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The Maids Who Made It – History of Maids of the Mountain Hockey Club by Hilary McDonagh

The following is a transcript of a talk by Hilary McDonagh on the history of Maids of the Mountain Hockey Club's and on some of the Maids who made it on and off the pitch. The talk was part of the Sport and the City Seminar held in Dublin City Library and Archive on 11th September, 2010. Listen to the lecture

Ladies and Gentlemen - Good afternoon, Maids I should also say; it’s nice to see a few of you here.

I would like to begin by thanking Dublin City Archives for inviting me here today to talk to you about the Maids of the Mountain Hockey Club. This club was founded in 1918 and after a very interesting and a very illustrious history; we merged with Three Rock Rovers HC in 1999. As Aideen said to mark the 81 year history of this very unique club, myself and another Maid, Órla McKeown, who is sitting in the audience down there along with a number of other Maids and a former Vice- President, we co-wrote the book entitled “The Lilac Years” (the name will become a little bit more obvious as my talk proceeds!). As I said Órla is also here today, so although I’m the one who drew the short straw and is standing up here talking, so any difficult questions you can put them that way!

The structure of today’s talk will begin with a look at the start of the Club, the Maids who made it, the history, our achievements (on and off the pitch) as well as the other Maids who made it.... in other walks of life!

When myself and Órla began researching the book, we were struck by the fondness that so many Maids looked back on their years with the Club. And we were also struck by the level of deep friendships that were made and continue, even to this day. There was definitely something very special about Maids Hockey Club.

When we went to research the book we found that the Official records dated back to 1929 which we thought was actually very impressive. But since then; the book was published 10 years ago, since then we have actually unearthed the records going back right to 1918 so right to the start of the club. We are delighted that they are now being housed in the Dublin City Archives and we’ve been liasing with Ellen and they should be on show I think it’s next year they should be ready for all to see, which is great.

So as I said Maid was established in 1918, and if we think of 1918 it was an era of real turmoil in Irish history. We had many young Irish men fighting in France, and indeed many of the early Maids had family members and friends who were actually caught up in this war. It was also only 2 years since the 1916 rising and the year that Sinn Féin won the big landslide General Election. So times were really changing...

Now the founder of the Club seems to have been, certainly from the research, the prime mover was a woman called Hilda O’Reilly. She actually herself married a WWI veteran (Gerald Martin). Other names that are associated with the establishment of the club are Mary Martin (who was a sister-in-law of Hilda), a woman called Dorothy Avery (nee McCann), Evie O’Kelly, Mary Mahony, Vera McWeeney (nee Mahony), Dorothy O’Reilly (nee Martin), Nancy Barry (nee Pigot) and Marjorie Martin. The common theme was the link that these people had with Three Rock Rovers HC, as many were wives, sweethearts, sisters or children of Rover players. Hilda herself was born in 1898 and she was the youngest of eight children, and from what we can gather was a happy and optimistic sort of person who seems to have been well liked by most. Hockey was a very popular past time within her own family, and both her father and brothers playing the sport. And indeed, her brother went on to captain the Irish hockey team when it won the Triple Crown in the 1920’s. Hilda herself was a very talented hockey player and she went on to win many caps for her country as well as being given the Captaincy of the Irish Ladies Hockey team in the 1920’s. So I’d say that the O’Reilly parents would have been very proud of their children.

Although the name of the Club has been varied in many ways – “Maids of the Mountain”, also known as “Hags of the Hill”, “Hoores of the Moores”, “the Bitches in the Ditches”, (I’m just quoting!) “the Tarts of the Town” and so on. The actual correct name originates from an operetta entitled “The Maid of the Mountains”, which was being performed at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin in the August, of 1918. Now other shows that were running at that time were “Society’s Driftwood” and “Bought & Paid For”. But they were deemed not to be obviously appropriate! The operetta itself was written by the Englishman, Harold Fraser – Simson (1878-1944) and it’s a musical comedy in three acts. Very popular – because I’d say none of us have ever heard of it! The colours then chosen, as I said remember ‘The Lilac Years’, the colours chosen to represent this new club were a purple tunic with a mauve shirt, corresponding with the colours of the heather on the mountain.

If you played hockey for Maids in the 1929/1930 season, subscriptions were £1-3s-0d, about approximately €1.40 in today’s terms. In 1965 the subscription was £2-15s-0d. After decimalisation the sub had only increased to £3.25 in the 1971/1972 season with a late fine payment of 25p. Things have changed a bit now.

