Tailteann Games (Irish Free State)

Fireworks at the first Games, August 15, 1924

The Tailteann Games or Aonach Tailteann was an Irish sporting and cultural festival held in the Irish Free State in 1924, 1928, and 1932. It was intended as a modern revival of the Tailteann Games held from legendary times until the Norman invasion of Ireland; as such it drew inspiration from the Modern Olympics revival of the Ancient Olympics. Croke Park, the Dublin headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association, was the venue for the opening ceremony and many of the sports events, which were open to people of Irish birth or ancestry. The Tailteann Games were held shortly after the Summer Olympics, such that athletes participating in Paris 1924 and Amsterdam 1928 came to compete. Participants coming from England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, the USA, South Africa and Australia as well as Ireland.[1] Chess competitions were held in conjunction with the Irish Chess Union as part of the Tailteann Games. There were also artistic competitions and industrial displays. The games became regarded as a Cumann na nGaedheal project, and when that party lost power to Fianna Fáil after the 1932 election there was no financial backing for further games.[2]


This revival "meeting of the Irish race" was announced by Éamon de Valera in Dáil Éireann in 1921. The 1922 Irish Race Convention supported the plan for an "Irish Race Olympic".[3] However, due to the Anglo-Irish War and Civil War it was not held until 1924.[4] The meeting was launched to celebrate the independence of Ireland. The Hogan Stand was built and opened for the 1924 games.[1]

A report to revive the games was debated in the Dáil in June 1922. Modern sports such as motorcycling and shooting were to be included, along with a parade of massed choirs. The possibility of out-doing the Olympic Games was mentioned: "We have got representations from America to the effect that it would be advisable to depart from the idea of confining the Tailteann games to the Irish race and seeing that they predated the Greek Olympic by a thousand years we should be justified in entering upon a more varied programme."[5] The games were delayed by the Irish Civil War of 1922–23.


Commemorative medals were struck for all three games, in gold, silver, silver gilt, and bronze. They depict Tailtiu, the patron deity of the ancient Tailteann Games, with inscription "An Bhainrioghan Tailte" ("Queen Tailte").[6]


The games opened with the "Tailteann choir" singing the "Tailteann ode", with words by Oliver St. John Gogarty and music by Louis O'Brien.[7] The ode won Gogarty a bronze medal in the literature section of the 1924 Olympic art competition. The Irish flag was carried by Tom Kiely, winner of the 1904 Olympic all-around (decathlon) title.[8]

To increase the quality of the competition, some Olympic stars without Irish heritage were invited to compete as guests.[9]

The dissident Irish republican government which had lost the Civil War urged a boycott of the games "falsely described as Aonach Tailteann", because it rejected the legitimacy of the Free State government which sponsored the games.[10] Rugby union was excluded from the program because the Irish Rugby Football Union was seen as "undemocratic and almost un-Irish".[11]


Run in conjunction with the Irish Chess Union, there were three competitions, the overall competition was won by the reigning Irish Champion Philip Baker, the Major Competition was won by Lord Dunsany, with Aaron Sayers as runner-up.[12] Dublin Chess Club provided its premises and equipment for use for the Competitions.[13]


In hurling, teams from England, Wales, the United States, Scotland, and Ireland played.[14]

A shinty–hurling match was played between Scotland team organised by the Camanachd Association and an Ireland team organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).

The Camogie Association planned national and international camogie competitions, but withdrew after a dispute with the organisers, reflecting the anti-Free State bias of the association's leadership. An exhibition match was played without the association's sanction,[15] while an association "Ireland" team played in London.


Swimming events were held in the pond at Dublin Zoo.[9] American Johnny Weissmuller and Australian Andrew "Boy" Charleton took part.[9]


The American Harold Osborn, the 1924 Olympic high jump champion, won the same event in the Tailteann Games


The Sailing events of 1924 were sailed in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) on Saturday in the second week of August.

Tailteann Games 1924 sailing events[16]
1Yachts over 10 tons'Mavourneen', Mr. F. St. J. Worrall.[17]
225 ft & 21 ft'Geraldine', Mr. W. McDowell.
3Yachts up to 10 tons'Klysma', Mr. C. O'Loughlin.
417 ft'Echo', Mr. R. Hall.
5Seapoint [Sailing Club] No. 2 & Clontarf [Yacht & Boat Club] class'Falcon', Messrs. Hutchinson and Paine.
6Shannon-One-Design1 S47 Edgar H. Waller ; 2 S32 N. Lionel Lyster ; 3 S35 A.G. Waller ; 4 S36 R. White ; 5 S34 Walter Levinge ; 6 S45 Tom Feely ; 7 S43 Jocelyn H. de W. Waller
7Water Wags'Coquette', Mr. G.H. Jones.

Motor Boating

The Motor Boat event of 1924 took place in Dublin Bay.

