John Mitchels of Tralee have come under scrutiny this past week after the Irish republican for whom they are named was outed as a racist. In the third and final article in our Racism in Sport series, Adam Moynihan asks what, if anything, should happen next.
Recent events in the US have had far-reaching effects and it seems like nowhere, not even the Kingdom of Kerry, is going untouched.
The Black Lives Matter movement has gained massive momentum in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death and it has led many of us to re-evaluate (and, perhaps, take more seriously) the racism that exists within our own communities.
Historic racism has also been up for debate as POCs and anti-racists have called into question the need for, and appropriateness of, having statues and streets that celebrate men who were, among other things, ardent racists.
Who would have thought that the English would need to incase a statue of their most famous leader for fears that it might be torn down by their own citizens? If the Englishman who supposedly “beat the Nazis” isn’t safe in England, who is?
Irish historical figures are not getting off lightly either. Tensions flared online this past week when it was pointed out that John Mitchel, an Irish republican who has a statue in Newry and a number of GAA clubs dedicated to his honour, was a racist who openly supported the “sound, just, wholesome institution” of slavery.
The news that Mitchel was a white supremacist has come as a surprise to many and has led a number of observers to call for his monument to be pulled down and for the GAA clubs in question (at least 10 in Ireland, the UK and Australia) to change their names immediately.
This, in turn, has been met with angry protestations from some who say that things have gone too far, and that we are in danger of “erasing history”.
There are arguments to be made on both sides but before we get into the rights and wrongs of the whole thing, perhaps we should take a good look at the individual at the centre of this controversy.
John Mitchel was born in Derry in 1815. He grew up and was educated in Newry, County Down and after graduating from Trinity College and qualifying as an attorney, he later became involved in politics. He was one of the leading members of Young Ireland and the Irish Confederation and his writings on Irish nationalism were hugely influential at the time.
He was convicted of treason in 1849 and sentenced to 14 years in Van Diemen’s Land, but he escaped to America in 1853 where he made a new life for himself. There, in New York, he founded an Irish nationalist newspaper called The Citizen.
It was in these pages that some of Mitchel’s appalling views on race came to light.
As the movement to end slavery in the southern states of America gained strength (the northern states had already abolished the system between 1774 and 1804), John Mitchel vociferously and repeatedly railed in the opposite direction.
He considered those of African descent to be “an innately inferior people” and he strongly advocated for the re-opening of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which had been outlawed in 1804.
Mitchel’s views were considered to be deplorable by many of his contemporaries back home. At one point, Charles Gavin Duffy refused to publish an article of Mitchel’s in the Irish nationalist newspaper, The Nation, as the content was aimed at “applauding negro slavery and denouncing the emancipation of the Jews”.
For his part, Kerryman Daniel O’Connell, a former ally of Mitchel’s, detested slavery and he had this to say to Irish racists who lived in the United States:
“How can the generous, the charitable, the humane, and the noble emotions of the Irish heart have become extinct amongst you? How can your nature be so totally changed as that you should become the apologists and advocates of the execrable system which makes man the property of his fellow man – destroys the foundation of all moral and social virtues – condemns to ignorance, immorality and irreligion, millions of our fellow creatures…?
“It was not in Ireland that you learned this cruelty… Over the broad Atlantic I pour forth my voice saying come out of such a land you Irishmen, or if you remain and dare continue to countenance the system of slavery that is supported there, we will recognise you as Irishmen no longer!”
It’s clear that Mitchel wasn’t just another racist during a period when it was slightly more acceptable to be one. He was an extreme racist even for the times he was living in.
With all that in mind, how did John Mitchel’s name end up being adopted by so many GAA clubs up and down the country?
In the early years of the Association, naming a club after an Irish nationalist was not at all unusual. It’s possible that Mitchel’s beliefs on slavery and race were not widely known in rural Ireland. It’s also possible that they were widely known, but were considered insignificant alongside all the things he did to further the cause of Irish republicanism.
Either way, there are ‘Mitchels’ clubs dotted all over Ireland, so it was clearly a popular choice at the time.
Funnily enough, Kerry’s John Mitchels almost weren’t called John Mitchels at all.
