Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Ban on Ye Small Ball

 Hurling banned in Galway City in 1527


"But only the great football" - Detail from Liber A 1527
 The James Hardiman Library includes in its archive an original manuscript of Galway corporation statutes dating back to 1486.  The Galway corporation statute book or Liber A as it is know is made up of annual entries listing office holders in Galway Corporation and statutes or local laws passed each year.

1527 Entry in Liber A
With Galway's recent success in wining the Leinster Hurling Championship and taking Kilkenny to a re-play in the all Ireland it may be a surprise to read that in the 16th century there was an attempt to ban the sport in Galway city, 'hand ball' was also banned, however 'football'  was allowed.

According to a statue in Liber A dating from 1527: no tyme the use ne ocupye the horlinge of the litill balle with hockie stickes or staves, nor use no hande ball to playe without the walles, but onely the great foote balle, on payn of the paynis above lymittid (a fine of 8 pence)

or in modern English: no time the use nor occupy the hurling of the little ball with hockey sticks or staves,  nor use a handball to play outside the walls, but only the great football on pain of the pains above limited.

Detail from 1527 entry relating to fines on the playing of games including 'the horlinge of the litill balle'

Liber A which covers the period the period 1485-1711 is a large volume with each page measuring roughly 45cm x 25 cm.  While the first entry dates from the late 15th century the handwriting would suggest that the first 70 years were transcribed in the mid 16th century.   The item has been part of the University Library collection since its foundation.  It's not clear how it came into his possession but it appears that Liber A was originally part of the University's first Librarian James Hardiman's personal collection. 

Liber A with pencil for scale

The statutes in Liber A  cover a range of issues including trade,  local taxes, public morals and property rights.   While the content of Liber A relates primarily to local laws one can see  wider issues reflected in the manuscript.  For example entries for 1611 records that the mayor Valentine Blake was removed from office for refusing to take the 'Oath of Supremacy' .  The appointment of a Catholic mayor following the ascension to the throne of James II in 1685 is marked by the use of  ornate golden lettering.

Liber A entry for 1686, with Catholic Mayor's name written in Gold

 The Digitisation Service of the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway is currently engaged in digitising this unique item which will be made publicly available on our website.


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