Although the North American Championships has its origins back in 1949 when the first competitive games were held between cities, the history of Gaelic Games in the US has a much longer history, predating the founding of the GAA itself. There are records of hurling being played in St. John's, Newfoundland in 1788, and of Gaelic football in San Francisco's Hyde Park as early as the 1850s.
Hurling and football in the US grew in popularity as the Irish diaspora spread, particularly in cities with large Irish populations, such as New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. The North American County Board (NACB) was then established in 1959 to oversee the development of the GAA in the region.
The North American Championships will see 2,000+ athletes take part in games of hurling, Gaelic football and camogie (the game of hurling played by women) among the fastest and most physically demanding of all field sports.
Teams compete in one of six grades - Senior, Intermediate, Junior A, Junior B, Junior C, and Junior D. The standard of skill and competition in the Senior championship is often commensurate with that displayed in any Senior club game in Ireland.
For more information of the NACB, click here for a detailed history.
Senior Championship Roll of Honour
|Na Fianna||San Francisco||5|
|Naomh Padraig||San Francisco||3|
|Fr. Tom Burkes||Boston||2|
|San Francisco Gaels||San Francisco||2|
|Los Angeles||Los Angeles||1|
|San Francisco||San Francisco||1|
|San Francisco||San Francisco||2|
|Los Angeles||Los Angeles||1|
|San Francisco Gaels||San Francisco||1|
|Sean Treacys||San Francisco||1|
Winners by Division
History of the North American County Board
- Eamonn Kelly (2015)
During the 1950's, the GAA in North America operated in a structure known as the National Council G.A.A. of the United States. The council divided the country into three zones. Zone 1 was the New York division, Zone 2 catered for the Midwest clubs and New England clubs were grouped in Zone 3. The three zones were to meet in a national, inter-zonal final. By 1956, the withdrawal of New York, who preferred to be self-sufficient, severely constrained the zone system at a time when the GAA's star in many major cites was in the ascendant.
Several national G.A.A. leaders were convinced that something more centralized was urgently needed if Gaelic games were to flourish nationwide. Led by John Hehir of Boston, a group of regional officers, such as John O'Brien and Henry Cavanagh in Cleveland, Fr. Peter Quinn in Buffalo, Michael Cavanaugh of Philadelphia and Dan O'Kennedy of Detroit, began sharing ideas focusing on forming a national board. That group of men were described as the Founding Fathers of the North American County Board.
In 1958, after many meetings, Henry Cavanaugh formulated a blue print for a national body in his document, 'The American County Board Plan.' Not every region in the country was in favor of the plan. Even in such regions as New England and the Midwest, which included Chicago, clubs were divided on the issue, but that plan is today the foundation upon which the North American Board is built.
At the historic 1959 convention in Philadelphia, the Zone system was abolished and the new North American County Board was founded. Jack Courtney from Buffalo was elected its first President. John Hehir was elected as Assistant Coordinator, a position that required all his powers of diplomacy, as the new board tried to bring unconvinced clubs under the umbrella of the new governing body. The other elected officials were: Vice Chairman - Mike Culhane; Secretary - Peter Donnelly; Treasurer - William Garvey; Coordinator - Henry Cavanagh; Registrar - James Harvey. The following delegates were present at that historic meeting: John Marron (Baltimore); Patrick Green, William Howe, Tom Curran, John Collins (Boston); Bertie Cronin, Mike Allen (Buffalo); Joe Kilroy, John Hrlighy (Chicago); J.J. Hennelly, John Ryan (Cleveland); Dan O'Kennedy, J.J. O'Rourke (Detroit); Jim Foley, John Mullarkey (Hartford); Patrick Lynch (Los Angeles); John O'Brien, Billy McGee (Montreal); Eddy Brissell, Joe Maskey (New Haven); Michael Cavanaugh, Jim Harvey (Philadelphia); Tom Donahue, Peter Donnelly (Pittsburgh); Tom O'Keefe, Sean McGinty (Rochester); Danny Boyle (San Francisco); Al Kissane (Syracuse); Mike Lawler, John Sinclair (Toronto); Pat Egan, Bob Gillard (Trenton).
