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New book chronicles ‘forgotten GAA members’ in WW1

FORGOTTEN stories of GAA players who went on to fight during the First World War have now been compiled in a new book which has just been published.

It has been researched and written by Eglish man and well-known historian, Dr Donal McAnallen and marks the culmination of more than five years of work.

Among those featured in the book is Francis J Tierney, who lived in Castle Street in the town.

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He was a member of one of the first Omagh hurling teams, the Sarsfields, before going on to represent Tyrone. He also played soccer for a number of teams before joining the Royal Engineers Postal Section in November 1914. On returning to Omagh from the war, he married Bridget Smyth in February 1921 and then moved to London and Belfast. He died in 1946.

Speaking at the launch last week in the Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Memorial Library and Archive, Dr McAnallen said the book had evolved from some ‘startling discoveries’ about gaelic footballers and hurlers joining the British army at the start of the war in 1914.

“We have been conditioned to view the events of World War One as an imperial folly which left us wondering what it was all about. There were also the issues of commemoration,” he said.

“Then in 2005, I was carrying out research on a separate subject when I came across a note recording the death in the war of a member of the 1912 Antrim team which reached the All-Ireland Final.

“That was the starting point and from then on I made small notes when they came to light of other players who had fought in the conflict.

“Our ability to find other stories has become much more straight-forward due to the digitisation of so many records, including newspapers during the past few years.

“This is just history as I found it and has come from fresh research which it is felt has challenged the long-held popular view that the GAA, with its nationalist ethos and ban on members of the British Crown Forces, was hardly affected by World War One.”

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The book which has been published with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, draws on a vast body of newspapers, military records, census returns and oral evidence to profile dozens of GAA members from Ulster who enlisted.

It will be seen as shedding new light on what has been until now, a largely hidden history, and is expected to enable a greater understanding of the complex relationship between Ireland and the 1914-1918 war.

Also speaking at the launch, Roddy Hegarty, director of the Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Memorial Library and Archive said Dr McAnallen’s book has helped to uncover what could be viewed as a ‘hidden history’.

“It also attempts to reveal the context in which this came about and explain why those players were ultimately excluded from the wider nationalist narrative.”

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