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Rugby in Munster: A Social and Cultural History
Rugby in Munster: A Social and Cultural History

Our Price:39.00
Authors: Liam O'Callaghan
Affiliation: Liverpool Hope University
Publication Year: Hardback November 2011
Pages: 286
Size: 234 x 156mm

ISBN: 9781859184806


This study is the first book-length academic treatment of rugby football in Ireland. Covering the period from the game's origins in Ireland in the 1870s through to the onset of professional rugby in the twenty-first century, this book seeks to examine Munster rugby within the context of broader social, cultural and political trends in Irish society. As well as providing a thorough chronological survey of the game's development, key themes such as violence, masculinity, class and politics are subject to more detailed treatment.

Since the turn of the twenty-first century rugby football in Munster has seen extraordinary growth in terms of popularity and cultural significance. The Munster rugby team in particular has become a hugely important provincial institution through which regional identity has been expressed on the international stage. This book will detail and analyse the game's evolution in Munster from its origins in the 1870s through to the dawn of the professional era in the 2000s. Focusing mainly on the game's two centres of popularity in Limerick and Cork cities, this book will display how contrary to popular myth, rugby football rarely expressed any kind of unitary, coherent identity throughout the province. The game was centred on clubs and was highly adaptable to local conditions throughout its history. In addition, the often fractious internal politics of the game within the province, reflecting the game's contrasting social development in Limerick and Cork, will also be discussed. Drawing on the unpublished records of the game's provincial and national administrative bodies and a comprehensive survey of the provincial press, this book will show how one sport served multifarious roles in terms of class, culture and politics in Munster.

Liam O'Callaghan is in the Health Sciences Department, Liverpool Hope University, UK

Average Rating: Average Rating: 5 of 5 5 of 5 Total Reviews: 3 Write a review »

  0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 LIAM O CALLAGHAN S well researched and engaging bo February 13, 2012
Reviewer: John Breen The Irish Examiner from Republic of Ireland  
LIAM O CALLAGHAN S well researched and engaging book is broken up into chapters on specific themes. The first two are organised chronologically and the remaining five focus on specific subjects the author deems worthy of more detailed analysis. Interestingly  the chronological scope of the thematic chapters runs from the 1870s to the 1940s when the social and cultural patterns of the game emerged that did not alter a great deal in subsequent decades. The author completes the book with a chapter dedicated to how professionalism has affected the game     The themes examined in detail are  class  violence and masculinity  rugby and social and cultural history of Munster  with particular attention paid to the relationship with the GAA  the management of the game and how the two power centres of Limerick and Cork affected decision making.     The origins of rugby can be traced as far back as the 15th century  to  unruly formats played over vast areas with limitless numbers of protagonists and bound by little or no rules . The Victorians cast a cold eye over these games and decided they needed to be regulated. This was done in 1835 with the Public Highways Act and the games of rugby and soccer as we now know them were born in the public schools of England where the rules were drafted.     O Callaghan maintains that the Webb Ellis myth is a result of the middle class trying to distance their beloved game from its peasant/plebeian past.     In his chapter on the chronological development of the game O Callaghan perhaps gets in to too much detail  with reports on matches in 1882  mixing with broader sociological observations. It is interesting to note that rugby was strongest in areas where Trinity College graduates were gathered either at boarding schools or in the banking sector  and that ruby spread out from Cork City to the county largely following the rail network. There is also an intriguing pattern of rugby celebrities establishing clubs wherever they were transferred for work and of using their old boys network to get the young clubs prestigious fixtures.     The book  however  comes alive when it charts the origins of the setting up of the IRFU and the tilting of the power base in Irish rugby towards Leinster and Ulster. The division of power recognised the on field weakness of Munster rugby in the 1880s  but it created a structure that rankled with the Munster branch for more than a century. This was reflected in the team selection for international duty  and an article penned in the Limerick Leader in the 1920s criticising the lack of Munster players on the national side and attributing it to an anti Munster bias at the IRFU could have been written at anytime in the 30 years before the advent of professionalism. This part of the book is highly entertaining and the minutiae of the petty turf wars that took place between the Victorian provincial branches is wonderfully reproduced. Plus ca change       The examination of class in Munster rugby complies with the popular stereotype of the game being largely dominated by the middle classes in Cork  but having a more diverse appeal in Limerick. The basis of this  paradoxically  was the founding of Garryowen long seen as the middle class rival to the blue collar Shannon RFC across the river. Founded to provide opposition to Limerick FC which was made up of the lawyers and doctors as well as military from the local garrison  two of Garryowen s founding members  Mike Joyce  a river pilot  and Tom Prendergast  a baker  were elected as Labour councillors with a mandate to improve workers wages and conditions. They were also  according to the RIC files  members of the IRB. Joyce and Prendergast ensured that membership of Garryowen spread beyond the narrow middle class base and embraced artisans and unskilled labourers.     The establishment of smaller junior rugby clubs is attributed to a Sunday league which grew in popularity and saw the foundation of Shannon and Thomond as well as many clubs which have long disappeared.     The author contradicts the popular belief at Shannon RFC that the club was founded in 1884 and states that it was more likely formed in 1887  citing an unpublished Masters thesis as his source. This will be a source of great satisfaction to Garryowen supporters.     Remarkably rugby in Munster seems to have emerged from the period of the First World War and the revolutionary upheaval of the Anglo Irish War relatively unscathed with 11 junior clubs in Limerick city in 1925. The book is very good on how the game developed in Cork and Limerick in this period  moving from the city out into the new suburbs in Cork and staying largely confined to the medieval parish structure in the centre of Limerick City.     The book is far from a dry chronology of dates and facts; there are some great stories of the early days of rugby and GAA rivalries in West Cork   one in particular in 1887 where Skibbereen and Baltimore were playing football and when a scrimmage  sic  was called the Baltimore team had no idea what it was and wanted to play by Baltimore rules  or  kick and tear away  as they were known locally. The codification of the rules of both rugby and the GAA put paid to such confusion.     How the ban affected the middle class members of the GAA is also illuminated with one enthusiastic supporter of the ban defending his own playing of golf by saying it was a Scottish game and therefore Celtic in origin. The politicking within the big Cork colleges who played hurling and rugby is well documented and illuminates how the big rugby colleges in Cork managed this crisis  forming their own committee and maintaining their traditions and the social networking that rugby afforded their students. Indeed one such student lamented in a poem:      how the Fenian hosts would have loved the scrum   it is a game just after the Irish heart for it weds great strength to the subtlest art.      There were more serious clashes during the Anglo Irish War  when rugby training at UCC was not halted as a mark of respect to the Cork hunger strikers in 1920 and high profile members of the rugby affiliated academic staff were subject to IRA death threats.     O Callaghan dutifully documents the financial management of Munster rugby but the chapter on the introduction of professionalism into Ireland and its affect on club rugby in Munster makes for stimulating reading for one who lived through those tumultuous times; the early days of the AIL when expectations of Ulster/Leinster supremacy were confounded and Munster teams   specifically Shannon   came to dominate the competition   then the decline and fall of the club game as the fully professional provincial teams soaked up the best players and their marketing budgets and television coverage drew spectators in their thousands.     In his conclusion the author casts a cold eye on some of the mythology that has grown up around the new Munster brand finding that the idea of a Munster tradition is illusory.     I will leave it up to the readers of this exhaustively researched and stimulating book to judge this for themselves  but the author has read every match report and branch agenda  parsed every gate receipt and read anything and everything pertaining to Munster rugby in the last 150 years. For this he is to be commended. For anybody who wants to have the definitive document that charts the rise of Munster in rugby this book is a must buy  it merges academic rigour with anecdotal evidence in the right amount and leaves the reader with the feeling that one has the whole story.

