With a large degree of continuity with a century ago, many more people will watch today’s GAA All-Ireland football final at Croke Park between Dublin and Mayo live on television than will attend the game. Despite the Cork’s Evening Echo’s comment in February 1913 (citing an article in Popular Mechanics Magazine) that a “prediction may safely be made that in the near future provision will be made for moving pictures in the home,” live coverage and a kind of domestic moving pictures that suited the event-based nature of sport would still be some 50 years off (“Films for Families”). Nevertheless, Gaelic games’ fans around the country did watch moving pictures of matches in their local picture house days or weeks after they were played.
Unlike today’s game, however, Gaelic games were highly politicized in the 1910s, and the GAA, with branches in every parish in the country was the strongest and most popular nationalist cultural organization. So the gathering of a local audience to watch the film of a game prolonged the demonstration of popular nationalist sentiment that the match itself represented. With such a potential audience, GAA matches drew the attention of several local picture house owners, most prominently James T. Jameson – who ran the Rotunda and a circuit of provincial venues – and Alex McEwan, a Cork-based impresario, who operated from the Assembly Rooms Picturedrome. When Cork beat Tipperary at the Munster hurling final in July 1912, McEwan arranged to have it filmed, and the Evening Echo recorded the local interest when he exhibited it beginning the following Wednesday: “[v]iews of every passage of the exciting and scientific contest are shown, and the loud and frequent applause which was heard at intervals during Wednesday night’s performance testified to the great enjoyment that was derived by all present” (“Assembly Rooms, Cork ”). It would travel on to McEwan’s picture house in Limerick and other venues.
This week in 1913 saw not the All-Ireland football final, but the Munster hurling final, which again featured Cork and Tipperary and was played at Dungarvan on Sunday, 21 September. Cork fans would have known from word of mouth and newspaper reports that the Cork team did not repeat its success against Tipperary, but they did not have as long to wait for the film to appear on local screens. Given Cork’s involvement and the success of these films seemingly regardless of result, McEwan had arranged to film the match for his local audience and first exhibited it at the Picturedrome beginning at 3pm on the Monday of the week, the afternoon after the match. He also needed a spectacle to compete against the five picture houses that had opened since last he had shown the Munster final, not least the newly opened Coliseum, which was heavily advertising its first exclusive feature, The Battle of Waterloo.
Gaelic football films in 1913 were a Kerry story, as is so often the case with Gaelic football itself. In early 1913, the GAA held a special tournament, the Croke Memorial, to fund the purchase of the land at Jones’ Road, Dublin, for their headquarters. In a thrilling replay, Kerry beat the All-Ireland champions Louth, and this match was filmed by James T. Jameson. In Tralee, Kerry’s largest town, Jameson exhibited at the Theatre Royal, which he held on a long lease. Although he showed the film in Dublin and Cork first, particular celebration greeted its exhibition in Tralee:
On Wednesday evening the members of the Killarney and East Kerry section of the famous Kerry team motored to Tralee to see the moving pictures of the famous match at the Theatre Royal. The motors were kindly lent by Messrs. Green and Casey, whose cars were always at the disposal of the team.
The leading followers of the team in Tralee took the opportunity of the visit of the Killarney men to give them a hearty reception after their glorious victory. There was a large and representative gathering, and songs, recitations and toasts were given. As the motors passed through the town they received a tremendous ovation (”The Team at Theatre Royal”).
“Assembly Rooms, Cork: Munster Hurling Final.” Evening Echo 34 Oct. 1912: 2.
“Films for Families.” Evening Echo 28 Feb. 1913: 2.
“The Team at Theatre Royal, Tralee.” Kerryman 5 July 1913: 1.