The Irish Ladies Hockey Union was founded in 1894, and it actually is the very first women’s hockey association established throughout the world. I know the hockey players here will remember but we hosted the 1994 Hockey World Cup and it was for the reason to celebrate the centenary of the Irish Ladies Hockey Union. By 1918, the sport of ladies hockey was fairly strong but there were a limited number of clubs in existence and they were mainly “closed”, for people who were either past pupils or employees. So with virtually no “open” clubs available we can only assume that Hilda, along with her friends, decided to establish their own clubs. In 1920, with the club having only completed two seasons, Maids won the treble of the Irish Senior Cup, the Leinster Senior Cup and the Leinster Senior League. That’s very impressive for a very new club. But it also shows how silly the other clubs, which were closed were for not having such wonderfully gifted players playing for them.

This proved not to be once off and the club became a dominant player in Irish hockey over the next 15 years, winning Irish Senior Cups, Leinster Senior Cups and Leinster League. In 1923, the Club won the Irish Junior Cup, now known as the White Cup with their 2nd XI. So you can see that in a very short space of time the club had increased its playing membership.

Now that [text] is quite small and I appreciate that you might not see all that but it was hard to include all the international Maids. Because members of the club achieved a lot of success at both international and interprovincial level with all the provinces represented. In old Irish Hockey we would have 6 provinces but I won’t go into that. A total of 32 Maids achieved international success with the honour of the top-capped player going to Ros Huet who won 22 caps between 1931-47, and then we have a Dorothy Lavery (1920-26) and Joan Shaw (1967-75) who both won 13, and a H. Wallis who won 10 caps between 1923-26.

Now bearing in mind the links that Maids had with Three Rock Rovers, it is not surprising that the club’s first grounds were actually that of the grounds of Three Rock Rovers. They were located at Foxrock, near the Stillorgan station on the Harcourt Street Railway line. Those grounds had actually been given to Three Rock Rovers by Sir John Power of Power’s Distillers. In 1930, Three Rock Rovers moved to Londonbridge Road, the Headquarters of the Irish Hockey Union, down in Ringsend. Maids however remained in Foxrock until 1934, when the club submitted a written application to the Men’s Hockey Union for participation in the Templeogue grounds and pavilion scheme. It was a relative of a Maids member, a man called Mr. De Vere White, again a theatre connection, undertook to produce a play at the Peacock Theatre to raise the funds for the grounds guarantee. Maids was the first tenant club of the female part of the Templeogue grounds. Many happy years in Templeogue followed. A pavilion was made available for the use of the tenant clubs with a social area and a changing room. However it was only in the late 1950’s that showering facilities were provided for the women, and thanks for this development was due to the determination of one of the members Joan Matthews who later became Joan Blackmore. Upon joining, she was shocked to find that the showers were only available to the men. So she took her views to the next grounds meeting with very little success. So the following week, she marched, with soap and towel in hand, into the men’s dressing rooms to use their showers. Not surprisingly, the following week a shower had been installed in the women’s changing rooms. By the early 1980’s, Maids’ permanent home at the Templeogue grounds had been targeted by builders for development, some things never change and was finally sold during the 1985/86 season. Maids was homeless at that stage and they travelled around to hired pitches for both training and for matches. Part of the proceeds of the sale was divided between the three ladies tenant clubs. And a development of the Three Rock Rovers grounds at Grange Road gave Maids the opportunity to invest this money, together with the Leinster Ladies Hockey Union in the building of a second artificial pitch at Grange Road. The club moved to Grange Road under a licence agreement with Three Rock Rovers in 1988. Maids remained in Grange Road as licensees until a decision was taken in the spring of 1999 by Maids of the Mountain and Three Rock Rovers to merge their assets and become one club and the name of Maids was lost forever; not really though!

