‘GAA teams abroad deserve to be taken seriously’
As London prepare to take on Mayo in the Connacht final tomorrow, Frances Harkin analyses the importance of the game to emigrants
All roads lead to Castlebar this Sunday as London take on mighty Mayo in an eagerly awaited Connacht final.
The success of the London Gaelic footballers this year has been a great source of pride for the Irish in London, Britain and further afield as many Irish living abroad have come to identify with the Exiles. London GAA supporters will be out in force at the weekend with many travelling over to Castlebar for the big match, whilst others will be cheering on the boys in green and white in homes and pubs across Ireland, Britain and the globe.
The London team is largely made up of young Irish emigrants to Britain and therefore many Irish counties will be represented on the field at McHale Park this Sunday with players such as Seamus Hannon from Co Longford, Barry Mitchell from Co Laois, Lloyd Colfer from Co Wexford and David McGreevy from Co Down lining out for London.
As outlined elsewhere, the decision to leave Ireland is a necessity for many Irish people both young and old, rather than a “lifestyle choice”. Many of those living in London are there because of the lack of employment opportunities in Ireland, and this is no different for members of the GAA in London including the London Gaelic footballers.
The ability to play and support Gaelic games is a bonus for these emigrants rather than their primary objective for living locations such as London. As James Ryan from the Abu Dhabi Na Fianna GAA club in the United Arab Emirates said, “the GAA offers a sense of identity to the Irish living abroad. Ireland is never too far away as long as you have a football or a hurley”. Supporting diaspora county and clubs teams such as the London Gaelic footballers also provides emigrants with a dual connection with “home” and the local London Irish community. It creates a sense of continuity between their life in Ireland and their experience of living in London.
Originally from Co Donegal, Fiona Campbell has been living in London for the past three years and plays Gaelic football with the Tir Chonaill Gaels Ladies team. “Supporting the London county team helps me keep in touch with what I love and one of the things I miss most about home,” she says. “It also helps to get involved in the Irish community and support the boys who put so much time and effort into the London GAA scene.”
The level of commitment and dedication that members give to the GAA in London is often underestimated in Ireland. However, the success of the London Gaelic footballers in this year’s Connacht Championship has shown just how serious Paul Coggins and the players are taking their campaign; they will be at McHale Park this Sunday to play a strong game and not just to make up the numbers.
Kevin Kelly is the general manager of GAA Sports and Social club at Ruislip and chairman of Club London, the London GAA supporters club. He has witnessed first-hand the immense efforts put in by the London players since last November and is very proud of their success. “I would really like 2013 to be remembered as the year London laid down the marker and when it was no longer taken as a team made up of a few boys that had left home for work in the English capital,” he said.
“I would appeal to the exiles and their families that have returned home to Ireland, to get in their cars next Sunday and head for Castlebar in Co Mayo and give back to London what they truly deserve. Hopefully you can say you were there in McHale Park the day that London won their first ever Connacht Football Final. You can’t beat being there.”
The success of the London team has been a big boost for the Irish community in London with figures such as Mayor of London Boris Johnston and Labour MP Sadiq Khan sending their support for their meeting with Mayo.
Kevin Kelly has seen the membership of Club London grow at an accelerated rate recently, with over 100 new members in the last few weeks alone. An official anthem for the London team “Londain Calling” which is a re-working of the Clash’s hit has also been released by The Ginger Melodeon Experience, a group which included members from various local Irish bands including The Biblecode Sundays amongst others.
It is heartening to see to the Irish community in London get behind their adopted county team and this has generated a strong community spirit amongst the Irish in London. As Ronan McManus, a member of London Irish band The Biblecode Sunday said, “the GAA represents something uniquely Irish here in London, and for a London team to be doing so well it brings an immense sense of pride”.
“They are so passionate about the sport down in Ruislip and it is fantastic to see all their hard work finally paying off,” he continued.
Support for the London Gaelic footballers extends beyond Britain as Irish men and women living as far afield as New York have embraced London as representative of Irish emigrants the world over.
“London’s meteoric rise to the Connaught Final is not just a validation of the excellent work being done by the Gaels of London but also of the work being done by Gaels worldwide to promote our games. From the playing fields of Manhattan to Sydney and from Dubai to Rome, the value of promoting our game throughout the globe cannot be underestimated,” said Ryan Canavan, a member of the Manhattan Gaels club in New York City.
Seeing London in the Connacht Final will also be a great opportunity to showcase the London GAA scene as well as the wider Irish diaspora community in London and further afield. Whether London wins or loses the match on Sunday, one thing is for certain they can hold their heads up high as they walk of the pitch at McHale Park. Their on-field successes this year have shown that the Irish abroad can still play a good game of Gaelic football and deserve to be taken seriously.”
In The Irish Times today, Malachy Clerkin spends a day with London’s centre-back Shane Mulligan as the team prepares for the final, and Ian O’Riordan preview’s the match.
Frances Harkin is researching the role of sport for the Irish diaspora in London as part of her PhD research at Queen’s University, Belfast. She has written a previous piece for Generation Emigration on Retaining a connection with home through the GAA, and contributed to Ciara Kenny’s feature, GAA: the social network for emigrants.