The GAA volunteers who fought in the Great War

The project is trying to identify GAA members who fought in World War One
The project is trying to identify GAA members who fought in World War One

A century on from the outbreak of the Great War, the first-ever initiative recognising members of the GAA who fought in the trenches is being launched.

The “Forgotten Gaelic Volunteers” is a nine-month research project being undertaken by the Ulster Council of the Gaelic sports body – aimed at identifying those Ulster GAA members who died in the 1914-1918 conflict.

Belfast man William Manning, who played for Antrim in the 1912 All-Ireland football final, was shot dead in France in 1918

Belfast man William Manning, who played for Antrim in the 1912 All-Ireland football final, was shot dead in France in 1918

Preliminary research has already revealed that several Gaelic players from Ulster joined various regiments of the British Army and went on to serve on the front line.

The majority identified to date hailed from west Belfast, where recruitment among nationalists was known to he high, largely due to the scale of unemployment in the area, researchers have found.

Records show that 20 men from one club in Belfast alone signed up to fight. William Manning, a Belfast man who played for Antrim in the 1912 All-Ireland football final, was shot dead while serving as a lance-sergeant with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in France in 1918.

Private Patrick Corey from Cookstown, who played for Tyrone in the 1909 Ulster Football Championship, died in the uniform of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1915.

There are many reasons why the subject has not previously been researched in depth – among them a long-standing reluctance among nationalists to discuss or detail memories of the war, and that several of the GAA clubs involved were in the junior leagues and no longer exist.

The project has been supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and will be launched at the Great Hall of Queen’s University on Monday, October 13.

Martin McAviney, Ulster GAA president, commented on the significance of this event: “As an organisation Ulster GAA have already placed on record its commitment to working with a sections of society to use the decade of commemoration as an opportunity to promote reconciliation.”

Paul Mullan, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund NI, added his support for the project: “HLF was pleased to fund this fascinating new project which will explore another strand of our complex heritage.”

Any members of the public who have details of GAA players from Ulster who fought in the First World War, or who would like to attend the event on October 13, are requested to contact the Ulster Council office at 028 (048) 3752 1900 or email kathy.kelly.ulster@gaa.ie, but places are limited.