Between 1888 and 1919, Tralee had one club competing in the Kerry County Championship and they were named Tralee Mitchels, in honour of the aforementioned Irish nationalist who had died in 1875.
In 1927, Tralee (now operating under the ‘Tralee District’ banner) were split into three separate teams that already participated in the town’s street league: The Rock, Strand Street and Boherbee. The Rock became Austin Stacks and Strand Street became O’Rahilly’s (and, later, Kerins O’Rahilly’s).
In 1937, the Boherbee club decided to change their name too. A motion to call themselves Boherbee Parnells was put forward but, in the end, they opted for John Mitchels, a clear nod to the Tralee Mitchels team that had been very successful in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
John Mitchels went on to become a powerhouse of Kerry football, winning an unprecedented five County Championships in a row between 1959 and 1963. That particular record still stands to this day and they are joint third on the all-time leaderboard when it comes to Kerry SFC titles.
The name, it seems, has served them well.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
I think we have to be sympathetic towards everyone currently involved with the various John Mitchels clubs at home and abroad. It’s certainly not their fault that their clubs were named after a racist. These decisions were taken a long time ago, in many cases before any present-day members were even born.
If we take Tralee’s John Mitchels as an example, they probably feel like they’re under attack at the moment and, of course, they shouldn’t be under attack at all. Their officers are under pressure (from people like me) to address an unprecedented and very difficult situation.
It would be unfair, not to mention irrational, for anyone to direct anger or criticism at them at this time, especially when we have to assume that the majority of people at the club knew very little about John Mitchel or what he stood for.
Having said that, it wasn’t a huge secret either. In a piece written for the Irish Examiner, Clodagh Finn pointed out that Mitchel’s support of slavery was actually mentioned in a biography on the club’s website, although that detail now appears to have been removed.
It would be easy for someone like me (and even easier for someone outside of the GAA entirely) to simply say, “change the name”. It’s not my club. I don’t have any attachment to ‘John Mitchels’. I don’t have a lifetime of happy memories associated with those two words.
I can’t imagine that there will be any real desire from within the club to abandon their name, and I’m sure that some members won’t even want to address the issue in the first place.
I understand why that might be the case.
But that doesn’t mean that the issue should be brushed under the carpet, or that the conversation should be dropped. The fact of the matter is that John Mitchel was a racist who held incredibly horrible views on black people and slavery. When streets and squares and football clubs are named in his honour, what kind of message does that send to POCs living in Ireland?
If the parent of a black child in Tralee wants their son or daughter to play football, could they be forgiven for favouring the clubs named after O’Rahilly or Stack?
Put it this way: if you, an Irish person, moved to London and wanted to play soccer, and one of the local clubs was named Oliver Cromwell FC, would you feel comfortable pulling on their shirt?
As I said, I understand why John Mitchels players, officers and members might be resistant to the idea, but changing your name doesn’t change your identity.
Club names like the William O’Briens, Con Keatings and Daniel O’Connells have come and gone in Kerry GAA, but the clubs in question are still around. In fact, they remain as strong as ever.
If the members do thrash it out amongst themselves and come to the conclusion that John Mitchel’s name no longer sits right with them, it won’t erase their proud history.
And it certainly won’t prevent them from having a bright future.
BREAKING: Kerry FC respond to criticism of season ticket prices
by Adam Moynihan
Kerry FC have responded to online criticism of the price of their 2023 seated season tickets, highlighting the availability of “other options” for supporters of the League of Ireland’s newest club.
Season tickets for the Main Stand at Mounthawk Park went on sale this morning at a price of €275. LOI fans were quick to point out that this is the most expensive season ticket in the First Division, with a number of rival clubs charging less than €200.
In a statement released to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry FC said that pricing structures were “examined for a long time” in the build-up to their season ticket launch.
“It’s worth noting that the €275 season ticket guarantees your assigned seat for every home league game in the 2023 season in a covered stand on the long side of the pitch,” the club explained.
“If supporters would prefer, there are plenty of other season ticket options, including a terrace ticket for general admission at a price of €200.
“Family tickets ensure children can attend our games at a minimal cost while Students/OAPs receive a significant discount on their yearly ticket.”
Over 100 Main Stand season tickets were sold within an hour of going on sale at 9am today.
