From Liberian shanty town to Westmeath senior football

When Boidu Sayeh arrived in Moate at age eight, playing Gaelic football came naturally

Westmeath senior footballer Boidu Sayeh:  ‘I think by being seen playing the game and talking to people after who might not have been a fan of a black person on the team, you can change minds.’ Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Westmeath senior footballer Boidu Sayeh: ‘I think by being seen playing the game and talking to people after who might not have been a fan of a black person on the team, you can change minds.’ Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

For Boidu Sayeh (23), who came to Ireland from Liberia in 2004, playing Gaelic football was the most natural thing to do.

He was eight years old and living with his father and siblings in the Liberian capital of Monrovia when his uncle Ben, who was married to an Irish woman, Therese, offered to adopt him. His mother had died when he was six and the family was living in “awful conditions, in a shanty town”, he says.

The Liberian civil war was ending and the young Boidu was “excited” at the opportunity to move to Moate, Co Westmeath. His new parents had a daughter, Maireád, already.

“It was a huge culture shock – for me and the school. I was the first fully black person in the primary school. It was a bit scary but everyone was so kind and welcoming and at age eight, kids just play with you.”

He played football because everyone else did. “It was a great way to just be part of the community. I wouldn’t say I was that good but I practised a lot. When I was in sixth class I started to play for a club.”

I’m the kind of person that if I was getting any abuse I’d just kind of zone out and let it brush off me

He was picked for the Westmeath minor football team and is now a member of Jack Cooney’s senior squad.

Asked if he has experienced racism, or anyone questioning his right to play Gaelic football, he says “not particularly”.

“I’m the kind of person, though, that if I was getting any abuse I’d just kind of zone out and let it brush off me. People might say stuff, like call me a ‘black bastard’, but I’ve not had any hardcore racism.

“One of my best friends was playing and a player on the other team did the ‘monkey’ impression. My friend reacted. He went to swing for him. He didn’t connect but he got sent off. He appealed it and won.

“I think by being seen playing the game and talking to people after who might not have been a fan of a black person on the team, you can change minds. Once people see you, see you can do it and get to know you, their view automatically changes. That’s huge. It starts a communication.”

Sayeh will be among those speaking at the Sports Federation of Ireland conference at Dublin City University on Thursday. Its theme is increasing diversity in Irish sport.