Using Sports Archives as a Record Source

This piece of work was researched and written by expert Genealogist, Hilary McDonagh

When most people think of sports it is about playing, organising or supporting. But sports also generate records which can embellish the bare facts about our ancestors’ births and marriages.  Are these records in archives?  Sports Archives provide a unique source for genealogists and other researchers.  They  can transcend gender, religion, ethnicity and culture.  Whilst their importance is beginning to be recognised with some very good work undertaken as outlined below for most it is not on their radar.  So, what type of sports records do exist?  They can include a treasure trove of team lists, medal-winners, match programmes, interview and photographs.

A search of will reveal a small but varied set of sports records in Irish archives  including the Scoring book of Middleton Cricket Club  (175o-1914),  and the Dublin University Lawn Tennis, Gymnastic, Racquets Club Minute Book (1903-1914).

In Ireland the leaders in the  field (excuse the pun) of maintaining sports records  are the Dublin City Archives and Library and the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) but individual records occur in many repositories.

The GAA is Ireland’s largest sporting body. It was founded in 1884 to promote Gaelic games such as Hurling, Gaelic Football and Handball. It has over 2,200 clubs in Ireland and a further 400 around the world. Their archive was established in 2007 and it holds national records from 1899, including records of activities at  provincial, county and  club levels. It also holds over 7,000 match programmes as well as oral interviews with players and officials, with much of it available online.   For those who want to visit the archive in person they should contact the GAA Museum Library.

Dublin City Archives and Library established the Dublin City Sports Archive in 2010. Dublin City Sports Archive | Dublin City Council

This writer’s involvement in sports archives was tied in with a book entitled “The Lilac Years. A History of the Maids of the Mountain Hockey Club 1918-1999”.   Maids was a hockey club established in 1918 in the Dublin outer  suburbs,  and after over 80 years it merged with Three Rock Rovers Hockey Club in 1999. Rather than lose the history of this club, two club members, Órla McKeown and Hilary McDonagh took the decision to record it on paper. They carried out interviews with many of the retired as well as playing members. The actual records dated back to 1918 and included a treasure trove of minute books, register of members, press cuttings, programmes, photographs. These records were ultimately donated to Dublin City Archives and Library and proudly holds the position of the 1st record collection in the Dublin City Sports Archive.
The Maids collection is a unique and rare insight into women’s lives with very few comparable collections in existence. It also provides an understanding into the social, cultural and even economic development in the 20th century.

The Club was founded at a time of turmoil in Irish history. Only two years after the 1916 Rising, with WWI coming to an end, women over 30 getting the vote and a landside victory for Sinn Féin. The Irish Ladies Hockey Union was founded in 1894 (the first women’s hockey association to be founded in the world). By 1918 ladies hockey was fairly strong in Ireland, but was dominated by “closed” clubs, those only open to past pupils or employees. Maids was established as an open club, the name originating from an operatta that was playing in Dublin at the time, The Maid of the Mountains, by Simon Fraser. Within two years, the club won the treble of the Irish Senior Cup, Leinster Senior Cup and the Leinster Senior League, a success they were to repeat in 1923 and 1935.

Record of members of ‘Maids of the Mountain’ for the 1936-1937 season

In these early years skirts lengths for players had risen just above the ankle, however the rest of the attire remained as it was in the 19th century – a hat secured with a pin, a long sleeved blouse buttoned to the neck, a stiff linen collar, a loose flowing cravat type tie, a voluminous skirt, high enough at the waist to tuck in the tie and stockings. By 1927 players were wearing loose fitting tunics, with pleats, cut just above the knee, no doubt encouraged by the upwardly creeping hemlines of the 1920’s. In 1936 the first pair of tights made their debut in Maids courtesy of one of the players, Doris Findlater, who made the purchase when on tour with the Irish hockey team in Philadelphia, USA.

Over the years, Maids played at various grounds in South Dublin before finding a permanent home on Grange Road as a tenant of Three Rock HC. One of these venues was in Templeogue, where they played for many years until it was re-developed for houses. The facilities were sparse, and showers were limited to the men’s changing rooms only. That was until a determined new Maid, Joan Mathews (later Blackmore), having complained and given short shrift by the Grounds Committee, marched into the men’s changing room with soap and towel in hand after her next match. By the following week a shower had been installed in the women’s changing room.
Amongst the members of the members recorded for the 1936-1937 season were (with married players clearly noted!):
K Aherne
B. Ackerly
M Ackerly
J. Ainsworth
L. Byrne
M. Cassidy
E. Cherry
B. Creswell
B. Davys
P. Darley
P. Dempsey
D. Dillon
S. Drummond
J. Drury
M. Ferrier
Mrs. D. Findlater
N. Fitzgerald
K. Fitzgerald
M. Fitzpatrick
M. Gahan
Mrs. D Gogarty
R. Huet
L. Hutton
Mrs. B. Jackson
A. Keats
A. Mahony
V. Mahony
M. Marran
D. Mathews
W. Mathews
M. McKay
A. Moore
H. Martin

Source: Dublin City Sports Archive

The Dublin City Sports Archive has expanded since 2010 and the collection now includes records for football, athletics, cycling, golf, ramblers, water polo, swimming with their hockey collection grown to include national, provincial and other club records.

The Archives of University College Dublin –  UCD Archives – holds the historical records for the Football Association of Ireland, the Leinster Football Association and are currently working with Cycling Ireland.

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU)  have made  some material online – news archive which dates back to 2001, team listings and some footage from the British Pathé between 1910-1970. It’s a start but hopefully having recognised the importance of such archives the collection will grow.

The Royal Dublin Society hold digitised catalogues from the Dublin Horse Show between 1868-1888, as well as material both online and in their library on events that have been held there – cycling, motor cars, boxing, football matches and the Tailteann games. Other sporting bodies contacted did confirm that they hold some records – Tennis Ireland and Basketball Ireland with the latter also seeking to access funding to archive more material. But the majority of sporting bodies either confirmed they had no archival material or simply did not respond.

Having scoured through the Maids archives and history it is clear that sports archives are a unique source for us genealogists and other researchers and should be preserved. But we need clubs and all sporting bodies to be more proactive about their preservation and to recognise the value of these records with policy makers providing more funding to help them.

Maids 1X 1920: (Back l-r) G Mahony, V. Balfe, M. Balfe, P. Mahony, E. Keily, G. Eyre; (Front l-r) D Pim, M. Lynch, Hilda O’Reilly, P. Roper, Una Minch Source: Dublin City Sports Archive