Book review: Will Galway beat Mayo?

Capturing 'the spirit of change, optimism, and excitement' of Ireland in the 1960s

Galway defeating Kerry in the 1965 All-Ireland Championship. Photo:- Sportsfile

Galway defeating Kerry in the 1965 All-Ireland Championship. Photo:- Sportsfile

GROWING AFFLUENCE and increased leisure time are said to be the main reasons for the growing presence of sport in the daily lives of more and more people. The sports sections in newspapers are getting bigger, and there is rarely a news bulletin on radio or TV without a sports report.

The fierceness of the competition by the big TV channels for the rights to screen major sports events such as the Olympics, the World Cup, and the Champions League makes that of the players on the pitch look pale. Moving down the scale of competition, and as the sport becomes more parochial, deeper passions come into play - pride of place, sense of belonging, and the fact the men and women participating are locals. This is especially evident in Ireland as the summer approaches and the GAA Championships loom on the horizon.

The question, 'Will Galway beat Mayo?' takes on a whole new meaning and is the perfect title for this new book written by James Laffey. That the importance of the Connacht Championship reaches far beyond McHale Park or Pearse Stadium is underlined by the subtitle: 'How A 1960s GAA Rivalry Reawakened The West.'

“In this absorbing and multi-layered narrative,” we read in the blurb, “award winning author James Laffey goes beyond the football fields to chronicle a fascinating sporting story in the context of an era of sweeping change. Ballrooms, carnivals, black and white television, Austin A40 cars, JFK in Galway...it’s all here in this entertaining account of a magical decade when the West suddenly found its voice. At the heart of that reawakening one of the older rivalries in the GAA, a gripping power struggle between neighbours that left everybody asking the same question in the summer of 1966 “Will Galway Beat Mayo?”

The book is everything the blurb promises and more. Much of what informs life in the West of Ireland today was sown during the sixties. With the building of the ballrooms in relatively remote areas, the first challenges to the church’s authority emerged. English and American influences were coming to bear on a stifled society resulting in the breaking down of anachronistic customs and beliefs, and, thanks to the foreign investments in the west, the now cash rich young population were able to buy new cars and became more mobile.

Laffey captures this tsunami of cultural and social change to such an extent the reader is totally absorbed, but the author never loses sight of the one cultural force that remained a constant throughout the decade - the football championship. In fact, so intense is the narrative, those of us of a certain age can almost taste the spirit of change, optimism, and excitement of those heady years.

Underlining the continued importance of the GAA in the Ireland today, up to Sunday May 13, we will all be asking the same burning question: Will Galway Beat Mayo?

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