- The Growth and Development of Sport in County Tipperary by Pat Bracken
While book-length regional studies of sport in England are relatively plentiful, they are rather less so in the Celtic nations, particularly when it comes to the Victorian period, in which the outlines of development are less easily discerned due to the casual organization of so many team sports during that time, which has militated against the accrual of archival records. Dominating the field in Ireland is Tom Hunt's magisterial study of sport in Victorian Westmeath (2007), and it comes as no surprise to see Pat Bracken paying homage to his predecessor on more than one occasion in the pages of this attractive volume.
Bracken's chosen region is County Tipperary, where various constituencies played a kaleidoscope of sports between 1840 and 1880. The development of sports in the county is viewed through various prisms. The increasing literacy of the people (which allowed for the growth of sports journalism), the commercialization of sport (by means of charging attendance fees and opening books), and infrastructural developments are all foregrounded as important elements in the advent of sports. However, above all in Bracken's imagining are two vectors: the influence of the military—there were no less than eleven barracks in the county by 1837—and the importance of the country houses. Although their pre-eminence is nowhere explicitly stated, Bracken devotes an entire chapter to each (a statement in itself in a book of only six chapters).
As elsewhere in the British Isles, the chief vector in opening up this overwhelmingly rural county to organized team sports was the advent of the railways. The process was well in train by the late 1840s, and provided crucial employment for countless men during the famine. The most popular sport in the county in mid-century was cricket, closely followed by horse racing. The latter was not an import—Bracken notes examples of racing in the county from as early as the first third of the nineteenth century—but the former certainly was, serving as an excellent example of how disparate societal groupings could intertwine in the patronage of sport. Noting that County Tipperary had no large urban centers in mid-century, Bracken opines that the estates of the county's wealthy families actuated sporting change by acting as sporting patrons. The commodification of sport by these country houses was pervasive and longstanding, and in no arena more so than that of cricket. Bracken paints a detailed picture of a landed class eager to embrace the social mores of the game (in contradistinction to hurling which, in an era after the rebellion of 1798 but before the advent of the Gaelic Athletic Association, was out of favor for the first part of Bracken's time period at least), but also to compete and to provide employment (many estate workers were employed as cricketers, in an early instance of professionalism). The class distinction was present, but certainly more muted than in similar circumstances in England, say; Bracken notes that military men played the sport widely, but that their number included a hefty chunk of noncommissioned officers and privates.
There is a certain deftness of touch in Bracken's treatment of his material. Making copious use of local newspapers, for example, he teases out inferences to the continued existence of hurling in the county, albeit in circumstances where it was being played for [End Page 407] honor rather than money. Nevertheless, in one or two areas, one feels it would have been helpful for Bracken to stop digging for a moment and stick his head above ground, as more than a few situations arose in Tipperary that had analogies in England and the other Celtic nations. This is the sort of limitation that is typical of a research exercise, and is here doubtless the result of the book's origins in Bracken's doctoral research. The perceptive comment that, pace Costello's suggestion, cricket teams connected with military barracks in County Tipperary in...