The Formation of Rathcoffey GAA Club

Published in Le Chéile, January 2008

The first meeting of Rathcoffey GAA branch took place in February 1888 and was well attended with over forty of those present becoming paid members.

The attendance included William Fennell and C. Kelly of ‘William O’Brien’s Clane’ which was the first GAA branch in the Parish. Mr Kelly addressed the meeting first of all and explained the objects of the Association. He then sought and received an assurance that the new branch would not poach or except members from his local branch. When this was forthcoming he agreed to support the affiliation of the new club to the County Committee. Support from Clane was vital in order for the new branch to gain affiliation to the County body.

Notice relating to Rathcoffey GAA, August 1892 in the Leinster Leader

The new GAA national association was very supportive of the Irish National League the largest political grouping in the country at the time which was led by Charles Stuart Parnell. Mr Kelly proposed a motion that the new GAA branch at Rathcoffey would fully support the principals of the Irish National League and expel any member that does not fully subscribe to its policies. This motion was carried unanimously.

An interesting feature of local GAA branches at the time was the fact that clubs were named after nationalist politicians. Clane, one of the leading branches in the County was named after the popular County Cork MP, William O’Brien. He had been imprisoned for ‘Land Reform’ activities and was released in October 1884 a short time before the National Gaelic Association was formed. The branch in nearby Straffan was named after James L. Carew who was one of the two MPs representing County Kildare at Westminster. The second representative was James Leahy from Moatfield, Athy who was very popular in the county and was particularly popular in Clane parish. In the autumn of 1884 he was the principal speaker at a nationalist monster meeting in Clane and certainly endeared himself to the people in the local area when he spoke highly of the men from Clane, Rathcoffey and Staplestown. When the new GAA branch was formed in Rathcoffey it was no surprise that the club was named after Mr Leahy who at the time was the only native Kildare MP.

One surprising aspect of the meeting was that there was no representative from O’Connell’s Kilcock which was another Gaelic branch in the area. This was highly unusual given that the catchment area of the newly formed branch in Rathcoffey extended to within two miles of Kilcock.

The first chairman of the branch was Henry Travers who was described as a publican and farmer by trade. The local pub in Rathcoffey Village is on the site Mr Travers’s licensed premises. He was prominently involved in Nationalist politics and together with most of the new members of the newly formed GAA club was also a member of the local branch of the ‘Irish National League’. The second named officer of the branch was Mr P. Behan. Unfortunately, very little is known of him apart from the fact that he served as the first secretary of the club. Other named individuals attending the inaugural meeting included: Mark Travers, Edward Coonan, James Neill, John Fitzsimons, Joseph Healy, C. Fitzsimons, Francis Doyle Junior and Sylvester Byrne.