While we’re all social distancing (or we should be!!) during the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought I would look at the GAA at home and abroad and look at the unique stories that each GAA club has. Maybe it might be a time to educate your own club. Talk about your history and start a discussion about what it really means to be a part of your GAA club. When we give our introductions during the Experience Gaelic Games sessions, we try to give an indication to our visitors that each club has its own unique story. And they do! From the logo of Na Piarsaigh to the first all-African GAA team in the world, each club has a unique story that we want to hear!
This idea came about when I was looking at the spread of the corona virus worldwide. It got me thinking about the spread of the GAA globally. While it hasn’t quite spread as quickly as the corona virus (only lagging about 3,000 years behind), it is steadily growing, so much so that there is probably a team near your hometown which you can join today! The GAA like the virus is infectious. If one person gets it, they usually spread it to their friends at a rapid rate.
As we said, each GAA club has their own story. I will give two of these stories from our own Experience Gaelic Games locations. These are of Na Piarsaigh in Cork and Naomh Galls in Belfast.
For Na Piarsaigh, their logo is the symbolic red hand of Ulster with severed thumb. The red hand represents the island that is Ireland, the severed thumb the six northern counties still under foreign rule. Legend is that when Ireland is reunited the thumb will re-join the fingers to create a strong, useful hand.
For Naomh Galls, they are adjacent to Milltown Cemetery. This is a cemetery seeped in historic significance. A number of Ireland’s most famous sons have been buried here, including Bobby Sands, the leader of the 1981 hunger strike in which Irish Republican prisoners protested against the removal of Special Category status. Gerry and Guiseppe Conlon are also buried here, two people wrongly convicted of being IRA bombers. The movie ‘In the Name of the Father’ was made to tell their story. Also, their clubhouse is built with the period of the Troubles in mind, with narrow windows etc.
The GAA Abroad
The first GAA clubs abroad were in Britain and the US in the 19th century. Mainly Irish emigrants brought the GAA gospel abroad with them. For the life of me, and despite a large amount of research, I can’t seem to find which was the first club set-up outside of Ireland. Notwithstanding that, there are now 439 GAA clubs outside the island of Ireland.
This number is steadily increasing, so much so that 20% of GAA clubs worldwide are now outside of Ireland. The common denominator with each club is a home away from home. In the words of the great philosopher Conor Kelly (could be wrong on that one); ‘Níl Aon Tinteán Mar Do Thinteán Féin’. For our non-Irish guests, this translates to; ‘there’s no place like home’! GAA clubs are like homes, they’re the lifeblood of the community and they’re a social hub which glues the different personalities together towards achieving the same goal. This is the goal of having the craic!
Much like the story of some of our Experience Gaelic Games locations, clubs abroad are no different in their unique foundation and stories. I thought I would share some of these stories with you, and maybe point you in the direction of your nearest club abroad.
Oulu Irish Elks
There is a club in Finland called the Oulu Irish Elks GAA club which is based in the Artic Circle. What a picturesque location that must be! Imagine the scene. You have collected a short kick out, taken on the attacker, sold him/her with a dummy, taken it past the midfield and hit a shot with the outside of the boot from 55 yards which sailed over the bar. The crowd is unduly quiet, nobody seems to be up on their feet cheering after you have kicked the greatest GAA point ever seen in the Raati Stadium. You strut off, unaware of why you aren’t the local hero and look up …. The Northern Lights are there in all their beauty. Of course! Hopefully they got the score on video …
South African Gaels
Another club abroad which won the heart of the nation when they visited was South African Gaels, who were founded in 2010. They became the first all-African GAA team. They have gone from strength to strength since, gracing the fields of Croke Park during the 2019 GAA World Games. ‘I’ve played soccer, I’ve played Australian football but definitely, there’s no sport like Gaelic football. The amount of physicality and the athleticism mean it’s a terrific sport to play’, said one of their players.
Sports Club Luxembourg
The oldest club on the European mainland is Sports Club Luxembourg, having been established in 1978. Some of its members travel 2 hours to training and have undertaken countless long journeys to matches throughout Europe and abroad. And if you ask them, I’m sure they wouldn’t have it any other way! Always in good spirits and always with a smile on their faces, this club has connected many different cultures/nationalities/counties etc. under the one roof.
Vienna and Paris Gaels
And finally, our last two clubs in this blog are Vienna and Paris Gaels. These clubs contain some great friends of our own CLG Na Fianna. They have gone from strength to strength with blossoming underage and senior teams. Again, the key goal is to have the craic, meet new people and create a home away from home for people who have left our shores!
Start The Discussion Now
Now, hopefully we can get a discussion going about the various GAA clubs. This will give them a chance to show why they were started up, the history behind the club/logo etc. and their proudest moment as part of the GAA so far! Don’t be shy! Comment below or reply to us with your own unique stories!