Retrocession, partition and sporting communities in fractured societies : baseball in Taiwan and Gaelic games in Ireland, 1884-1968

Harney, John James
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This dissertation examines the roles of popular sports baseball and Gaelic Games in Taiwanese and Irish society respectively between the years 1884 and 1968. During this period, the spread of each sport in popularity and the subsequent increased profile in the public realm highlighted similar challenges faced by the societies of each territory as inhabitants of minor players in a global political system dominated by major powers.

The development of Taiwanese baseball and its spread in popularity during the colonial period reveals the extent to which divisions between colonial Japanese and local Taiwanese blurred beyond the parameters of governmental efforts at coexistence and assimilation. Two teams in particular, the Nenggao team of 1924-25 and the KANO team of 1931, give evidence of a colonial Taiwanese sporting culture that featured strengthening connections with sporting culture in Japan. In both cases, baseball displayed potential as an integrating force in colonial Taiwanese society between social groups resident on the island rather than as a source for opposition to colonial rule. This is in direct contrast to Irish society, where the resurgence in popularity of Gaelic Games occurred within the political context of exclusivist nationalism. Gaelic Games existed as cultural markers of an Irish culture defined by a Gaelic ethnic identity and political commitment to an Irish nation state, choosing to ignore the realities of partition and the existence of a sizable Loyalist community in the north of the country.

This viewpoint persisted until the late 1960s, when the eruption of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland irrevocably changed the terms of Irish political participation. At the same time, Taiwanese baseball transitioned from a shared cultural form between Taiwan and Japan to a potent avenue for emerging Taiwanese political voices in 1968 with the widely celebrated success of the Hongye schoolboy baseball team. Baseball’s popularity had persisted in the face of ambivalent attitudes among ruling Guomindang officials following retrocession, but the Hongye victory marked the introduction of specific political overtones to Taiwanese baseball, bringing an end to decades of the sport’s primary role as an act of public participation with limited political connotations.