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. Tracing Ireland’s physical culture interest from the late nineteenth-century through to the eruption of the 1916 Easter Rising, this presentation serves to demonstrate what was unique, common and in some cases, bizarre, about the Irish physical culture movement. In doing so, the talk is concerned with the transnational element of the physical culture movement as well as the utilization of sport and purposeful exercise for political means. This, as will be shown, helps shed light on the relatively nascent world of physical culture studies and neatly compliments histories of Irish sport dedicated to GAA, rugby and football.