The 2023 League of Ireland season will get underway in February.
Kerry FC season tickets can be purchased here.
How ‘box office’ duo Clifford and O’Shea pushed Kerry’s brand into overdrive
Adam Moynihan caught up with Kerry GAA Store manager Luke Quinn to find out how the Killarney-based business made record profits in 2022
It was a sad day for the parish when Killarney’s famous Nike Factory Store closed its doors in March of this year. That big, white Swoosh had attracted locals and visitors to the Killarney Outlet Centre since both the store and the centre first opened in 1999. Having a brand that large in a town so small was pretty cool. We were all sorry to see it go.
It wasn’t the only sports brand to call the Outlet Centre home, though. As Nike shut up shop, just across the way, on the other side of the escalator, the Kerry GAA Store was gearing up for what would turn out to be their best year ever.
The official retail outlet of Kerry GAA racked up €200,000 in profits in the financial year up to November. Not quite Nike numbers – the US sportswear giant made €21 billion globally – but the store’s record revenue certainly came as a welcome bonus for the county board.
Preparing intercounty teams has become hugely expensive (Kerry spent almost €1.5 million on their footballers and hurlers in 2022) and plans are in place to redevelop the Fitzgerald Stadium at an estimated cost of €72 million. Every cent counts.
The unprecedented success of the business is also a sure sign that the Kerry brand, which has been developing in one way or another for over 100 years, has now slipped into overdrive.
I recently called into the Kerry GAA Store to speak to manager Luke Quinn and find out more.
After selling a half-zip tracksuit top to a customer and handing over to his assistant, Luke invites me into a narrow office down the back. Myself and Luke actually know each other a long time. As kids we were neighbours down in Whitebridge Manor. I recall borrowing his Schmeichel-era Man United keeper jersey once so I could play in goal. It wasn’t the last jersey he gave me (although, in fairness, these days I pay).
A popular figure at his club, Dr Crokes, Luke experienced great success as a player and he is currently part of Brian McMahon’s senior management team. After chatting a bit about football, we get down to business.
I get the impression that I’m embarrassing him somewhat when I ask for the official amount that the store handed over to the county board, but he readily admits that he is delighted with the 12 months he and his team have put down.
“I think with the new jersey being released, and with Kerry reaching and winning the All-Ireland final, all those things combined and led to a very profitable year,” Quinn says.
“Any time you bring out a jersey, especially a home jersey, it gains traction – not alone in Kerry but all over the world.”
The popularity of that new O’Neills home jersey is an interesting one because it actually received quite a poor reception when it was unveiled in January. For his part, Quinn attributes that initial reaction to the imagery that accompanied the release. The sublimated background graphics on the body of the shirt were exaggerated in the launch photos, which made it look far louder than it actually was in real life.
“When people saw it in reality and when the team wore it, sales went through the roof. I remember the first weekend they wore it on TV against Kildare, the jersey gained unbelievable traction. I think people’s minds were changed.
“I know that O’Neills were very confident that it was going to sell well and, to be honest, we were as well. It’s like anything when it’s new, it takes a bit of time to seep in.
“I think the return of white trim was a factor. The bit of white just makes everything pop. It’s subtle enough but it makes a huge difference; it makes the green and gold more prominent.”
Perhaps even more significant than the design of the jersey itself was the talent wearing it. Kerry ended their eight-year drought by defeating Galway in the All-Ireland final in July with Man of the Match and Footballer of the Year David Clifford to the fore. At just 23 years of age, Clifford is now the sport’s standout superstar and Quinn says that he and semi-final hero Seán O’Shea are now driving the Kerry brand on a national and global level.
“Kerry is a worldwide brand at this stage. It’s a known brand and it’s not only Kerry people who want to buy the shirt, it’s people in the midlands, up the north, all over the world really.
“This Kerry team is relatively young and they’re after building a nice relationship with the public. The more you win, the more you’re going to be in the news and the media and the likes of David Clifford and Seánie and these guys, they’re box office now. The boys really do give [the brand] that extra push.
