Ireland at the British Empire Games

Representation of the island of Ireland at the British Empire Games (now the Commonwealth Games) has varied:

Ireland at the
Commonwealth Games
Green harp flag of Ireland.svg
Representative flag of Ireland
Ranked 9th
Commonwealth Games appearances (overview)
Other related appearances

 Northern Ireland (1934–)

1930 gamesEdit

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.[1] It also invited the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA), which declined in order to concentrate on the 1932 Olympics.[2] The NACA executive decided to accept, on condition that the team be designated "Ireland" rather than "Irish Free State".[1] 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.[3]

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,[4] and the Crokes club of one of the selected athletes voted to disband in protest.[5]

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.[6] 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.[1] 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.[6] Neither Britton nor any other Irish athlete was in the Empire challenge selection.[7] 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.[6][8]

The Irish team's ship was delayed by fog and the team missed the opening ceremony, except for O'Reilly, who carried the flag.[9] 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.[10][11] The team colour was green, and singlets included the shamrock symbol.[12][13]


Competitors for Ireland at the 1930 British Empire Games[14]
Athlete Club[15] Event(s) Result Notes
Bill Britton Cavan Hammer 2nd Narrowly lost to Malcolm Nokes, whom he had beaten at the 1928 AAA championships.[16]
M. O'Malley Westport 880 yds[17] Missed heats owing to delayed arrival of ship.[9]
W. A.[n 1] Dickson North Belfast Harriers 880 yds[18] Missed heats owing to delayed arrival of ship.[9]
Patrick J.B. "Joe" Eustace [19] Crokes (Dublin) 100 yds / 220 yds
3rd in heat 1[20] / —
Missed 220 yds heats owing to delayed arrival of ship.[9] Crokes disbanded in protest at the NACA sending a team to the Empire Games.[5]
P. "Jack" O'Reilly Galway Marathon 9th[8] Based in Canada at time of Games,[6] O'Reilly had won the Irish marathon title in 1924–5–6–7,[21] and come second in the 1931 Canadian championship.[22]
  1. ^ Dickson's initials are variously given as: W.;[18] W.A.;[15] J.A.;[6] and N.F.[9]

1934 gamesEdit

Liston and Maguire state, "Contradictory media and sports reports exist regarding a team representing Ireland and/or Northern Ireland in 1934".[23] 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;[24] 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.[25] 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.[25] Paddy Bermingham, a Garda from County Clare,[26] competed in the discus; the Commonwealth Games Federation lists him under "Northern Ireland",[27] while Bob Phillips lists him under "IFS" (Irish Free State).[28][29]

The lawn bowls team was described as "Ireland" in reports of its selection,[30] on the scoreboard,[31] and in reports of its results.[32] It was selected by the Irish Bowling Association, an all-island governing body,[n 1] but the team members' clubs (Larne, Cavehill, and Shaftesbury[30]) were all in Northern Ireland, the heartland of the sport in Ireland, and its results have retrospectively been credited to Northern Ireland.[34][29]

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.[35] For similar reasons, the IASA boycotted the 1948 Olympic swimming gala, also in London.[36]

The IABA in February declined to send a team, stating that the games were during its close season.[37] 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.[38] In May, four IABA boxers who applied for exemption to participate in the Games got leave to do so.[39] They were: Larry Scally (flyweight),[40] T. Byrne (bantamweight), Jack Kennedy (welterweight), and Jimmy Magill (middleweight).[39] Magill, who won bronze,[41] was in the RUC;[42] as was William "Billy" Duncan,[citation needed] who won bronze at welterweight.[43] Magill and Duncan's medals are credited to Northern Ireland.[43][41] One (possibly incomplete) list of results of the boxing events does not list Scally, Byrne, or Kennedy.[44]

Later gamesEdit

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.[45] Liston and Maguire state, "CGF and other public records use different nomenclature for the 1938 [Ireland/Northern Ireland] team."[23] 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.[46] The state (which was renamed "Ireland" by its 1937 constitution) was not in fact represented at the Games, while Northern Ireland was. The Irish Bowling Association's team is variously described as "Ireland" and "Northern Ireland" in contemporary reports.[29] 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.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b The Irish Free State Bowling League was a subsidiary of the Irish Bowling Association.[33]



