Opinion: there is a tradition in the GAA of blaming defeat on a force greater than human sporting abilities

Curses and superstitions are common in the history and folklore of the GAA. They intensify most often when teams wish to explain away a frustrating lack of success. Win and the curse is broken and banished forever. Lose and that curse will follow a team until they can prove otherwise.

After their first every championship win in 1923, the Galway hurlers experienced a series of losses, which was attributed to a parish priest who condemned mass goers for sneaking out early to attend a match. As they ran away, the priest shouted from the pulpit "may Galway never win an All-Ireland while a member of this parish is playing on the team." The offending parish was believed to be Castlegar and the curse was only lifted after Pope John Paul II visited Galway in 1979. The county’s 57 year wait was over and Galway were blessed with a Liam MacCarthy title in 1980. 

From RTÉ Archives, highlights from Galway's 1980 All Ireland hurling victory over Limerick

Mayo footballers’ legendary curse dates from 1951, the last time Mayo raised the Sam Maguire cup. The story goes that the winning team neglected to pay proper respect to a funeral while passing through Foxford on their victorious drive home. Enraged, a local priest cursed the team and the county that while any member of the team of ’51 lived, Mayo would never win an All-Ireland final.

Since last lifting Sam Maguire almost 70 years ago, Mayo have reached the final in seven different seasons and have lost every time. Two members of the team of ’51 are still alive. The priest may have been mindful to curse only the male senior footballers, given that the green and red have won six minor and four ladies titles since, not to mention the All-Ireland senior club trophy which was Mayo bound in 2001 and 2005.

From RTÉ News, Séan Mac An tSíthigh previews the 2012 All Ireland football final with a report on the curse of 1951

After the 1914 campaign, it would be 81 years before Clare returned to the pinnacle of hurling. Over time, excuses were made and justifications given as to why the Banner team were seemingly unable to emulate the men of 1914. It was no surprise that their lack of success was also attributed to some supernatural origin- a local woman with a reputation for her magical and healing powers.

Biddy Early was born in Faha, east Clare in 1798 to a poor farming family. A well- known clairvoyant, she was said to have cured people and animals from all over the country, including those cursed by the fairies. She was tried for witchcraft in 1865, but witnesses were reluctant testify against her. Biddy is reputed to have placed a curse on the Clare hurlers, which resulted in them not winning an All-Ireland for over eight decades until the curse was lifted in 1995. However, Biddy died in 1874, ten years before the GAA was founded and 40 years before Clare won their first All-Ireland in 1914. Perhaps Biddy was an exceptional clairvoyant cursing a team that was non-existent in her lifetime.

From RTÉ Archives, excerpt from Eamon O’Connor’s Biddy Early: Wise Woman or Witch? was broadcast in February 1975. It had originally been scheduled for New Year’s Day, but a sudden strike in RTÉ meant it had to be postponed. According to the RTÉ Guide, many people in the Clare-Limerick area thought it was Early herself who had sabotaged the broadcast.

Kildare is another county that is tormented by the unhelpful power of a priestly curse. A priest in Clane, who was left behind after being promised a lift to a match many years ago, made a foreboding promise that Kildare would never win another All-Ireland. Although said priest may not have specified which code or division, the curse is usually ascribed to the senior footballers, given that their last title was in 1928.

There are coincidences within the GAA that are labelled as curses. No player wearing number 13 has ever lifted the Sam Maguire cup on All-Ireland final day, for example. Not confined to the GAA, there is the curious commentator’s curse, where commentators are held to blame for making early judgements and prophesies that are ultimately contradicted during play.

Whether from an enraged priest or a spiritual healer, there is a tradition in GAA of blaming defeat on a force greater than human sporting abilities. Curses are entities worth fearing especially when a team is faced with a significant losing record. The truth is if you look through the statistics and history of any given fixture, you will discover gaps, patterns or coincidences worthy of labelling as a curse. For example, the Wexford hurlers have yet to win a senior championship match on a Tuesday evening this millennium. The Leitrim footballers have never won a Munster championship title.

By the power vested in me for no reason at all, I hereby place a curse on all those who read this article that their county will never win a senior All-Ireland title until at least August.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