Ireland at the British Empire Games
At the 1930 British Empire Games, the first staging of what is now the Commonwealth Games, a single team represented the entire island of Ireland. Northern Ireland has been represented by its own team since the 1934 games. That year there were also competitors from the Irish Free State. The state had no representation at the 1938 games, and by the next games in 1950, it had left the Commonwealth.
The organising committee for the 1930 games in Hamilton, Ontario sent an invitation to the National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACA), and offered to pay $1000 towards travel expenses. It also invited the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA), which declined in order to concentrate on the 1932 Olympics. The NACA executive decided to accept, on condition that the team be designated "Ireland" rather than "Irish Free State". The NACA was affiliated to the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) and regarded itself as the governing body for athletics in the whole of Ireland, although a separate Northern Ireland Amateur Athletic, Cycling and Cross Country Association (NIAAA) was affiliated to the Amateur Athletic Association of England (AAA). NIAAA athletes, including some born in the Free State, were included on the AAA's England team.
The NACA's acceptance was controversial among its more militant Irish nationalist supporters antipathetic to British imperialism. The President of the Gaelic Athletic Association publicly dissociated himself from the NACA, and the Crokes club of one of the selected athletes voted to disband in protest.
The NACA made a shortlist of athletes whom it would fund for the trip to Canada if they could secure the necessary time off work. The NACA was careful to include an athlete from Northern Ireland to assert its all-island jurisdiction. The English AAA offered to pay the expenses of hammer thrower Bill Britton on condition that he and Pat O'Callaghan take part in a British Empire athletics team to compete in a challenge match against the United States immediately after the Empire Games. The NACA rejected this offer. In the event, O'Callaghan went to the 1930 International University Games in Germany, making him unavailable for the Empire Games. Neither Britton nor any other Irish athlete was in the Empire challenge selection. Ultimately four Irish-based athletes travelled. They were joined by a fifth, P. "Jack" O'Reilly, who was already living in Canada; O'Reilly wrote to the NACA asking to be nominated for the marathon and offering to pay his own way.
The Irish team's ship was delayed by fog and the team missed the opening ceremony, except for O'Reilly, who carried the flag. The flag was not the Irish tricolour, considered by unionists as specific to the Free State; instead it showed the coat of arms of Ireland, a gold harp. The team colour was green.
|Bill Britton||Cavan||Hammer||2nd||Narrowly lost to Malcolm Nokes, whom he had beaten at the 1928 AAA championships.|
|M. O'Malley||Westport||880 yds||—||Missed heats owing to delayed arrival of ship.|
|W.[n 1] Dickson||North Belfast Harriers||880 yds||—||Missed heats owing to delayed arrival of ship.|
|Patrick J.B. "Joe" Eustace ||Crokes (Dublin)||100 yds / 220 yds||
3rd in heat 1 / —
|Missed 220 yds heats owing to delayed arrival of ship. Crokes disbanded in protest at the NACA sending a team to the Empire Games.|
|P. "Jack" O'Reilly||Galway||Marathon||9th||Based in Canada at time of Games, O'Reilly had won the Irish marathon title in 1924–5–6–7, and come second in the 1931 Canadian championship.|
The English AAA, on behalf of the organisers of the 1934 games in London, invited the NIAAA to nominate competitors to represent Northern Ireland in athletics, cycling, boxing, and swimming; the NIAAA regulated only the former two sports, for which it nominated athletes. The AAA separately invited the NACA nominate competitors to represent the Free State. The AAA's view conformed to a 1933 IAAF decision to require member associations to be delimited by political borders; the NACA had objected to that and would later be expelled from the IAAF as a consequence. NACA declined the invitation to the Empire Games, although it accepted a contemporaneous invitation to an international meeting in Scotland at which the NIAAA would field a separate Northern Ireland team. Paddy Bermingham, a Garda from County Clare, competed in the discus; the Commonwealth Games Federation lists him under "Northern Ireland", while Bob Phillips lists him under "IFS" (Irish Free State).
The lawn bowls team was described as "Ireland" in reports of its selection, on the scoreboard, and in reports of its results. It was selected by the Irish Bowling Association, an all-island governing body,[n 1] but the team members' clubs (Larne, Cavehill, and Shaftesbury) were all in Northern Ireland, the heartland of the sport in Ireland, and its results have retrospectively been credited to Northern Ireland.
The Irish Amateur Swimming Association (IASA) refused to send teams for the Free State or Northern Ireland, pointing out that the Bowling team was designated "Ireland" and that Jersey competitors were on the England team. For similar reasons, the IASA boycotted the 1948 Olympic swimming gala, also in London.
The IABA in February declined to send a team, stating that the games were during its close season. In March, William Grant asked in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland whether, in the absence of IABA participation, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) boxing club might represent Northern Ireland. In May, four IABA boxers who applied for exemption to participate in the Games got leave to do so. They were: Larry Scally (flyweight), T. Byrne (bantamweight), Jack Kennedy (welterweight), and Jimmy Magill (middleweight). Magill, who won bronze, was in the RUC; as was William "Billy" Duncan, who won bronze at welterweight. One (possibly incomplete) list of results of the boxing events does not list Scally, Byrne, or Kennedy.
When the programme for the 1938 games in Sydney was unveiled in May 1936 by the British Empire Games Federation, the list of teams expected to be present included Northern Ireland but not the Irish Free State. In 1937, the Irish Free State Bowling League was invited,[n 1] and said it would have liked to go but the cost of travel was prohibitive. The state (which was renamed "Ireland" by its 1937 constitution) was not in fact represented at the Games, while Northern Ireland was. The 1942 and 1946 games were cancelled, and when the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 came into force in 1949, the state left the Commonwealth and was ineligible for the 1950 games in Auckland, New Zealand. Northern Ireland was also absent, though it has participated at all subsequent games.
- The Irish Free State Bowling League was a subsidiary of the Irish Bowling Association.
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