Eason O’Connell St. Dublin was founded in 1887, the same year as the first All-Ireland Hurling Championship took place! Author of The Hurlers Paul Rouse has kindly written an exclusive blog post for Eason about that year.
"Day after day through the summer of 1887 new stories were told of the brutal heat that had settled on Ireland.
From Kildare, it was reported that three soldiers of the 11th Hussars had died from sunstroke on the Curragh while on sentry duty.
Deeper into the midlands, the bogs around Birr and Tullamore in Kings County were ablaze, the fire spreading, apparently untameable as it reached out into hedgerows and left a great pall of smoke suspended above the land.
And, in the midst of the heat, land agitation worsened, its violence continuing to shock.
The launch of a ‘Plan of Campaign’ by William O’Brien and three other Irish Parliamentary Party MPs in October 1886 had brought a radical turn to land agitation. The ‘Plan’ came in the wake of a new agricultural crisis and increased evictions across rural Ireland.
It was published first in the United Ireland newspaper on 23 October 1886 and offered a clear path of resistance against landlords.
It said that if tenants offered a fair rent to their landlords – and had that offer refused – should decline to pay altogether.
The proposed rent was to be put into an ‘estate fund’ which would be used to support any tenant who might be evicted.
The land agitation was concentrated in the west and the south of the country, and was attended by dramatic scenes of violence and outrage.
There was also a deteriorating political climate. In 1886 the defeat of the Home Rule Bill had led to a summer of murderous rioting and mob violence.
The legacy of that summer was made apparent when The Times of London published a series of articles called ‘Parnellism and crime’ which linked Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of nationalist Ireland, to a series of criminal acts by way of excerpts from letters.
Only much later was it proven that the letters were forgeries – but the impact in 1887 was to exacerbate the divides of Ireland.
The stories from United Ireland and The Times, and from the many provincial newspapers that were now being published in every county in Ireland, were gathered and sold in Dublin, where – in 1887 – Eason and Son opened its iconic shop on Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street), selling books and newspapers.
A revolution in literacy meant that every year saw more and more people in Ireland able to read. This was a revolution that provided many new jobs. One such job had seen Charles Eason appointed as manager of a Dublin branch of W.H. Smith & Son in 1856.
By the mid-1860s, the company had established a shop on Middle Abbey Street selling newspapers, books and stationery. In 1866, Charles Eason had bought out the premises and, along with with his son (also named Charles), and established a private company under the title of ‘Eason & Son, Limited.’
The new shop on Sackville Street became a mecca for Dublin’s readers.
And through 1887 those readers were treated to the scarcely believable dramas that were unfolding in the playing of the first ever All-Ireland hurling championship.
These stories ranged from the images of men sitting on the roof of an overcrowded train billowing smoke as it pushed its way to Dungarvan where Cork were to play Kilkenny in an All-Ireland Final to the tales of political intrigue that saw shots fired by revolutionaries from the Irish Republican Brotherhood over the head of Michael Cusack in Hayes Hotel in Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
This was a year when politics and land and sport were wrapped around each other like bindweed. That hurling was more than mere sport was quickly becoming apparent. Although the GAA had only been formed in 1884, it had already become established as a vibrant, essential organization which transformed the social life of many Irish people.
And 1887 was a defining year for the Association – its new competition set a pattern of play that has proved central to the Irish summer ever since. While heatwaves occurred only from time to time, the hurling championship has endured."
In 1882, a letter was published in the Irish Times , lamenting the decline of hurling. The game was now played only in a few isolated rural pockets, and according to no fixed set of rules. It would have been absurd to imagine that, within five years, an all-Ireland hurling championship would be underway, under the auspices of a powerful national organization. The Hurlers is a superbly readable account of that dramatic turn of events, of the colourful men who made it happen, and of the political intrigues and violent rows that marked the early years of the GAA. From the very start, republican and ecclesiastical interests jockeyed for control, along with a small core of enthusiasts who were just in it for the sport. In this authoritative and seriously entertaining book, Paul Rouse shows how sport, culture and politics swirled together in a heady, often chaotic mix.