The first All-Ireland hurling final...
was played on a field at this site on Sunday, 1 April 1888 between Thurles, the champions of Tipperary, and Meelick, a team drawn from the East Galway banks of the River Shannon.
Birr - then also known as Parsonstown - was chosen as the venue for the game because it was a central point between the two finalists and because the Gaelic Athletic Association was well-established in the town.
Before the match the players had paraded through the streets of Birr as far as the field which was rented by the St. Brendan's GAA Club from a local man, Johnny Farrell. It had first been used for hurling the previous week for matches in the King's County (as Offaly was then called) Championships. It was level and grassy, and more than 3,000 spectators turned up to watch the hurlers, all of whom played the final in their bare feet.
The referee on the day was Patrick White, a native of Toomevara, Co. Tipperary, who was then living and working in Birr. At 3pm he called all the hurlers to the centre of the field and threw in the red leather ball. The play in the first half was fierce, the ball being swept around the field at a frantic pace, threatening one goal and then the other. The only score before half-time was a point to Thurles.
The second half saw the Meelick
men press forward in search of an equalising score. It never came. Instead, Thurles regained the initiative and scored another point. Late in the game a Thurles player struck the ball off his left side from the middle of the field, in under the tape which served as a crossbar, for a goal.
The goal decided the match. When Patrick White called for full-time, Thurles had beaten Meelick by 1-2 to no-score, and were duly crowned the first All-Ireland hurling champions. After the teams had cheered each other off the field, they marched back in military fashion to Cunningham's Hotel in the centre of the town, where they were served with dinner. The Thurles team were finally presented with their All-Ireland winning medals 25 years later.
[Illustration captions, from left to right, read]
· Left: An early hurley and sliothar, similar to those used by the teams in the very first All Ireland final in Birr.
Below: Main Street, Birr c. 1900.
· This is a photo of the Thurles team which was taken more than two decades after the final was played. There is no surviving photo of the Meelick team.
Both teams wore green jerseys in the final. Thurles' jersey was distinctive by the galaxy of stars on the chest.
· Right: From the London-based "Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News", from 1884 depicting an early game of hurling.