“It’s very hard to quantify but one thing you’d notice is that this year we had parents coming in who might have no interest in the GAA, in particular foreign nationals from places like Eastern Europe, and they had kids who were mad to get the jersey. They would actually point to the photos of David and Seánie and say they wanted the jerseys that those guys wear.
“You can’t really put a figure on it but you can see that these players are reaching out to a large audience because of who they are. At this stage, if they wore a black plastic bag, the kids would want a black plastic bag.”
The GAA is different to sports like soccer in that players don’t have squad numbers or their names printed on the backs of their shirts. If the GAA went down that road, Quinn has no doubt about which jersey would be the most popular.
“You’d just be stocking up on Clifford jerseys, wouldn’t you?” he laughs. “I’ve heard squad numbers being mooted but intercounty GAA is so different. The panels change so often, especially the higher numbers. Kerry could have 40 different players training with them throughout the year so it would be hard to nail down numbers.
“We possibly will bring out a number 14 and a number 11 shirt ourselves (Clifford and O’Shea’s usual numbers). Maybe a number 8 too. The more prominent ones. There is a demand for that. But as for names on the back, that might be a bridge too far.”
Aside from the jerseys, many items from Kerry’s leisure and training wear collections are also big sellers. The store receives four ranges from O’Neills every year, two of which are exclusive to the shop (i.e. the National League range and the Championship range). These collections include the same hoodies, jackets, half-zips and polo shirts the players wear travelling to games, as well as the clothing that team manager Jack O’Connor wears on the sideline.
The training jerseys sported by the players when they warm up before matches are also popular.
After a turbulent period in the nineties when they changed kit supplier three times (adidas to Emerald Active Wear, then to Millfield, and then back to adidas), Kerry have now been with O’Neills for 22 years straight. The relationship between the two parties is strong. Quinn certainly doesn’t see it ending any time soon.
“O’Neills are a great company to deal with. They have a lot of stuff in the pot – 30 or 31 counties – but they’re good at what they do. They wouldn’t be at the top of the game for this long otherwise. Their production is very streamlined, they have a good marketing team, and a good design team. The reps on the ground are very helpful and I can see them going from strength to strength to be honest with you, and further afield in other sports as well.
“The issue with another company coming in instead of O’Neills – for example if we took on another smaller producer – I think the bottom line is that if the team gets to an All-Ireland semi-final or final, the demand for jerseys and leisurewear goes through the roof. I don’t think there’s any other company in the country that could accommodate that demand in such a short space of time. Especially with the season being shortened, I just can’t see anyone else being able to take on that production.
“O’Neills have a monstrosity of a factory up in Strabane as well as the one in Dublin, which is no small factory either. And even at that, when it comes to the summertime, they would be at capacity. I can’t imagine another company taking on a county like Kerry or Dublin or Mayo who are GAA mad and are always at the business end of the season. Other companies will find it hard to dip into the big hitters.”
At a national level, O’Neills jersey sales were actually down 16% in 2022, something the company has attributed to the shorter intercounty window. Thankfully for Quinn and for Kerry, the Kerry GAA Store didn’t experience the same drop in sales once the season ended in July.
“I suppose with Kerry getting to the final and winning it, we weren’t affected as much,” he reflects. “There was a nice little buzz after the final. We brought out some different bits of merchandise on the back of winning as well so that’s always going to help. I also think people are getting ahead of Christmas that bit earlier this year.
“It would be different if Kerry lost earlier in the year but I can’t say the split season affected us too much.”
SEVEN DAYS A WEEK
Quinn took the reins five years ago and although he describes it as a busy job, it’s one he’s massively enjoying.
“I’m loving it. I took over from Botty (Niall O’Callaghan) and Seán O’Sullivan so I had big boots to fill but the boys were great on the handover. I’ve got some good bosses who help me out big time. The county board leave me to my own devices but they’re always there when I need any help.
“It’s busy and we’re open seven days a week. The only days we’re closed are Christmas Day and New Year’s Day so it’s gung-ho all the time. With new ranges and new jerseys and new fashion trends, you have to keep your finger on the pulse at all times. So it is busy but it’s the way I like to be.”
What does a normal day look like?
“It’s always about planning ahead. Today I’m ordering next year’s Christmas range. I don’t even know how exactly Christmas is going to go this year in terms of sales but O’Neills need to plan so far ahead in their production that I’m already ordering for Christmas next year. You’re always trying to keep ahead of the game.