Clubs were affiliated with the new NACB through the following four divisional boards set up around the country: Central (Chicago); Midwest (Akron, Albany, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Syracuse); New England (Boston, Harford); Philadelphia (Philadelphia); Western (San Francisco). Before the formation of the Candian County Board, clubs from Toronto and Montreal registered separately with the new NACB. To accommodate the enormous growth of the NACB over the next 50 years, five additional divisions have since been formed under the Board's jurisdiction. They are: Mid-Atlantic (Baltimore, Virginia, Hoboken, Mason-Dixon, Washington, D.C.); Northwest (Portland, Seattle); Southeast (Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Raleigh, Cayman Islands); Southwest (Austin, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Orange County, Phoenix, San Diego). In addition, clubs from the following cities have since affiliated with the Central Division - Fox River, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul (Twin Cities), Naperville and St. Louis. It should be noted that the original New England division is now known as the Northeast Division.
The first (1959) winners of the NACB championships were: Men's Senior Football - Los Angeles; Men's Senior Hurling - San Francisco.
Since the formation of the North American County Board, the championships have grown from just senior hurling and football county finals, being staged in different cites, to the most followed Irish sporting event in North America.
From 1959 through 1981, senior hurling and football championship finals were staged in separate cities and on different dates. It was the year of 1982 that all grades of the North American County Board's championships were held in a single city on a single weekend, thus the inauguration of the now popular NACB Labor Day weekend playoffs. Through most of the 80's, the playoffs consisted of semi-finals and finals played in junior and senior hurling and football grades, all staged in a selected city over the Labor Day weekend. At the end of the decade to the mid 90's, intermediate and minor football and ladies football championships became part of the playoffs. A huge expansion of the playoffs tool place in 1997 with the inclusion of a junior hurling and ladies junior football championship and the splitting of the men's junior football championship into "A" and "B" divisions. In addition, the senior camogie championship entered playoffs the following year, adding a junior competition in 2003.
Further expansions took place early in the new century with the addition of a junior "D" football championship in 2004, which was created as a promotional tool for new and entry level clubs. Such was the huge growth in hurling around the country at this time that the junior hurling championship was split into "A" and "B" divisions in 2003, and the addition of the "C" division in 2008. Another expansion to the playoffs took place in 2008 with the addition of a ladies football intermediate championship, American born men's football championship and over 40's men football championship. Now, there are also men's junior "D" football, intermediate camogie, and men's junior "B" Premier hurling championships along with shield matches.
The tremendous growth in Gaelic games has contributed to a bigger playoff tournament. Last year in Boston, over 50 teams from twenty-five cities competed for nineteen titles. The same volume of participation is expected at the 2015 NACB GAA Finals at Chicago Gaelic Park.
In reflecting back over the history of the North American County Board, one must recognize the achievements of prominent clubs in the life of the Board. The country's oldest club, Chicago Harry Boland's, captured a record number of NACB championships by winning fourteen senior hurling titles, while Chicago Wolfe Tones are close behind with twelve senior football titles. Other multiple title winners at senior level have been: Hurling - Boston Galway (8); Football - Cleveland St. Pat's (5), Philadelphia Tyrone (5), Chicago St. Brendan's (4), San Francisco Ulster (4); Ladies Football - Philadelphia Emerald Eagles (4), San Francisco Fog City Harps (4); Camogie - Boston Eire Og (6), Chicago St. Mary's (5).
Other notable achievements since the formation of the Board were three-in-a-row senior football titles won by Cleveland St. Pat's (1964 - 1966) and Chicago Wolfe Tones (1995 - 1997) and more recently San Francisco's Ulster senior football club, who have won the title the past three years, 2012,'13 and '14. Also, another San Francisco club, Na Fianna, accomplished 3-in-a-row titles by winning the senior hurling championship in 2011, '12 and '13. In ladies senior football, Philadelphia's Emerald Eagles won 4-in-a-row (1994, '95, '96 and '97), while in senior camogie, Boston Eire Og also won 4-in-a-row (2002, '03, '04, and '05).
Cleveland St. Pat's was the dominant senior football team in the 60's, winning five out of ten titles, while the Chicago Wolfe Tones hold a similiar record for the 90's. Also recognized are the achievements of the Canadian clubs in the early years of the NACB. Shortly after the commencement of the hurling and football championships and before the Canadian Board was formed, Canadian hurling teams won five NACB championships between 1961 and 1978. Canadian teams have made a return to the NACB championships with Vancouver entering the junior "A" hurling championship in 2012, along with Toronto camogie, followed by further Toronto clubs the following year. Such has been the growth in Canadian hurling and football that clubs from Vancouver and Toronto will be competing in seven different grades in men's and ladies football, hurling and camogie at this year's NACB championships.