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By Donal McAnallen. Copyright is his. Thanks for his permission,granted on 5th May 2006

This piece is an extract from the site, http://cao.gaa.ie/archive.html
where you could find a series of articles on social +/or sporting history. When I looked at this site a few years ago, grand, as of today, 2/5/16, it's not working. What can I say? CC 2/5/16

REV. R.M. Hilliard and Trinity Hurlers

By most definitions, Kerry people are complicated characters, but few subjects of the Kingdom have been as inscrutable as a native of Moyeightragh, Killarney, named R.M. Hilliard.

Entering Trinity College in the early 1920s, Hilliard made an instant mark as a radical. Baptised an Anglican, he embraced Marxist and atheistic beliefs in his salad student days, served with the anti-Treaty IRA, and was said to have voted seventeen times against the establishment in the 1922 elections! (40) Despite extreme myopia, he won Trinity Bantamweight Boxing Championship in 1922,(41) the Irish Amateur Boxing Association Championship in 1923, and represented Ireland in the 1924 Olympics.(42)

During the Treaty debates, Trinity was criticised for promoting the British identity in the Irish state, and it was pointed out that it had no hurling club. Law undergraduate Brian Maginness agreed that Gaelic games were "anathema in Trinity," subject to a malicious boycott because they were "purely and individually Irish, and the college was shirking "its duty to the country in the present renaissance." (43) Rising to the Leinster House challenge, he re-formed Trinity Hurling Club after forty dormant years. Magennis' efforts provoked averse commentary from two sides. Detractors within Trinity sneered that he was a hurling novice, who knew not even the number of players on a team,(44) and that it was a sport that "nobody supports" in the college. (45) It was also implied that the hurlers were merely rejects from other sports:

"And yet the Rugger teams don't seem to want you, And in the Hockey Club you've no more luck; If e'en the lonely 'Soccer' team won't have you Why, come and join the Hurling Club, my lad!" (46)

From the ultra-nationalist perspective, the idea of a hurling club in Trinity was equally laughable. The Leader led with a vituperative attack on the college, and a cartoon and verse portraying unsympathetic Trinitarians bemused by a recital of the rules of hurling. This "petty malice", in turn, convinced some college students that if their efforts were to be scoffed at, it was pointless to try and placate such people. (47)

The members of the Hurling Club included:

J.P. O'Brien-Twohig (Captain); A. Stuart (Secretary); W.E. Godfrey (Treasurer); J.G. McManaway, J. Kennedy, - Kidd, J.L. Chambers, N.D. Emerson, R.M. Hilliard, J.E.R. Keymes, J. Kennedy, T.F. O'Donnell, W.A. Packham, and R.J. Twomey.

The club committee had an interview with the President of the GAA, Dan McCarthy, T.D., who stated that he would do all in his power to have the ban on rugby relaxed, and that at present, there was no clear ban binding on universities games. Additional help was provided by Sir John Ross, ex-Lord Chancellor of Ireland, a captain for two seasons of the 19th Century Trinity Hurley Club. (48) Trinity Hurling Club played its inaugural match against UCD in March 1923, and affiliated eventually to Dublin University Central Athletic Committee (DUCAC) after some technical difficulties.(49) Club colours were dark green and white, the annual subscription fee was a hefty 15 shillings, and twice weekly practice games at Terenure were promised.(50) Just as the club appeared to be making palpable progress, however, its grant was blocked by DUCAC on the ground that subscriptions had not been received.(51) "Don't order your Hurling colours yet," (52) warned TCD magazine ominously, and a DUCAC meeting in May 1924 resolved to insist upon the submission of club rules in future. (53)

By the latter part of 1924, the Hurling Club appeared to be moribund, a condition almost certainly induced by council filibustering. There was clearly an element in Trinity hostile to the GAA, owing to its "ridiculous prohibition" on foreign games; the snobbish belief that the college catering for hurling's "blood-brother" (hockey) was sufficient; (54) a strong sabbatarian feeling in college; (55) and the difficulty of finding teams to play against, because of its external association with the GAA. Trinity hurlers, whose primary sporting allegiance lay elsewhere, and few if any of whom were attached to other Gaelic clubs, had to operate in their own little universe, outside the orbit of both the GAA and the NUI. More than all these factors, nonetheless, the effective ban on Catholics attending Trinity restricted the Hurling Club to a basic playing pool, and once the founding members had graduated, there was insufficient interest in the sport to sustain the momentum.

