Spain, William (1865–p. 1920?), hurler and Gaelic footballer, was born 4 September 1865 in Moanfin, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, youngest son among four sons and six daughters of William Spain, farmer, from Moanfin, and Mary Spain (née Ryan), originally from Oatfield, Templederry, Co. Tipperary. After school, Spain was apprenticed as a draper's assistant in Todd's in Limerick city. He is the first man in GAA history to win an All-Ireland winner's medal in both hurling and football. In 1888 he helped Limerick Commercials win the first-ever All-Ireland Gaelic football championship at Clonskeagh, Dublin, on 29 April 1888 (it was the 1887 championship), when they beat the Louth team Dundalk Young Irelanders. Commercials had beaten Dowdstown (Meath), Kilmacow (Kilkenny), and Templemore (Tipperary) to reach the final. They were trailing by 0–3 to 0–1 in the final with twelve minutes to go when Spain scored a vital goal and the Limerick team tagged on three more points to win by 1–4 to 0–3. According to a contemporary report Spain ‘blinded the Dundalk goal-keeper and backs in . . . an extraordinary manner when he scored the goal’ (Sport, 5 May 1888).
The GAA council rejected a subsequent appeal by the Dundalk side that Spain was not eligible to play for Commercials. Afterwards Spain moved to work for Todd Burns drapery in Dublin, and some nineteen months later he scored three goals for the Dublin Kickhams’ team that beat Tulla of Clare by 5–1 to 1–6 in the 1889 All-Ireland hurling final at Inchicore, Dublin, on 3 November 1889. An indicator of the haphazard organisation of the early All-Ireland championships is that the Sport newspaper only got official word that the final was on that Sunday as the Saturday edition was going to print. Spain emigrated to New York in April 1890 and was last heard of in a sporting sense playing in a Gaelic football exhibition match in Madison Square Garden, when he scored 2–5 for the New York GFC.
Settling in New York, he later became a highly successful silk merchant, and was wealthy enough to send home money to enable the Spain family to purchase a motor car. He was also reputedly heavily involved in helping Irish emigrants in New York. Little else is known about his life. Family sources suggest, however, that a son died in his early twenties while a student at Fordham University, New York.