These don't have to be just 'our games' - anyone can play
On Gaelic Games:Maybe it sounded a bit fanciful but GAA President Liam O’Neill’s speech to the GPA dinner in New York last Thursday hit on what may well turn out to be one of the most radical developments in the association’s history.
The target that there may eventually be more people playing Gaelic games outside of Ireland than at home is fairly aspirational at the moment: current figures show a disparity of 16,000 to 250,000 (or a ratio of about 16:1).
But the vision encompasses a major departure for the GAA – a playing membership that would have to become less Irish and more international, as local populations in the overseas territories became more involved and blood lines to Ireland dilute.
As O’Neill acknowledged: “It’s no longer about the emigrant going abroad and growing up in the GAA. It’s about the emigrant who has gone abroad whose child is now playing games. That’s where the growth is going to be.”
Writing in an essay collection to mark the GAA’s 125th anniversary in 2009, UUJ’s Dr Paul Darby, who played championship football with Antrim and is the author of Gaelic Games, Nationalism and the Irish Diaspora in the United States, remarks:
“Many feel the future of the GAA in the US will be predicated on reaching out to young people, not necessarily of Irish descent, born in America. As a consequence, considerable energies are being invested in youth programmes and competitions aimed at building a sound grassroots for both football and hurling.
“For those involved in this process it means selling the ludic and aesthetic qualities of Gaelic football and hurling to a broader constituency rather than packaging or promoting them as a resource for the expression of Irish national identity, as was the case in the past.”
Talking to Larry McCarthy, from Cork and a long-time administrator for the GAA in New York, at last Saturday’s All Star match in Gaelic Park it was striking how the familiar themes of Gaelic games had transposed from the parishes of home to the world’s uber-metropolis.
Even though acquiring property is far more challenging that at home, the local GAA are slowly developing an infrastructure, which caters for much the same needs as in Ireland – community focus and thriving juvenile sections.
For a long time, Gaelic Park in the Bronx fitted with a particular version of the diaspora experience: sentimental attachment to the old country spiked with resentment at forced economic exile.
There was also in decades gone by the squabbling between the New York board and Croke Park and the disjunction between it and the rest of the North American GAA, still reflected in the current association structures.