'Bob' Hilliard was one of the Trinity hurlers who had flocked to Brian Magennis' aid in 1922 was R.M. Hilliard, and left the college around this time, albeit without a degree. Moving to London in the mid-1920s, he joined the evangelistic anti-Communist Oxford Group for 'moral rearmament', a dramatic turnaround from his stance at college. Working in advertising, he claimed to have invented the slogan "Great stuff this Bass" - yet a few short years later he rallied against British imports into Ireland, especially those of the Guinness company. Hilliard performed another act of renunciation while employed as a journalist in London, lambasting Gaelic games in an English newspaper that circulated in Ireland. His impressions provoked an angry retort from 'Mutius' in An Phoblacht:

"There is...chagrin and redoubtable hate fomenting in every West Briton and Colonialist throughout the country, but it is inarticulate for the time being. The 'foreign faction' ...never reached itself in its Imperial zeal for racial prostitution. It must wait...[for]...another fancied opportunity to ply its reptilian designs upon our native games...Depression and venom have, however, found one appropriate exponent in R.M. Hilliard, "the famous Irish athlete" who secured congenial space for his anti-Gaelic vapourings in the columns of the Sunday News...The fame of this Irish athlete has so far failed to penetrate beyond the compound erected for Imperial purposes in our Capital, and it is not likely to gain in prestige through the mephtic medium through to which he has had resort. His outburst is illuminating, however. The West Britons wanted to destroy the Gaelic Athletic Association...ever so badly and their defeat is sorely felt. So an irresponsible nonentity, in his impotent wrath, drops his accustomed nom-de-plume and seeks the refuge of one of England's obscene prints to vent his spleen. Poor pigmy!" (56) Obviously 'Mutius' was unaware of Hilliard's erstwhile dedication to the separatist cause indeed, republicanism seems to have been the only ideology in which he retained a consistent belief but he would have applauded the Kerryman's subsequent conversion back to former principles. First, he "abruptly re-appeared" at Trinity in 1931 after six years away, enrolling as an Anglican clerical student. Winning the Read Sizarship, this 'man of action' embarked on an exhausting number social life within Trinity: he was deeply involved with the Historical Society, Debating Society, Theological Society, Classical Society and Gaelic Society. These were evidently not sufficient to absorb all his energies, for he founded the college Thomas Davis Society.(57) After five years out of the sport, 'the boxing parson' jumped back in the ring and won the Irish Featherweight Championship in 1931. (58)

Trinity Hurling Club, revived circa 1930/31, became another morsel for Hilliard's voracious appetite. Proclaiming in T.C.D. magazine (which he edited) that the Protestant layman in the south no longer felt a stranger but was becoming "nationally conscious", he returned to the playing field. One tie of note was a friendly with Queen's at Phoenix Park on Sunday 14 February 1932, insofar as it was the Belfast college's debut in hurling, and both sides flouted their respective university regulations by playing on a Sunday. Yet it was made all the more remarkable by the behaviour of several 'spectators' on the sideline, who wore trench-coats and hats, and observed proceedings with a very serious demeanour.(59) It later emerged that the well-dressed men were detectives working for the SaorstĚt government, scrutinising the movements of R.M. Hilliard, who was, ironically, an ardent supporter of the newly installed Fianna Fail party.

T.C.D. H.C. Mark III did not last long, and its relapse was probably due in part at least to the departure of its most experienced member from Dublin in early 1933. Hilliard was posted to Derriaghy parish, where his enthusiastic preaching drew large crowds to Belfast Cathedral Mission. Resigning at the end of 1934, he joined the Communist party, and fought for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. This time he had taken the supreme task upon himself.

Rev. R.M. Hilliard was killed at the battle of Jarama on 14 February 1937. (60)

Notes for this extract:
40 Irish Times, 13 May 1944; cited in D. Carroll, Unusual Suspects: Twelve Radical Clergy, p.249.
41 T.C.D.: A College Miscellany, 14 December 1922, p.71.
42 T.C.D., 12 June 1924, p.199. Yet he lost an inter-varsity featherweight bout to a UCD opponent that year, possibly due to it being his seventh fight in one week.
43 Ibid, 30 November 1922, p.46.
44 Ibid, 14 November 1922, p.70.
45 Ibid, 30 November 1922, p.46.
46 Ibid, 14 December 1922, p.71.
47 Ibid, 30 November 1922, p.46.
48 Ibid, 8 March 1923, p.129.
49 Ibid, 15 February 1924.
50 Ibid, 8 November 1923, p.2. (The original Trinity Hurley Club of the 1870s wore black and white stripes. Ibid, 8 March 1923, p.129.
51 Ibid, 28 February 1924, p.128.
52 Ibid, 6 March 1924, p.135.
53 Ibid, 15 May 1924, p.151.
54 Ibid, 30 November 1922, p.46.
55 Ibid, 17 May 1923, p.150.
56 An Phoblacht, 16 April 1926, p.4.
57 F. McGarry, Irish Politics and the Spanish Civil War (Cork, 1999), p.275.
58 D. Carroll, Unusual Suspects, pp.249-252.
59 Interview with Mr. Patrick J. Bradley, Belfast, (founder of Queen's G.F. & H.C., 1930/31), August 2000.
60 D. Carroll, Unusual Suspects: Twelve Radical Clergy, pp.253-257.


Other articles on Hilliard

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