When women started to play hockey in the last years of the nineteenth century, the activity was regarded as being somewhat outrageous. It was therefore important to avoid parental and society disapproval, so participating in hockey activities had to be carried out very discreetly. Hockey players wore a hat secured with a pin, a long sleeved blouse buttoned to the neck, a stiff linen collar, a loose flowing cravat type tie and a voluminous skirt long enough to conceal the ankles and high enough at the waist to tuck in the tie. No doubt they also played in stiff corsetry, elaborate petticoats and heavy woollen stockings. Their hair was worn in elaborate styles on the top of the head or back of the neck. When Maids HC was established in 1918, skirt lengths had started to rise to just above the ankle but otherwise the early players were attired much as described. We obviously don’t have a picture from the late 19th century unfortunately but that’s one of the players from the 1920 team so you can see the type of stuff they had to wear. God love them. By 1927 players were wearing loose fitting tunics, with pleats, which were cut just above the knee, no doubt encouraged by the upwardly creeping hemlines of the twenties.

In 1936 the first pair of tights made their debut in Maids, courtesy of Doris Findlater, who has just turned 101, am I right? Still alive and kicking. While on tour with the Irish team to Philadelphia, Doris made the purchase of a pair of tights. She found they were a highly effective way to avoid what was termed the “smile” which was the gap between the top of the stockings and the bottom of the drawers - which was sometimes on view. For the rest of the Maids, they were forced to continue wearing the stockings until well into the 1950s.

By 1959 the touring team to Llandudno had disposed of the ties, opened their collars casually and had shed their stockings or tights in favour of knee high socks. When socks became part of the official uniform, the colour chosen was that of lilac, to match the shirts. You can imagine lilac socks were not something that would be very easy to find. So white socks had to be purchased and then they were dyed the official colour. But the socks had to imported from Northern Ireland, and due to customs, could only be imported half dozen at a time. In the 1970’s short shirtsleeves became the norm. The tunic was finally abandoned in favour of the wrap skirt worn by hockey players today.
So what about the Maids who made it... in other walks of life? They were many, but today time is limited so I’m only going to mention a small few.

The first one is a woman named Vera Mahony later to become Vera McWeeney. She joined Maids in the 1920’s and rapidly made herself known in Irish hockey circles being selected to play for Leinster in 1927 for the first time. She went on to become an Irish International, gaining her first cap in 1932. Her playing days in Maids were accompanied by some of the greatest successes the Club has known in its history. She was twice Leinster President between 1948-49 and again in 1955-1956. She is the only person ever to hold that position twice.
She made a unique contribution to Irish sport, firstly as a multi-discipline athlete – as well as representing Ireland in hockey, she also represented them in tennis, and in croquet and in squash; but also after her playing days she was particularly instrumental in bringing publicity to women’s involvement in sport through her reporting career. And I’m sure some people would remember her today. After her husband died, her husband Arthur died in 1958, he was a sports journalist, she started then to report on a free lance basis for the Irish Independent, later moving to the Irish Times and she reported on women’s hockey, she reported on women’s tennis, badminton and squash. Her name is actually commemorated in the Vera McWeeney Shield, which was presented by the Irish Times in 1981, just after her death to the Leinster Indoor Under 21 Interprovincial Tournament as a tribute to her contribution to hockey in Ireland. As a journalist she was always said very fair to up and coming players and if she ever had a criticism to make of their play, her comments were always finished in a very positive and constructive note.

She was very professional in her approach she made sure to watch everything that she reported on. Former international tennis player colleagues described her coverage of Wimbledon during the 1970’s as brilliant. She also reported on all major tennis events in Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club, then a bastion of male membership only. She is recalled fondly in Irish feminist circles for her no-nonsense approach to matters in the environs of Fitzwilliam. A report was reported after her death of an incident in Fitzwilliam when about to take a short cut through the men’s changing room to get to a match, she was stopped. She told the steward that she had to get through and if that bothered anybody the steward was to tell them that she had seen better elsewhere.

When Vera died suddenly in January 1980, those who knew her would not have been surprised to hear that she died with the coming week’s sports fixtures marked in her diary.

Uniquely among the Notable Maids, Edith Hudson never actually played hockey for Maids, her main interest lay in the umpiring area. She was Principal of Ling Physical Education College for many years; many of those graduates went on to join Maids. She was renowned for her professional approach and a very meticulous attention to detail and a scrupulous sense of fairness and integrity in all her dealings. After Ling closed in 1973 and all the Physical Education College moved to Limerick, she found herself without a Club and she was at that stage invited to join Maids. And when she did she immediately became involved in the Club’s umpiring. Although involved in Maids her main energy was in the wider field of Irish and Leinster hockey. She was a Grade A Umpire who examined aspiring umpires for their exams. She also travelled with both Irish and Leinster Touring Teams, represented Ireland at International Symposiums on Umpiring, she was a member of the FIH Rules Committee and was appointed a Judge at the FIH Intercontinental Tournament in 1983 in Kuala Lumpur, which I’m hoping that many remember it was a tournament that we actually won. She held the office of president, and I don’t think the Men’s hockey could actually say that - sorry. She held the office of President of ILHU from 1981 to 1982, having been Treasurer from 1945 to 1959. She also held the office of President of the Irish Umpires Association and was honoured with Honorary Life Membership of the Irish Ladies Hockey Union, the Leinster Ladies Hockey Union and the Irish Umpires Association; a very, very fine woman.