Cultural programme

Irish and foreign dignitaries at the RIA

W. B. Yeats persuaded the Royal Irish Academy to award prizes. The gold medal went to Stephen MacKenna for his translation of Plotinus; other winners were Oliver Gogarty, Francis Stuart, and James Stephens. A banquet presided over by T. M. Healy, the Governor-General of the Irish Free State, had an "oddly assorted" group of guests invited by Yeats, including Augustus John, Sir Edwin Lutyens, writers Compton Mackenzie, G. K. Chesterton, Lennox Robinson, and Carlos Magalhães de Azeredo; cricketers Ranjitsinhji and C. B. Fry; and diplomats Willem Hubert Nolens and Erik Palmstierna. Chesterton accepted the medal on his behalf of the absent MacKenna, who later refused it.[18]

An art and craft exhibition at the Royal Hibernian Academy displayed 1,597 works, more than half entered for competition in 32 categories.[19] The overall "Tailteann Trophy" went to Seán Keating's Homage to Hugh Lane.[20] Other gold medallists included Margaret Clarke, Francis Doyle Jones, Letitia Hamilton, Power O'Malley, and Patrick Tuohy.[20]

At the Theatre Royal two recent operas by Irish composers were performed: Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer's Sruth na Maoile (1922) and Harold White's Seán the Post (1924), along with Shamus O'Brien (1896) by Charles V. Stanford.[7] The last was not successful: "there seemed to be a greater number of people in the orchestra than in the audience".[21]

In the genre painting competition, Charles Lamb won a silver medal for Dancing at a Northern Crossroads, depicting a traditional crossroads dance.[22]


The programme for the 1928 games included athletics, billiards, boxing, camogie, chess, cycling, Gaelic football, golf, gymnastics, Gaelic handball, hurling, motorcycling, rowing, and swimming.[23]

At the awards ceremony in the Iveagh Gardens, the pageant The Coming of Fionn by Seamus MacCall was staged.[24]


The 1928 Games was won by John O'Hanlon a multiple Irish Champion.

Motor Boating

The Motor Boat event of 1928 took place at Ballyglass, Co. Westmeath, home of the Lough Ree Yacht Club, and Motor Yacht Club of Ireland, on 16 August. Races took place in various classes:

  • Race 1. Free for all sweepstakes. 1st. 'Fiend' J.W. Shillan. 2nd. 'Irish Express' Major H. Waller. 3rd. 'Miss Chief' J. C. Healy.
  • Race 2. Handicap for boats with outboard engines not exceeding 350cc. Boat min. weight 120 lbs. 1st. 'Miss Chief' J.C. Healy. 2nd. 'Busy Bee' Lt. Col. Mansfield. 3rd. 'Imp' D. Tidmarsh.
  • Race 3. Handicap for boats with inboard engines exceeding 20'-0". 1st. 'Shrike' Lt. Col. Mansfield. 2nd.'La Vague' Dr. V. S. Delany. 3rd. 'Janet' J. C. Healy.
  • Race 4. Handicap for boats with outboard engines of unlimited cc. Boat min. weight 140 lbs. 1st. 'Baby Costume' L. Hogan. 2nd.'Fiend' J. W. Shillan. 3rd. 'Busy Bee' Lt. Col. Mansfield.
  • Race 5. Free for all scratch race. Outboard engines. 1st. 'Fiend' J. W. Shillan. 2nd. 'Miss Chief' J. C. Healy. 3rd. 'Busy Bee' Lt. Col. Mansfield.
  • Race 6. Handicap race for boats with inboard engines, length not exceeding 20 ft. 1st. 'Udra' Dr. V.S. Delany. 2nd. 'Mermaid' Mr. J. Ryan.


With the 1932 Summer Olympics begin held in Los Angeles, the Tailteann Games was originally scheduled for 1931 to avoid a clash, but postponed to 1932, which meant Olympic athletes from Ireland or abroad could not be present. The Games' main backer, minister J. J. Walsh, lost office when Fianna Fáil took power after the 1932 election, and public funding was cut. Against a background of the Great Depression and the Anglo-Irish Trade War, the Games cut from two weeks to one; they made a £12 profit.


The third games was won again by John O'Hanlon who was also Irish Champion in 1932.


The sailing events were hosted by the National Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire in July 1932.[25]

Cruisers under 10 tons[25]

Mercia III, W. J. Smalldridge (5h 22m 31s); Sho Shi, T.A. Cotter (5:31:15); Eileen, J.A. Magauran (5:39:35) (Winner); Alethea, J. Kelly.


Maureen (winner) Newsom & Stephens; Geraldine, W McDowell; Oola, F.E. Bitmingham; Innisfallen, J.T. Wigham.


Pauline, Dr. H.J. Wright; Zaida, Dr. H.H. Poole; Rita, Mr. A. O'Reilly; Mimosa, Mr. R.N. Guinness; Bobolink, Mr. A. McMullen; Leila, Mr. W. McBride; Hera, Mr. A.E. Nesbitt; Echo, Mr. R. Hall; Anita, Mr. J. Millar; Oona, Dr. D & Miss Douglas; Deilginis, Capt. O'B. Twohig; Rosemay, Messrs. Sterling & Thompson; Silver Moon (carried away her masthead before the preparatory gun).

