The Irish stem cell scientist growing the GAA in Germany
‘The GAA offers a great chance to get involved in the local community, and that is no different on the continent’
Stephen O’Rourke, who is originally from Ballyfermot in Dublin, and now lives in Cologne
Working Abroad Q&A: Stephen O’Rourke, who is originally from Ballyfermot in Dublin, now lives in Cologne where he works at a biotech company and plays GAA
When did you leave Ireland?
I left in 2010 directly after my degree to go to Scotland for further studies. I was back in Ireland shortly after graduation in late 2011, but it wasn’t long before I headed off to Germany to take up a job offer at the beginning of 2012.
Did you study in Ireland?
I studied analytical science at DCU, with my final year project focusing on the synthesis of anti-cancer drugs. This was followed by a Master’s in Glasgow, the year before I left Ireland for Germany. The course, forensic toxicology, was the first of its kind in Europe, so it was great to be part of that and pick up some new skills and experiences.
Tell us about time in Germany so far.
I first came to Dresden to take up a job in science with a small start-up. Even though this was my first time living abroad in a foreign city (I consider Glasgow and its people very similar to us back home), I quickly adapted, even picking up the local dialect of German spoken there.
I bumped into a few Irish lads in the pub, and there and then we got the Dresden GAA sliothar rolling, so to speak. I really enjoyed my time in Dresden and made many friends in the city. In late 2014 I moved north to Hamburg, taking up a job in a University Clinic, in the forensic toxicology lab. Hamburg is the city where I have made life-long friends, and that’s due in large part to the GAA club that we started there.
In 2017 I moved again, this time to Cologne, to take up a job for a biotech start-up involved with stem cells. I also got heavily involved in the GAA, helping the Cologne Celtics grow and recruit more heads.
What does your work involve?
The biotech company I work for specialises in cardiomyocytes (heart cells) derived from stem cells. My role in the commercial department sees me collaborating with colleagues and all stakeholders to promote the products and services for use in drug discovery and development.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are cells of the body which can divide and become other types of cells, such as heart, skin, etc. Where I work we utilise so-called “human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cells”, which in a nutshell means they are cells (for example, from a mouth swab) that have been programmed using genes/proteins to turn them into heart cells.
We train in hurling, camogie, and Gaelic football. Looking for an overseas club? Give Cologne Celtics a shout!
Do you like living in Cologne?
I really do! Cologne is a beautiful city, with friendly locals and expats alike. The quality of life here is one of the best in the world, and there is always something to do. For anyone considering visiting Cologne, the one thing you must do (apart from come by Cologne Celtics GAA training!) is experience the Karneval - an annual event where people dress up and have the craic throughout the city (and the state in general).
Tell us about the GAA in Germany. Where have you been involved?
The GAA offers a great chance to get involved in the local community, and that is no different over here on the continent. I’ve been involved in the GAA abroad ever since I came to Germany, helping to found the clubs in Dresden and Hamburg, as well as helping to revive the club here in the city, Cologne Celtics GAA. I am currently the chairperson of the club, working along with the whole team and other enthusiasts to further build the club and get it and the sports to a wider audience. Along the way I’ve held positions on the GAA European County Board, as well as being a co-founder of the German GAA Federation.
What is the GAA scene like in Germany?
The GAA scene here is, in one word, vibrant. The sports have had a presence stretching back many years, with club numbers continuously growing. Cologne’s women’s and men’s teams play in the European Hurling and Camogie Championships. What is really promising and great to see is that it is not just Irish men and women who play these sports, local Germans and expats alike are critical to the clubs. Darmstadt GAA is one shining example of this - a club with, I think, two Irish players and the rest mostly Germans.
Furthermore, Setanta Berlin GAA Club in the capital and Arnold Morascher, who is Children’s Officer at Hamburg GAA, are doing marvellous work in promoting the games amongst young people at clubs throughout Germany.
Tell us about Cologne Celtics GAA.
The club’s been around for a while, and in the past two years we have made a collective effort to boost the club, by way of recruiting more players and supporters, as well as actively engaging in the community and participating in European competitions. With a nice mix of people, ranging from working professionals to students, we train in hurling, camogie, and Gaelic football twice per week, and have recently become an officially-recognised sport at the University of Cologne, meaning we get to train there and introduce the sports to the students.
Our big aim this year? To attend as many tournaments in Europe as possible. Our club welcomes absolutely everyone, regardless of experience. We’re always looking for supporters and players to get involved. Looking for an overseas club to get behind? Give us a shout! gaelicgameseurope.com/clubs/germany/cologne-celtics-gaa/
Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland? How do you see your future?
I get home often enough actually, so to be honest I don’t get homesick or miss much. Apart from my ma, of course! (I had to say that as she’ll be reading this). I’m very happy here in Germany and feel at home. Would I ever move back to Ireland? I’m sure I will at some stage, but it won’t be any time soon. For now, I’ll continue having the craic, focusing on my career and Cologne Celtics GAA, and seeing what the future holds.
If you work in an interesting career overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a little information about you and what you do.