Dr. Mary McAleese today unveiled a bronze bust of Michael Cusack at the birthplace of the founder of the GAA in Carron, County Clare.
The former President of Ireland (1997-2011) was joined at the Michael Cusack Centre in the heart of the Burren by representatives of Clare GAA, Munster GAA, Clare County Council, the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, Elected Members, and members of the local community.
The Cusack Bronze Head Bust is designed by Bray artist Paul Flynn and has been donated to the Michael Cusack Centre by Mick McCarthy, a former producer of RTE’s “Up for the Match’ programme and a native of Parteen in County Clare. Mounted and inscribed to a plinth by Tubber-based Irish Natural Stone, the bust is available for public viewing at the visitor attraction which relates Cusack’s remarkable story through an audio-visual exhibit set in the original Irish Famine era thatched cottage where he was born in September 1847.
The unveiling of the Michael Cusack bust forms part of ‘Cusack 175’, a yearlong celebration of the Clare man’s love for education, Irish culture and sport that led to the foundation of the world’s largest amateur sporting organisation.
Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, Dr. Mary McAleese said, “Who would have given tuppence for a child, any child born in Ireland in Black 47, the worst year of the Irish famine. Mass deaths and mass immigration left clouds of bleak depression and grief hanging over our country for generations. Yet in that very year a child was born here in Carron who would help our people at home and abroad navigate a remarkable pathway to hope and light. We call that pathway the GAA and that child was Michael Cusack.”
“Through a unique meld of sport, community, culture and a fierce belief in unselfish service to the nation Cusack introduced Ireland to its best self and to the sheer sporting exuberance Gaelic games generate wherever in the world they are played. His legacy simply gets better year on year,” added Dr. McAleese.
“Everything begins with an idea. Michael Cusack, through his promotion of Gaelic Games, established an Irish sporting and cultural institution,” commented Cllr. Ann Norton, Leas Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council.
She continued, “Cusack’s dream of a Gaelic Athletic Association became a reality almost 140 years ago when he and a group of spirited Irishmen had the foresight to establish a national organisation that would make our traditional, indigenous sports more accessible to the masses. Here in Carron, Michael Cusack’s place of birth, it is right and proper that his legacy be commemorated and celebrated.”
Cllr. Norton also acknowledged Dr. McAleese’s recent appointment as independent Chairperson of the integration process between the Camogie Association, the GAA, and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.
“The integration towards a One Association model marks a new chapter in the storied history of the GAA. It is an endeavour that I am sure Michael Cusack would have been supportive of,” she added.
Dónal Ó hAiniféin, Chair of the Board of Michael Cusack Centre, said, “The GAA that Michael Cusack helped to establish in 1884 has since developed a presence in every parish and community in all of Ireland and worldwide. We are proud to play our role in promoting a key element of Ireland’s rich heritage, and we are delighted that Dr. McAleese has honoured us with her presence.”
Visitors to the Michael Cusack Centre more than doubled in 2022 with 4,100 visiting the attraction.
According to Leonard Cleary, Director of Tourism Development, Clare County Council, “The Local Authority is delighted to support the Michael Cusack Centre in its ongoing work of promoting the legacy of Michael Cusack and the organisation that he helped form, which today is an integral part of Irish life and is deeply rooted in communities through more than 1,600 clubs in Ireland and 450 clubs around the globe.”
Deirdre Murphy, Chief Operations Officer for Clare GAA, commented, “Clare GAA is thrilled that former President Mary McAleese has unveiled the Michael Cusack Bronze Head Bust. The achievements of her Presidency and commitment to peace in Ireland and beyond have had a lasting impact. As a former camogie player who has always been supportive to the GAA community, her current role as independent chairperson of the steering group on integration for the GAA, the LGFA, and the Camogie Association is one of huge significance for the future of our games. We really look forward to having her present and engaging with her.’’
Education and community outreach programmes form a key part of the Michael Cusack Centre’s efforts to promote the GAA founder’s legacy.
“Our ambition is to build a lasting legacy and tribute to the work of Michael Cusack and the passion and energy which he brought to the formation of the GAA,” explained Tim Madden, Manager of the Michael Cusack Centre.
He continued, “The GAA’s Going WeLL, National Wellbeing Programme has been rolled out to nearly 300 schools since it was launched in 2019. Through workshops at the Michael Cusack Centre, we have helped teenagers to improve their wellbeing and to build their resilience, which is something we hope Michael Cusack himself would have been very much supportive of.”
The unveiling ceremony was also attended by representatives of the UNESCO Global Geopark Network who have travelled to County Clare as part of the revalidation process for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher region, in which the Michael Cusack Centre is located.
“In 2018, Hurling and Camogie were designated under the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage inscription, thereby recognising the sports as key elements of Ireland’s living heritage to be safeguarded for future generations,” commented Mr. Madden. “The Michael Cusack Centre will continue to play its role in promoting and protecting this heritage.”
The unveiling ceremony also featured a hurley making demonstration by MacCóda Hurleys, based in Inagh, County Clare.
Meanwhile, tributes were paid at the unveiling ceremony to Brother Seán McNamara – a retired Christian Brother and specialist on the life of Michael Cusack – who died aged 95 last week. Tributes were also paid to Séan Keating, former Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council and father of Clare GAA Chair Kieran Keating, who was laid to rest on Friday.
Guided tours of the Michael Cusack Centre are available each day from 10.00am. Located in the centre of the award-winning Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, the visitor attraction features the original Cusack Famine era cottage, the 6km Cusack Way Walk, a recently developed Fairy Trail and the Púca artwork. The attraction also hosts team building weekends, wedding ceremonies and school tours. Visit www.michaelcusack.ie and look out for the new website launching this July.