On December 17th, 1938, the President of Ireland was banned from the GAA.
Attending an international soccer match between Ireland and Poland in Dublin a month earlier.
President Dr Douglas Hyde attended the game alongside Taoiseach Eamon De Valera and other government members, and witnessed a 3-1 victory for Ireland at Dalymount Park.
Hyde – who had become the first President of Ireland just a few months earlier – was banned as a result of Rule 27 (more commonly known as “the ban”.
Rule 27 was introduced in 1902, and stated that “Any member of the association who plays or encourages in any way rugby, football, hockey or any imported game which is calculated or injuriously affect our national pastimes, is suspended from the Association”.
The Central Council decided to remove Hyde – the joint founder of the Gaelic League – as a result, in a move which sparked controversy and led to strained tensions between the GAA and the government for years to come.
The Roscommon native had been a patron of the association for 36 years, and had stated in 1892;
“I consider the work of the association in reviving our ancient national game of comáin, or hurling, and Gaelic football, has done more for Ireland than all the speeches of politicians for the last five years… Wherever the warm striped green jersey of the Gaelic Athletic Association was seen, there Irish manhood and Irish memories were rapidly reviving”.
There was outrage in the media, wider GAA community and even the clergy at the decision to remove Hyde, but the GAA upheld the ban nonetheless.
Hyde never attended another GAA match as president, and had not been reinstated by the time of his death 11 years later in 1949.
De Valera – who replaced Hyde as President of Ireland in 1945 – remained angry over the incident for years, and convinced the GAA to allow the president of the country to attend all sporting events in the country from 1945 onwards.
Jack Lynch, who would later become Taoiseach, was also banned after going to watch his brother play rugby. Lynch had a distinguished GAA career, winning six All-Ireland titles with Cork (five in hurling, one in football).
Irish soccer legend Liam Brady was another who experienced the harsh reality of Rule 27.
The former Arsenal and Republic of Ireland midfielder was expelled from St Aidan’s Christian Brothers school for captaining Ireland against Wales an under 15 soccer international match.
“The head Brother told not to come to the school if I missed the match but I never considered missing the soccer game,” he told Indepedent.ie in 2015.
In 1963, Waterford hurler Tom Cheasty was suspended for six months for attending a dance organized by a soccer club. Cheasty was a renowned hurler who won five county titles, one Munster title and one All-Ireland title with the Déise, but he was punished regardless.
The centre forward received a six month ban for attending the dance, but he returned in time for that year’s All-Ireland final, which Waterford lost to Kilkenny.
Former Irish international rugby player Moss Keane had to play for the UCC rugby team under the pseudonym ‘Moss Fenton’ to evade the ban. He later became a key player for Ireland, making his international debut at the 1974 Five Nations Championship.
Motions to abolish the ban at three separate Congresses in the 1960’s all failed, but the ban was enforced more loosely as time went on, due in part to the growing popularity of soccer and rugby in the country. RTÉ broadcast the majority of the 1966 World Cup from England, and showed even more matches four years later in 1970.
The ban was finally removed after a vote at the GAA Annual Congress in Belfast on Easter Sunday 1971, the first to be held in Ulster.
29 counties voted in favour of abolishing the ban on the day, and GAA President Pat Fanning described the decision as one of the most historic since the foundation of the GAA in 1884.