“There are new training jerseys coming out pre-Christmas. There’s a National League range coming out pre-Christmas. There’s an away jersey coming in January. You have to get your numbers right, get your system set up to take in all that stock, organise staff, and make sure everything is streamlined.”
That mention of a new Kerry away jersey will no doubt pique the curiosity of our readers. The outgoing away top, an eye-catching blue and lime green effort, has been in use since 2020. I pressed Luke for details.
“I haven’t even seen samples yet. If you’re talking to O’Neills tell them to send them down as soon as possible! I genuinely don’t know what it will look like. The design team at O’Neills will develop a good few prototypes, they’ll be sent down to ourselves and the county board, and we’ll go through them. O’Neills will give us a good idea of what they feel will work.
“Some of the players will have an input and then a final decision will be made. At the end of January, Kerry will be out against Donegal and hopefully we’ll see the new away jersey then.”
It’s hard to imagine Kerry footballers from bygone eras having (or wanting to have) too much say in the design of the kit but, generally speaking, the modern player is more into fashion than his predecessors. In that regard, it makes sense for them to have their say.
“There would definitely be an input,” Quinn reveals. “Some of the players just want to concentrate on the football or the hurling but other guys would be very style conscious in what they want to wear. Colm Whelan, the kit man for the footballers, and Tim Daly with the hurlers have a big interest in what ranges and training jerseys and playing jerseys are coming in. They know the guys [on the panel] who would be into the fashion side of things and we have a couple of WhatsApp groups to get the players’ opinions.
“O’Neills would definitely take it on board,” Quinn says, before jokingly adding, “I suppose if the best footballer in the country wants a certain thing then you’re going to have to go with it, aren’t you?!”
One thing I’ve noticed from my trips to the Kerry GAA Store is the constant flow of GAA-related chat between the customers and the staff. Admittedly you could probably overhear football talk on any premises in a town like Killarney, but the store is the perfect setting for it. And that’s something Quinn and his employees relish.
“You have all these business things going on in the background but the main thing in all this is the customer. We can’t lose sight of that. You still want to give the customers coming in the best experience, to chat about Kerry football, and engage with the public. That’s what it’s all about.
“This shop is bucking the trend. We do have an online store but it’s still very much a kind of ‘shop local’ set-up. All profits raised go back to the county board and we have so many repeat customers. Some people don’t even buy stuff, they just come in and shoot the breeze about how bad the Crokes were last weekend or whatever. From my point of view, I love it.
“My staff are great too. Seán House from Tralee is the assistant manager. He has been here a year and a bit and he has been excellent. We have eight or nine part-timers and most of them are in college but they’re all very invested in the place. They’re all here four or five years which is a good sign. They get excited when new stuff is coming in, they get a kick out of that.”
As a Kerry native who played the game to a high level, Quinn is naturally a massive fan of Kerry football. I was curious to know if the nature of his line of work, specifically the fact that the fortunes of the business depend so heavily on the fortunes of the team, affects the way he watches the games.
“A couple of years ago Kerry lost to Cork and we were out so early. Maybe not during the game but shortly after you’re saying to yourself, revenues are going to be a lot further down now. So definitely after the game it would be one of the first thoughts to come into your head. But it’s more the county board and the revenues that go back that I’d be thinking of.
“It would pop into your head afterwards but I’d be a normal Kerry supporter as the game is going on.”
Ultimately, it’s all about facilitating the continued growth of football and hurling in the county and Quinn is full of praise for his bosses who help make that happen.
“The chairman Patrick O’Sullivan – the store was his idea first day – as well as John O’Leary, John Joe Carroll and Liam Chute, they’re all very successful in their own professional careers. They’re very much doing this on a voluntary basis because they’re so proud of the shop and how well it has done. We’re all in it together.
“When you have a successful year financially it means you can develop Currans further, you can develop the pitches, you can bring in more Games Development Administrators. You can keep pushing on.”
The brand has a long way to go to reach Nike levels but with talented individuals on the pitch and in the boardroom, Kerry GAA appear to be ticking all the right boxes.
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