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Author: Conor Heffernan

Training for Sport is Training for War? The GAA, Sokol Physical Culture and Ireland’s Military

Outtake from a Sokol Display by the Irish Military in 1937. Courtesy of British Pathé The Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland has, for very good reasons, tended to receive the bulk of Irish historian’s attention when it comes to sporting matters. Emerging in Mandle’s studies from the 1980s as a birthplace of the Irish Revolution in the early twentieth-century, the organisation’s relationship with the Irish state has undergone several historical revisions. Rouse’s recent assertion that although the GAA did not provide the bulk of the volunteers in Ireland’s Easter Insurrection (1916) and the subsequent War of Independence (1919-1921) with...

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From Bloom to Battle: Tracing Ireland’s Early Physical Culture Movement

Presented at the SpLeisH International Colloquium – 3-4 March 2017 By Conor Heffernan In 1898 one of the leading figures of the physical culture movement, Eugen Sandow, came to Dublin. It was the second time the Prussian born showman had come to Ireland and by all accounts, it was an undeniable success. Selling out Dublin’s Empire Theatre for two straight weeks, Sandow’s show had a profound influence on his Irish audience. Within a decade of his performances, the physical culture craze intensified in Ireland, appearing everywhere from the works of James Joyce, to the nationalist writings of Patrick Pearse....

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Like a Rolling Stone: Strong Lifting in Nineteenth-Century and Early Twentieth Century Ireland

An old man wanders through the outskirts of his town. Pains creep up and down his body as he begins to reminisce about the days of his youth and the achievements long past. Memories flood his mind of friends, family and associates long gone. Just as his past seems to slip away, he stumbles across a physical reminder of this soon to be forgotten time… a stone. This stone, unlike the dozens surrounding it, is no ordinary stone. Larger and heavier than the rest, this stone was part of the old man’s greatest feat. At a wedding many decades...

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All a Load of Pants? Posing Trunks in Male Bodybuilding Part One

At first glance posing trunks seem an odd subject for historical enquiry. Bodybuilding as a sport is almost entirely devoid of clothing leading one undoubtedly to wonder just what can be gained from studying the miserly cloth that remains. The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is quite a lot. Following a revived interest in bodily development at the dawn of the nineteenth-century, fitness promoters and competitors have sought new ways to display the superiority of their physiques, messages or training systems. Far from an isolated activity such approaches were informed by the societal messages, boundaries and ideals of their day, a...

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All a Load of Pants? Posing Trunks in Male Bodybuilding Part Two

Having discussed the precursors to bodybuilding trunks in part one of this series, this post will now delve in to the sport of bodybuilding outright. Beginning with the competitions of the early 1900s, it tracks the evolution of the posing trunks right up to the current day. A story of muscle, extreme dieting and of course, anabolic steroids. Bodybuilding as Competition Though private bodybuilding shows had been held in England, France and further afield in the early 1890s, it was not until the dawn of the twentieth century that the bodybuilding or physical culture competition as a public spectacle...

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