An annual event takes place every September in Croke Park when the captain of the winning team in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship will lift the Sam Maguire Cup. The name of Sam Maguire has, through the Gaelic Games, become synonymous with Irish culture. He saw in the GAA a vehicle by which expression and positive support could be given to the establishment of Ireland as an independent nation with its own cultural identity. The Sam Maguire cup ensures that the memory of this great man lives on.
Sam Maguire was born in the townland of Mallabracka, near the town of Dunmanway in West Cork. Sam had four brothers and three sisters, he being the fourth eldest. The Maguires farmed 200 acres of land. They were members of the Church of Ireland but mixed freely with protestant and catholic alike. Sam attended the Model School, Bantry Road, Dunmanway and afterwards the Ardfield National School, which was also attended by Michael Collins. The schoolmaster, Mr. Madden, prepared him for the British Civil Service examinations. During his school years at Ardfield, he stayed with his cousins in Rathbarry, (present post office). At 20 years of age, he successfully passed his examinations, and was consequently employed in the London Post Office.
The period 1890 to 1900 was one of National Revival. The events of these years were to have a lasting effect on the young Sam Maguire. He joined and captained the successful London Hibernian Gaelic football team to three All-Ireland finals between 1900 and 1904, notably without a single victory. On finishing his playing career Sam became Chairman of the London county board and later a delegate to congress and a trustee of Croke Park. His vice-chairman was none other than Liam McCarthy who donated the All Ireland senior hurling championship cup to the G.A.A. and in whose honour it is named.
Sam now turned his attentions to the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was a great leader and soon rose to the rank of Major General of the IRB and Director of Intelligence in Britain. He is also remembered in the political sphere for recruiting the nationalist leader Michael Collins to the IRB in 1909.
In 1916, Michael Collins returned to Ireland and participated in the Easter Rising, whereas Sam remained in London, as his position in the Civil Service was an important one. He could best serve his country by remaining there as an intelligence agent.
He returned to Dublin in 1921 and was employed in the newly established Irish Civil Service. Sam became a regular visitor to Croke Park in these days and a tireless worker for the G.A.A. in Dublin. However, because of his political affiliations he clashed with his superiors, which led to his dismissal. He then returned to his home in Mallabracka, Dunmanway because of failing health. He died there of tuberculosis on February 6th 1927 at the age of 49 years. He is buried in St. Mary’s Church of Ireland graveyard in Dunmanway. A tall and ornate Celtic Cross erected in 1941, marks the spot where he is buried and the inscription reads, “Erected to the memory of Samuel Maguire of Mallabracka who died on Feb 6th 1927 by the people of Dunmanway and his numerous friends throughout Ireland and England in recognition of his love for his country.
The Sam Maguire Cup
Shortly after his death a number of his former comrades and friends came together to decide how best his memory could be perpetuated. The Sam Maguire Cup was commissioned and was wrought by Hopkins and Hopkins, Dublin to the design of the Ardagh Chalice. The first recipient of the Sam Maguire trophy was the Kildare captain Bill Gannon in 1928. The first Ulster County to win it was Cavan in 1933. Galway won it for Connaught in 1934. It was not until 1960 that Down became the first “Six County” county to succeed. Kerry has the enviable record of winning the “Sam” on the most number of occasions. The trophy was a regular visitor to Dunmanway, especially in 1945, 1973, 1989 and 1990 when Cork were champions and in 1960 when Down footballers visited the old Maguire homestead. The cup was last in Dunmanway in 1987 after which the G.A.A. authorities recalled it to Croke Park and replaced it with an identical replica. The original trophy is on permanent display in the GAA Museum in Croke Park.
Four miles to the north of the town of Dunmanway a great silent valley runs westwards to the Cousane Gap. It is a place of wild beauty, with Nowen Hill rising majestically to the west, the Yew Tree Hill towering to the south and the Shehy Mountains stretching northwards into the distance. Here in the townland of Mallabracka lies the homestead of the Maguire family where Sam Maguire was born and grew up. Just a short distance from his homestead a monument was erected in 1984 to mark the location of his birthplace.