same year.
There are very few differences between the games of Camogie and Hurling. The weight of the sliothar is 90 to 110 grams and is 21 cm in circumference in Camogie, considerably smaller than in Hurling. A hand passed goal is allowed in Camogie, but not in Hurling. In terms of tackling, one of Hurling’s most famous techniques, a shoulder charge, is deemed illegal in Camogie. The discipline of dangerous play differs sharply between the two codes; whereby yellow cards can be used for first fouling offences in Hurling, there is no such application of this in Camogie. A straight red card is the only option for a referee when dangerous or reckless play occurs in the sport of Camogie.
The official launch of Camogie took place with the first public match between Craobh a’Cheithnigh and Cúchulainn on July 17th 1904 at a Gaelic League fair in Meath. The first ever inter-county match was played between Dublin and Louth in Jones’s Road, Dublin in 1912. Throughout the 1920s Camogie was increasing in popularity throughout the 32 counties of Ireland, and by 1932 the All Ireland Senior Championship was inaugurated and won by Dublin in its first year of existence.
The final was played in GAA headquarters Croke Park, in 1934 for the first time. This enabled the sport to become more prominent, and was helped by the establishment of the provincial councils in the same year. Camogie was growing in popularity throughout Ireland, and its sixtieth anniversary in 1964 was marked by the advent of the first All Ireland Club Championship. Four years later the All Ireland Junior Championship was inaugurated and won by an Ulster county, Down.
Developments were now moving at a rapid pace, and in 1969 the All Ireland Colleges Council was set up with Eilis Ni Spealain as president. By 1974 the All Ireland Minor and Junior Colleges Championships were inaugurated, and Camogie was included for the first time in Feile na nGael, an annual festival for young people aged between 11 and 14.
The 1990s were quite an eventful decade; with the All Ireland Intermediate Championship inaugurated and won by Dublin in 1992. The final year of the century witnessed a radical change: the adoption of a fifteen-a-side team formation and the use of the full dimensions of a GAA pitch were departures from decades of smaller proportions. The association became 100 years old in 2004. A gala banquet was held in Dublin to mark the event, with the announcement of the Camogie Team of the Century the highlight of the evening.
Mairead McAtamney Magill from Antrim was the only Ulster player to win a place on the Camogie Team of the Century. She came to prominence with Dominican College, Portstewart when she both played and trained the school team to Ulster Colleges success in 1961 and 1962. She won eleven Antrim County Championships with the Geraldines club during which time she also trained the team. Her impressive inter-county career spanned twenty years, from 1953 to 1983. During this time she won fifteen Ulster senior championships, two All Ireland titles, 1967 and 1979, and two Gael Linn medals. She was Antrim Player of the Year in 1965, All Star winner in 1966 and was recipient of the B&I award in 1979.
Another great player in the game over the past thirty years has been Angela Downey-Browne from Kilkenny. She had a wonderful career spanning twenty-five years; she was a mere thirteen years old when she first played at senior level for Kilkenny. She went on to win twelve senior All Ireland medals, nine National League, ten Gael Linn, twenty-two Kilkenny County Championships and six All Ireland club titles. She captained her county to All Ireland success on three occasions in 1977, 1988 and 1989. A player of breathtaking skill, when she got the ball there was a buzz of excitement and anticipation.
Camogie in Ulster
In recent years Ulster teams have had a great deal of success in All Ireland competitions. Crossmaglen Rangers won the inaugural Junior club championship in 2003. The recent Feile na nGael tournament held in Cork witnessed success for Antrim team Ballycastle in the Division 2 final. This is a remarkable achievement considering that all of the other four titles went to teams from the host county! There is a great enthusiasm for the game throughout Ulster, and the Ulster Camogie Council promotes the game to the younger generation through Colleges competitions and Feile tournaments. Successful Colleges in recent times include St. Mary’s Grammar School Magherafelt and St. Patrick’s College Maghera.
© Cathal Coyle 2005