Irish Sport and Pastimes

The collection of material on Irish sport in the Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Memorial Library and Archive is one of the most impressive and popular aspects of the library’s holdings.

The primary emphasis in this collection is on native Irish sports and pastimes, Gaelic games – hurling, shinty, Gaelic football, handball and camogie – and road bowls in particular. The range of hundreds of books available in the library on these subjects rivals any other library collection.

Among the most valuable items held here are the minute-books of the Ulster Council of the GAA from 1917 to 1975. These are important not merely for sporting history, for they also provide an insight into northern Irish nationalist perspectives through the early years of partition. Alongside these are minutes of GAA Central Council meetings and national congresses from as far back as the 1930s.

Equally, the collection contains many other GAA minute-books from which precious information on the history of local sport and society may be gleaned: those of the Armagh County Board from 1933 to the 2000s; those of the Tyrone County Board from 1926 onwards; a minute-book of Armagh Harps club from 1904; various minutes books of the Brian Oges Gaelic Football and Hurling Club, Cookstown from 1907 onwards; and miscellaneous records and items of correspondence from counties Antrim Derry, Down, Monaghan and Cavan over the decades as well as the papers of past GAA president Alf Ó Muirí and Padraig MacFlionn.

Another special feature of the CÓFLA Gaelic games collection is the large archive of old match-programmes, which includes All-Ireland and Ulster championship final souvenirs right back to the early 1940s. These are complemented by an extensive set of Gaelic games periodicals and numerous scanned photographs of GAA-related material

The focus on road bowls in the CÓFLA collection reflects the long and unique history of this sport in the surrounding Armagh/Tyrone area. Among the items of memorabilia relating to this game to be found in the library are the minute-books of An Ból-Chumann, Ard Mhacha, from the 1960s and 1970s, and various books, programmes, photographs and trophies.

On a wider sporting front, there is a wealth of additional material. The library holds bound minute-books of the Youth and Sports Council for Northern Ireland for 1962-65 (its inaugural triennial period) and 1968-71, which are not available in any other public archive. From these records one may obtain information of great significance on the first statutory body on the island of Ireland that was appointed specifically to deal with matters of sport and recreation, right across the sporting spectrum.

A large collection of papers on tradition games and sports form the Andrew Steven Papers which were donated by the Steven family to the archive in 2021. These cover a wide range of games and sports from Cricket, Gaelic games, Road Bowls and regional and local pastimes and activities as well as the late Mr Steven's papers in relation to a proposed sports museum for Northern Ireland.

The ever-expanding CÓFLA collection further comprises a large number of books on sports such as athletics, association football, cricket, rugby union, golf, motor-racing, boxing, horse-racing and show-jumping.