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  0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 Rugby in Munster: A Social and Cultural History i January 20, 2012
Reviewer: Diarmuid O Donovan from Republic of Ireland  
Rugby in Munster: A Social and  Cultural History is a compelling  read. Its narrative unravels many of  the highly complex mysteries of  rugby in Munster. It puts into context  the opinions  grudges  loyalties  and traditions that have evolved  since the game was first played here  in the 1870s.  It is a thorough examination of the  family tree of Munster rugby in the  context of general society. Like all  family trees  not every branch is exemplary.  Yet  thanks to the work of  dedicated clubs  individuals  some  good fortune and serendipity  Munster  rugby has developed into a  powerful sporting force and brand.  Anyone who wants to try to understand  the nature of that force has got  to read this book.

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  1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 Liam O Callaghan s book is a remarkable contribut November 1, 2011
Reviewer: John A Murphy Emeritus Professor of Irish History from Republic of Ireland  
Liam O  Callaghan s book is a remarkable contribution to the serious historiography of Irish Sports. Munster rugby as a special phenomenon has attracted much attention from sports writers and social commentators but this is a comprehensive study on an altogether different scale. It is extensively researched from an impressive array of sources and is painted on a wide social and cultural canvas.  It reminds us that the historical treatment of sports is not an optional frill but an investigation of a mainstream human activity.    The Author sets the absorbing story of Munster rugby in a wide comparative context in these islands. In the province itself  factors of class  culture and politics are constantly brought into play.  In this respect  the different situations in Cork and Limerick are carefully distinguished  and the fortunes of prominent clubs in both cities are dealt with in detail.  While the social background enriches and illuminates the rugby story  the reverse is also true. The book is at once scholarly and popular  and makes for fascination reading  and by no means only for the rugby aficionado. All in all it is establishes a standard in this particular genre which will be difficult to equal.

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