  1. ^ a b c "Ireland and the Empire Games". Irish Independent. Dublin. 19 July 1930. p. 13.
  2. ^ "I.A.B.A. declines invite to concentrate on Olympics". The Irish Times. Dublin. 27 February 1930. p. 13.
  3. ^ Gorman, Daniel (2012). The Emergence of International Society in the 1920s. Cambridge University Press. pp. 160, fn.49. ISBN 9781107021136.
  4. ^ Ryan, Seán O. (2 August 1930). "Empire Games – Letter from President, G.A.A.". The Kerryman. p. 1.
  5. ^ a b "Club Disbanded; Crokes' Protest against N.A.C.A.". Irish Independent. Dublin. 15 August 1930. p. 11.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Irish Side for Empire Games". Irish Independent. Dublin. 30 July 1930. p. 11.
  7. ^ "Team is selected for international meet in Chicago". Edmonton Journal. 25 August 1930. p. 7. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  8. ^ a b "Games Results for Jack O'Reilly". Commonwealth Games Federation. 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Fog delays Irish team". Irish Independent. Dublin. 19 August 1930. p. 11.
  10. ^ Liston and Maguire 2016, p.324, 326
  11. ^ "Flags of competing nations". Hamilton Public Library.
  12. ^ Moore, Katharine (7 March 2013) [1992]. "The Warmth of Comradeship: The First British Empire Games and Imperial Solidarity". In J.A. Mangan (ed.). The Cultural Bond: Sport, Empire, Society. Routledge. p. 192. ISBN 9781135024376.
  13. ^ Liston and Maguire 2016, p.326
  14. ^ Liston and Maguire 2016, p.327
  15. ^ a b "Ireland's team for Canada". Irish Independent. 6 August 1930. p. 14.
  16. ^ Mazdon, Stuart (18 March 2010). "Malcolm Nokes". Track Stats. UK: National Union of Track Statisticians. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  17. ^ "Games Results for M. O'Malley". Athlete Performance. Commonwealth Games Federation. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  18. ^ a b "Games Results for W. Dickson". Athlete Performance. Commonwealth Games Federation. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  19. ^ O'Callaghan, Pierce; Cyril Smyth (21 February 2013). "Roll of Honour: Irish Athletics Champions 1873–2013" (PDF). Athletics Ireland. pp. 10, 14. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 March 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  20. ^ "Games Results for Joe Eustace". Commonwealth Games Federation. 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  21. ^ "National Marathon Champions for Ireland". National and Regional Champions. Association of Road Racing Statisticians. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  22. ^ "National Marathon Champions for Canada". National and Regional Champions. Association of Road Racing Statisticians. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  23. ^ a b Liston and Maguire 2016, p.329
  24. ^ "Empire Games Event". Irish Independent. 8 January 1934. p. 13.
  25. ^ a b "Athletic Rulers meet in Conference". Irish Press. 5 February 1934. p. 4.
  26. ^ Coiste Siamsa (1972). Jubilee; A souvenir of 50 historic years of sport in the Garda Síochána (PDF). Garda Síochána. p. 19.
  27. ^ "Pat Bermingham". Athlete Performance. Commonwealth Games Federation. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  28. ^ Phillips, Bob (2000). Honour of Empire, Glory of Sport: The History of Athletics at the Commonwealth Games. Parrs Wood Press. p. 25. ISBN 9781903158098.
  29. ^ a b c Liston and Maguire 2016, p.338 fn.74
  30. ^ a b "Irish team chosen for Empire Games". Irish Independent. 23 June 1934. p. 10.
  31. ^ "Body-Line Barred". British Pathé. 9 August 1934. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  32. ^ "Results". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 8 August 1934. p. 18. Retrieved 22 May 2013 – via National Library of Australia.
  33. ^ Morton, B. C. (May 2006). "A Short History of the Bowling League of Ireland". Dublin: Bowling League of Ireland. Retrieved 29 May 2013. the B.L.I., which in the meantime had affiliated to the Irish Bowling Association
  34. ^ "Results for the Lawn Bowls – Fours – Men". Commonwealth Games – Team Event Results. Commonwealth Games Federation. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  35. ^ "Banning of Irish Swimmers". Ulster Herald. 11 August 1934. p. 6.
  36. ^ "Eire withdraws swimming squad; Ban on Two Athletes Born in Northern Ireland Impels Protest at Olympics". The New York Times. 31 July 1948. p. 10, sports. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  37. ^ "Boxing Affairs". Irish Press. 6 February 1934. p. 8.
  38. ^ "R.U.C. BOXING TEAM AND BRITISH EMPIRE GAMES". House of Commons of Northern Ireland. The Stormont Papers. 13 March 1934. pp. Vol.16 cc.399–400. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  39. ^ a b "Our Team to meet France; Our Representatives in Empire Games". Irish Independent. 31 May 1934. p. 11.
  40. ^ 'Cam' (24 October 1934). "R. U. C. Boxers with a Punch". The Irish Press. p. 12.
  41. ^ a b "Games Results for J. Magill". Athlete Performance. Commonwealth Games Federation. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  42. ^ "New book charts rise of boxing's Magill brothers". The Belfast Telegraph. 6 December 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  43. ^ a b "1934 British Empire Games: Boxing – 67kg – Men". Results by Games. Commonwealth Games Federation. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  44. ^ "2.British Empire Games – London, England – August 4 – 11 1934" (PDF). Championships. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  45. ^ "EMPIRE GAMES PROGRAMME RELEASED". The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950) (FINAL ed.). Perth. 6 May 1936. p. 4. Retrieved 22 May 2013 – via National Library of Australia.
  46. ^ "Irishmen for Empire Games". The Irish Times. 19 October 1937. p. 13.