Sense of 'pride and identity' sets GAA apart


WHAT DIFFERENTIATES Gaelic games and the GAA from other sports such as soccer is the understanding of “player and place” and a unique sense of “pride and identity”, it was claimed at the Parnell summer school in Co Wicklow.

Addressing the school, which this year is considering the theme of leisure and recreation in Ireland, GAA president Christy Cooney said although club teams had initially represented their counties on the All-Ireland circuit, the idea of structures based on existing county boundaries, “brought a whole new meaning to the lines that dissected the map of Ireland.”

The move had created “a new sense of pride and identity that is part of our uniqueness today”, he said.

“The games provided our men – the fittest and strongest in our communities – with a properly organised vehicle to assert their masculinity and competitive streak in a sporting setting,” he added.

Mr Cooney’s comments on the association of player and place were echoed by the sociologist Dr Niamh Hourigan of UCC who said the choice of which team to support in soccer was “optional”.

But she said as a Limerick person moving to Cork she would always feel and be known as a Limerick supporter.

Donal McAnallen, of the Ó Fiaich Memorial Library, Armagh, said the combination of Irish nationalism and sport contributed to the sense of identity and this was underpinned by pride in the voluntary nature of the organisation.

“There was nothing in it for those who did it, except perhaps for the satisfaction of making a contribution to their community,” he said.

UCD professor of sociology Tom Inglis said the GAA had contributed to the way in which sport had become the “language of the community”. He said it used to be that to be a good member of your community you had to be a good member of a church. But he said now, by being a good member of the GAA, “you have honour, dignity and respect”.

Sport, not religion, was what opened discourse among people and was the “social oil” of society. The GAA, he said, was what made the Irish different and set them apart from cultural globalisation.

Personally, he said he must be forgiven as he was “from the wrong side of the tracks” and “did not get the faith” as he had been educated at a south Dublin rugby school. But he said he was fascinated by Irish society and he asked if the GAA was “the last bastion of what makes Ireland different”.

Prof Inglis added: “In the 1970s we all thought we were going to end up drinking Bud and playing baseball because of the influence of television.” But he said this did not happen as the identification with the GAA was the stronger. “To survive in a globalised world you need a strong sense of culture; in a world of sameness you need difference.”

However, Wicklow county councillor Jimmy O’Shaughnessy said communities were losing touch with hurling, and more needed to be done to encourage pride and enthusiasm in national schools – he suggested at least a one-hour lesson per week.

GAA president Christy Cooney suggested in response: “You could encourage Mick O’Dwyer to proclaim Wicklow as a hurling county to promote it.”