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1967: The Suspension

In order to understand how such incredible situations could arise in the sport of fencing in Ireland, it is necessary to be aware of the prevailing balance of power and the internal structure of the IAFF (Irish Amateur Fencing Federation - today, IFF - Irish Fencing Federation) at that time.

In 1960, six Irish fencers competed at the Rome Olympics. This was to be the largest contingent that would ever represent Ireland at an Olympics. The members of the team were drawn from the following 6 clubs:

  • Setanta Sword Club, Dublin
  • Oxford University FC
  • Glenbrook FC, Cork
  • Dublin University FC
  • Kilkenny FC
  • Achilles Sword Club, Dublin

This was a strong Irish team being drawn from a cross-section of fencing clubs. Unfortunately, upon return from Rome or within a short period thereafter, 5 members of this team either retired from the sport or withdrew from competitive fencing. This was a severe loss for such a minority sport as most of these Olympians would have been considered to be the backbone of the sport in Ireland.  Decades of experience were lost practically overnight. Irreparable damage was done. Whatever the reason for this unusual turn of events, it created a vacuum within the Irish fencing community which paved the way for a change from which Irish fencing has never fully recovered.


In the 1964 Annual Report of the IAFF, there were 7 clubs affiliated with a total membership of 111:

  • Achilles Sword Club, Dublin: 10 members/1 Council member
  • British Legion Fencing Club, Dublin: 17 members/1 Council member
  • Royal Air Force Fencing Club, Dublin: 5 members/0 Council member
  • Salle Duffy, Dublin: 41 members/3 Council members
  • Dublin University Fencing Club: 21 members/1 Council member
  • Kilkenny Fencing Club: 4 members/0 Council member
  • University College Dublin Fencing Club: 11 members/1 Council member
  • Unattached: 2

(Allocation of IAFF Council seats: 1 Council seat for the first 10 club members and an additional Council seat for every additional 15 club members who had paid their capitation fee to the IAFF (Constitution of IAFF Article IV. section (1)).

Fencing was restricted to Dublin.

The officers of the IAFF included the President, the Honorary Secretary and the Honorary Treasurer. In 1967 all these officers were members of the same club. The impartiality of the IAFF had been lost.

Irish Times 16.03.1966

But Larry Gough's story really starts the previous year. In 1966 the Irish Schoolboy and Schoolgirl Championships were organised, as usual, by the British Legion Fencing Club. The winners were Veronica Byrne (Salle Duffy fencing club, sister of the President of the IAFF) and Lawrence Gough (Synge Street CBS, also Salle Duffy fencing club) as can be seen in the press cutting from the Irish Times of 16.03.1966.

Veronica Byrne obviously fulfilled the requirements to participate in the competition: she was not attending any school - hence the affiliation to the Salle Duffy fencing club - but was under 18 years of age at the time of the competition.

17.02.1967, Joe Sherwood, Evening Press

In 1967 Larry Gough was in the same situation as Veronica Byrne the year before: he was no longer at school but was under 18 years of age at the time of the competition. In order to clarify the situation, Larry Gough wrote to Dr. Blanche Weekes of the British Legion Fencing Club enquiring whether he was eligible or not to enter the championships. The British Legion Fencing Club had organised the schools competition for many years. Dr. Blanche Weekes replied that in 1967 the British Legion Fencing Club was not involved in the organisation for the first time. She was of the opinion that Gough was eligible to enter but would request the IAFF to contact him if he were not eligible. The IAFF did not contact Gough. Consequently, Larry Gough believed he was eligible to enter the competition.

In spite of this, Gough's entry to defend the title as Schoolboys Fencing Champion was not accepted by the new organisers. For the first time, the competition in 1967 was organised by Park House School Dublin, held in the Salle Duffy fencing club under the auspices of the IAFF. At this time, Gough was a member of the University College Dublin Fencing Club.

On 17th February 1967, Joe Sherwood commented on the situation in the Evening Press.

On the eve of the championships, the President, Michael Ryan, and the Captain of the UCD Fencing Club, Alan Dukes, advised Gough to present himself at the competition. Larry Gough followed the advice of the club seniors and presented himself at the venue the following day. Unexpectedly, he was refused entry by an official and left the premises.

It was rumoured that the President of the IAFF had defined the rules regarding the competition. Alan Dukes was a member of the Council of the IAFF and if a rule change had been discussed at Council, he would have been aware of this. No such discussion had taken place.

Later the President of the IAFF admitted that he alone had defined a rule without the consent of or consultation with the Council of the IAFF. The President did not have the authority to do this. His actions were undemocratic and unconstitutional. This was a clear case of the President of the IAFF going beyond his authority and acting Ultra Vires (Constitution IAFF, Article (IV) Section 1).

On 28th February 1967, 17 year old, Larry Gough received a letter from Nuala Parker, Honorary Secretary of the IAFF (ed. note: the same person holds this office in 2016), informing him that his membership of the IAFF had been suspended for 6 months. In this letter, she quoted Article (VIII), Section 1 and Section 3 but omitted Section 2 which reads "Notice must be served upon the member against whom the action is being taken, setting forth generally the conduct forming the basis for the action." This was not done. This was a deliberate misquote of the IAFF Constitution and the actions of the Council and the Honorary Secretary were in breach of the Articles of the Constitution of the IAFF.  Larry Gough was neither informed of the charges brought against him nor why the Council of the IAFF had decided to suspended him.

Larry Gough appealed the 6 month suspension. No provision existed in the Constitution of the IAFF for a juvenile (under 21 years) to be accompanied by an adult to the hearing and therefore the Appeal was in breach of Irish Law (Age of Majority Act) as a juvenile is a person who is still legally a child. Larry Gough's Constitutional Rights were breached.

While waiting for his appeal to be heard, the Irish National Epée Team Championships were held in Trinity College, Dublin.  Gough had won this title the previous year (1966) with the Salle Duffy fencing club team. In 1967, UCDFC beat the Salle Duffy fencing club in the final 8/7 thus winning the right to represent Ireland at the Coupe d'Europe in Heidenheim, Germany, the following month.  Larry Gough won 3 of his 4 bouts and the 4th was a double-defeat.

On 25th March 1967, Nuala Parker, the Honorary Secretary of the IAFF wrote to Gough informing him of the "Verdict" of the Appeal Committee (s. Letter from 1967.03.25).

It was decided at a meeting of the Council of the IAFF which took place before Gough's appeal was heard that "out of consideration for your Club, you should be allowed to fence on its Team in the Coupe d'Europe (team event) but not in the Heidenheimer Pokal (individual event)."  However, if Gough's appeal had been successful, according to the decision of the Council of the IAFF made before his appeal was heard, he would not have been allowed to fence in the Heidenheimer Pokal (individual event). The outcome of the Appeal was a foregone conclusion.

Larry Gough was charged and sentenced to a 6 month world-wide suspension in his absence. He was not informed of what he was charged with. He was not given an opportunity of defending himself.

A dispute had started over something small.  Due to a situation which was open to exploitation, a balance of power ensued within the IAFF which lacked impartiality by democratic standards and a mindset that considered that rules did not apply to all members equally, prevailed. The constitutional rights of a young athlete were trodden on.

Larry Gough's carefree teenage years were gone.

Had the IAFF informed Larry Gough about his eligibility to enter the competition, as Dr. Blanche Weekes had requested in advance of the event, the history of Irish Fencing would have been much different.


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