But this is one of my favourites, it’s a woman called Muriel Gahan. And her inclusion in the selection of Maids, notable Maids, actually does not come from her hockey activities, we don’t really know how good she is, but she certainly played for Maids and you can find her in the records, but really it’s her non-hockey activities which you could fairly say that she had an enormous influence on the craft industry in Ireland. She herself was born in Donegal in 1897 and reared in Castlebar, Co. Mayo. Her father worked for the Congested District Board, and when he retired they moved to Dublin in the 1920’s and it was at that stage that she joined Maids.

She joined the United Irishwomen in 1929 (which was later to become the Irish Countrywomen’s Association). One of her first major contributions to the movement was in the establishment of the Country Shop Restaurant and Country Workers in 1930. Again many of you probably remember The Country Shop, it was located at 23 St. Stephens Green, and was the meeting place for Maids Hockey Club until its closure in 1978. She was directly responsible for the establishment of the Country Markets Ltd, a co-operative formed jointly by the ICA and the Homespun Society, and she also was involved in the establishment of the Country Craftsmanship Scheme. She became the only female member of Ireland’s first Arts Council in 1952. In 1971 she set up the Crafts Council of Ireland.

Throughout the years, Muriel was very involved with the Royal Dublin Society (RDS), and once again history was made when she became the first woman ever elected Vice President of the RDS. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Trinity College Dublin in 1978. In her long career with the United Irishwomen and the ICA, Muriel Gahan was elected chairwoman of the National Executive on many occasions. It was through her contact with the Kellogg’s Foundation that a grant was actually given to the ICA for the establishment of their residential centre, Grianán. The Irish American Cultural Institute endowed an annual development grant in her name – The Muriel Gahan Scholarship – and it is awarded at the annual RDS Craft Competition during the RDS Horse Show.

It won’t be surprising to know that she was known as “M.G.” to all her friends because it paraphrased her dynamic character. She died in 1995 at the age of 97.

But nothing would be complete for Maids without Rita. Rita was always very easy to spot coming to Maids matches, because she invariably travelled in a pony and trap. She was a daughter of one of the founders of Three Rock Rovers Hockey Club, and she joined Maids in September 1941. Although a successful hockey and lacrosse player, gaining international recognition in both, it was actually as Chairperson of the Irish Country Markets Association, a position that she held for 14 years, that she was better known. It was Muriel Gahan who got her actually, who asked her to take on that role. She also served as President of the Irish Horticultural Society. When Maids merged with Three Rock Rovers it was fitting that Rita, given her deep connections to both Clubs, became its first female President in 2001.

A total of 20 Maids achieved provincial and international success in a wide variety of other sports such as lacrosse, cricket, windsurfing, golf, tennis, Olympics, badminton, fencing, swimming, netball, croquet and squash.

As I said at the outset, the level of respect and fondness for the club of Maids, even given the name was quite striking, both from within the Club itself but also from other Clubs. This is probably best illustrated by the poem that was penned for the Club by Ann Cox in 1982, the then Leinster Hockey President, and it goes as follows:

We are the Maids of the Mountain
We hide in the gores and the fen
And someday we hope if God spares us
To capture some wild mountain men

We’ll teach them the art of good hockey
We’ll take off their trousers and shirts
We’ll put on some wigs and some make-up
And dress them in blouses and skirts.

And when we have won all before us
We’ll treat them to some mountain dew
And help them relax in the heather
As Maids of the Mountain should do

The archival material that has been lodged by Maids Hockey Club as I said is very impressive. However these archives are much more valuable than just recording an 81-year history. They also provide a rare insight into women in sport, it really helps to chart the socio-economic life in Ireland, the changing role of women in Irish society, and also the contributions made by so women to so many aspects of Irish life – these all were the Maids who Made it!