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From Early Hair Hurling Balls to Horseracing in Renaissance Italy

11 September 2013

Dr David Hassan

Ireland’s unique and diverse sporting heritage will be in the spotlight at a major sports conference at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus this weekend.

Internationally acclaimed sports analysts and historians from Ireland and the UK will be joined by experts from Australia, the Middle East and mainland Europe for the 9th Sports History Ireland conference.

Since its foundation in 2005, Sport History Ireland’s annual conference has given academics a platform to present their research but many of the topics down for discussion will be of interest to a much wider audience, said Dr David Hassan, of the University’s Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute and chairman of the organising committee.

Dr Hassan continued: “Given that this will be Sport History Ireland’s first ever event in Northern Ireland, there will be a particular focus on the rich and unique sporting heritage of Ulster."

The keynote speaker, Dr Donal McAnnallen, will examine the issue of ‘Sport, History and Commemoration in the Decade of Centenaries’. Other papers will explore issues such as the history of association football on both sides of the border and the potential ramifications for Rory McIllroy’s 2016 Olympic decision.

“The interesting line-up of speakers will present on broad themes such as ‘Sport Religion and Politics in Ireland, Sport and the Irish Diaspora and Regional Folk Games in Ireland, covering topics as diverse as Irish born players in English football from 1945 and horseracing in Renaissance Italy.”

Speakers will also include Clodagh Doyle and Paul Mullarkey from the National Museum of Ireland (NMI), whose work on a rare collection of early ‘hair’ hurling balls, part of archives held at the NMI, has never previously been presented.

Similarly, work by Mike McGuinness, from the University of Teeside, will reveal the involvement of three major Irish sporting figures of the time in the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939).

Dr Hassan, from the University of Ulster’s Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute, will speak about his research with Andrew McGuire from Trinity College on the early 20th century Irish sportsman Dick Fitzgerald, which is due to be published later this year.

Fitzgerald won five All Ireland senior football championship medals with Kerry but was also a prominent member of the Irish Volunteers and was held at Frongoch Gaol in Wales following the 1916 Rising.

Next year will also see the centenary of Fitzgerald’s seminal publication entitled How to Play Gaelic Football, which retains remarkable relevancy in the present day.

Dr Hassan spoke of the significance of the conference being staged at the Magee campus.

“We have virtually all of the leading scholars on Irish sporting history coming to Derry for this event and are confident it will be a major success.

”As part of the University’s ongoing outreach work, members of the public are invited to attend the conference, free of charge.

The full conference programme can be accessed at

Anyone interested in attending the one day event this Saturday, September 14 2013 should email Dr Hassan,