Water wags[25]

Pansy, Dr. J. H. Stephens; Phyllis, G.A. Newsom; Coquette, George Jones; Tomboy, Mr. &. Mrs. Donolly; Mollie, Dr & Mrs Henry; Blue Bird, Dr. G. Pugin; Amyl, Mr. & Mrs. Shackleton; Nesta, A.W. Bayne; Marie Louise, E.G. Peake; Cupid, S. S. Harman; Alfa, G.D. Findlater; Kittiwake, E.A. Brittain (fouled mark); Mary Kate, A.R. O'Connor (retired).


In 1937 Éamon de Valera organised an inter-departmental committee into the feasibility of staging another games, which reported in June that it would be possible to stage one in 1939. De Valera used the split in Irish athletics governance as an excuse to defer consideration, to the chagrin of J. J. Walsh. The onset of the Second World War deferred any progress and nothing further happened after the war.[26]


  1. 1 2 History of Croke Park - Hogan Stand Archived 2007-02-21 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. Cronin 2005, p.64
  3. Dean 2014 p.91
  4. The Tailteann Games - An Olympic Event for the "Celtic Race", by Bernd Biege, About.com
  5. "Dil ireann - Volume 2 - 08 June, 1922 - IOMATHOIRI IASACHTA". oireachtas.ie. Archived from the original on 2012-10-31.
  6. Went, Arthur E. J. (June 1978). "Medallic Illustrations of Dublin History". Dublin Historical Record. Old Dublin Society. 31 (3): 97–104 : 103. JSTOR 30104073.
  7. 1 2 McAsey, Carmel C. (December 1969). "Dubliners and Opera". Dublin Historical Record. Old Dublin Society. 23 (2/3): 45–55 : 53. JSTOR 30087165. ; Gogarty, Oliver St. John; O'Brien, Louis (1924). "Aonach tailteann 1924 prize ode". Holdings. Dublin: Piggott. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  8. Zarnowski, Frank (August 2006). "Thomas F. Kiely: A biography" (PDF). Journal of Olympic History. 14 (2): 5–11: 11.
  9. 1 2 3 Rouse, Paul (18 November 2016). "When Ireland's Tailteann Games eclipsed the Olympics". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  10. Ruttledge, P. J. (1924). "To the people of Ireland and to every member of the Irish race". Holdings. National Library of Ireland. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  11. Rouse 2015 p.269
  12. When Irelands Tailteann Games eclipsed the Olympics by Paul Rouse, Irish Examiner, November 18, 2016.
  13. 'A History of Dublin Chess Club' by A. A. Luce, 1967.
  14. Leeworthy, Daryl (2012). "The Forgotten Hurlers of South Wales: Sport, Society and the Irish, 1910–1925". Journal of Welsh People's History. Llafur. 11 (2). ISSN 0306-0837.
  15. Nic Congáil, Ríona (Spring–Summer 2013). ""Looking on for Centuries from the Sideline": Gaelic Feminism and the Rise of Camogie" (PDF). Éire-Ireland :. 48 (1 & 2): 168–190 : 184.
  16. "Aonach Tailteann : programme of sailing". Holdings. National Library of Ireland. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  17. Irish Times 11 Aug. 1924
  18. Hone, Joseph (1963) [1943]. "Meditations in Time of Civil War; 7.". W. B. Yeats. Macmillan. pp. 362–365.
  19. Cronin 2005, pp.64–65
  20. 1 2 Cronin 2005, p.65
  21. Joseph O'Neill: "Music in Dublin", in: Music in Ireland. A Symposium, ed. by Aloys Fleischmann (Cork: Cork University Press, 1952), p. 255.
  22. Bourke, Marie (Spring 2000). "A Growing Sense of National Identity". History Ireland. 8 (1).
  23. Committee of Aonach Tailteann and Irish Tourist Information (1928). "Aonach Tailteann". Holdings. National Library of Ireland. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  24. Dean 2014 p.95
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 The Irish Times. 11 July 1932. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  26. Rouse 2015 p.255


  • Bell, Daniel (17 November 2011). "Tailteann Games". Encyclopedia of International Games. Vol.2. McFarland. pp. 373–375. ISBN 9781476615271. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  • Cronin, Mike (July 2003). "Projecting the Nation through Sport and Culture: Ireland, Aonach Tailteann and the Irish Free State, 1924–32". Journal of Contemporary History. 38 (3): 395–411. doi:10.1177/0022009403038003004. ISSN 0022-0094. JSTOR 3180644.
  • Cronin, Mike (Autumn 2005). "The State on Display: The 1924 Tailteann Art Competition". New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua. University of St. Thomas (Center for Irish Studies). 9 (3): 50–71. JSTOR 20558012. (Subscription required (help)).
  • Dean, Joan Fitzpatrick (2014). All Dressed Up: Modern Irish Historical Pageantry. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815652847. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  • Reynolds, Paige (2007). "Fictions in the Free State: the 1924 Tailteann Games". Modernism, Drama, and the Audience for Irish Spectacle. Cambridge University Press. pp. 156–198. ISBN 9780521872997. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  • Rouse, Paul (2015). "Sport on a Partitioned Island 1920 to the New Millennium". Sport and Ireland: A History. Oxford University Press. pp. 243–328. ISBN 9780198745907. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
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