Sporting Ancestors

Sundays Well Tennis Club

I was invited recently to deliver a talk on researching Cork ancestry to Sundays Well Boating & Tennis Club. Located near Fitzgeralds Park and University College Cork, I must have passed it a number of times without realising it was there. The club have a monthly Circle Group get together for older and retired members and often invite someone in to give a talk. I was honoured to receive such an invitation, especially when I realised the long history the club has in Cork. The talk was very well received and as is often the case, talking to some of those in attendance afterwards, I learned quite a bit from them. One gentleman in particular had put together a large booklet on his family history and had even taken a number of DNA tests from 23andMe.

One perk of giving the talk was being introduced to the long history the club has in Cork. Founded in 1899 it still has a collection of records dating back to it’s founding. Names of chairmen from it’s founding are on plaques dotted around the clubhouse. Looking at them I could see plenty of familiar Cork names, even a few I would have come across when researching the history of Christchurch. I was also presented with a fascinating book on the history of the club.

All of this got me thinking about sports clubs in terms of genealogy. It’s an area we rarely think of and yet Cork has such a long and proud sporting history. From tennis, rugby, cricket, golf, soccer and of course GAA. The second ever meeting of the Gaelic Athlethic Association was held in the Victoria Hotel on St Patrick’s Street in the heart of Cork City on December 27th 1884. Although the hotel itself has long closed, a plaque still remains on the corner commemorating this meeting. Cork has also produced a number of celebrated boxers and athlethes.

Boxer Mick Leahy

With this level of sporting activity in Cork and throughout Ireland as a whole, it’s not hard to imagine that our ancestors might have been involved with a sporting club in some capacity. Sporting clubs provided (and often still do) a social outlet for people of all backgrounds. Our ancestors might also have helped out in the form of caretakers, groundskeepers or may have even been committee members. Genealogy is about more than just gathering names, for most people it is about learning what sort of lives their ancestors lived. Quite often some records will survive. If the club is still in operation, it’s no harm to check with them to see what they might have. Perhaps one of their members has taken on the role of archivist.

For those clubs that no longer operate or don’t have their records, its possible some information might survive with the Local Studies department of the library. If you are extremely fortunate, the club might have even handed over their records to the local archives. Cork City and County Archives for example holds many of the records from Cork Constitution Rugby Club, which had been founded in 1892 by members of the Cork Constitution newspaper. While the newspaper itself ceased publication in 1924, the rugby club has continued to operate. The archive collection also has plenty of other material connected to sporting activity in Cork, including a number of diaries that describe sporting events. The National Library of Ireland have put many of their old photos on Flickr and it’s worth browsing through their photos of sporting events, even an informal kickabout by a group of workers on their lunchbreak.

Winning oarsmen at Waterford Boat Club c. 1885 from the NLI collection https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/6078681751

Local newspapers will also often have recorded details on sporting events. In some cases they might even have a full list of the players on each team or perhaps photos of the teams. In some cases websites like British Pathe might have video footage from sporting events. Youtube is also a great source for historic footage.

Sporting records might not seem like the most obvious of genealogical sources but they can be worth delving into simply for what they can tell us about how our ancestors lived their lives. In the days before television and the internet, sport was one of the most popular ways for people to spend their leisure hours and our ancestors would have been no different.

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