How a GAA club sprang up in east Belfast over Sunday breakfast

Dave McGreevy had no idea what was to follow when he sent out a Tweet from his kitchen table

Dave McGreevy: ‘That’s the only non-negotiable we have. It’s cross-community and that’s it.’ Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Dave McGreevy: ‘That’s the only non-negotiable we have. It’s cross-community and that’s it.’ Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Dave McGreevy was halfway through his Bran Flakes last Sunday morning when he set up a GAA club in east Belfast by mistake. He was watching Andrew Marr interview Dominic Raab and so stultifying did he find it all that his mind wandered over and picked up the thread of a conversation he’d had with his friend Richard Maguire a week or two earlier. What would it be like to try and set up a GAA club in one of the least GAA areas of the island?

So he got out his phone and set up a new Twitter account, @EastBelfastGAA. For the profile picture, he chose the famous Harland and Wolff cranes. And at 9.15am on a nothing Sunday morning at the end of May, he tied a boulder to his ankles and threw it off a cliff.

“A new GAA club for east Belfast, if you’re interested in playing, coaching or admin (More than likely all 3!) All ages, genders and backgrounds welcome. Please email EastBelfastGAA@gmail.com to register”.

“Within half an hour, the response was crazy,” he says. “I got onto Tricky [Maguire] and said this has exploded here. My phone hasn’t stopped. It seems to have grabbed people’s imagination, or at least their attention. We thought we might get enough for an under-12 boys’ team. But at this rate, it looks like we’re going to have a men’s team, a ladies’ football team, a hurling team and hopefully a camogie team.

“Down GAA have been a big help. They’ve said they’re going to enter us into the junior championship this year, the men’s team. Ulster and Antrim have been onto us as well. They’re talking about getting us coaching, sending them out to the schools. I would say that 80 per cent of the people who have said they want to be a part of this have never been involved with a GAA club before. That’s huge that kind of stuff.”

The club has one founding principle – it will be cross-community, open to any and all who feel they’d like to get involved. McGreevy played for London for seven years – he was corner back on the team that made the Connacht final in 2013 and has since returned to Belfast to work in recruitment. He and Maguire play club rugby for Instonians but come from GAA backgrounds as well.

East Belfast has been a GAA wasteland for close on 50 years. There was a club in the area called St Colmcille’s up until the early 1970s but it folded after the father of one of the players was killed in a pipe bomb attack. Setting up a club in a community where not only has the GAA had no presence but where some regard it as an actively malign force is going to be delicate. Their stated intention is that it will be for all traditions or it will be for nobody.

“That’s the only non-negotiable we have. It’s cross-community and that’s it. That’s how we’re going to do this here thing. Straight away, different integrated primary schools in east Belfast have got in touch and they want to set up a link with us. They’ve got in touch and said, ‘Right, we really see the value in this and we want to be part of it. You believe in the same values as we do so let’s do it’.”

“Richard has worked with Linda Irvine [the Irish language campaigner, sister in law of former Unionist politician David Ervine]. She actually sent me a message 10 minutes after I put up the Tweet, just saying congratulations on the new endeavour. So on Monday, we asked her would she be the club president. She was over the moon about it. She asked what work it would entail and we said, ‘Look, in the GAA, the club president doesn’t really do a whole pile!’

“The likes of Linda getting involved hopefully shows that we’re serious about it being cross-community. The very fact that we’re setting up in east Belfast will show that too. It’s looking at the moment like we’re going to be using Malone rugby’s grounds. We’re meant to be meeting with Belfast city council to discuss facilities and pitches.

“However, Malone have already approached us and said, ‘Use our pitches, use our clubhouse’. Malone rugby club are based on Cregagh Road. Now, Cregagh Road would be the last place you would find a GAA club. We could have gone and set up anywhere else but it looks like we’re going to be setting up exactly where we want to be to show we’re serious about it.”

By midweek, they had upwards of 100 people signed up. For McGreevy, the enthusiasm has done two things above all. First, it has changed his perceptions of east Belfast and sparked his determination for the road ahead, however rocky it might be. Second, it meant he had to leave his home club, Teconnaught.

“I’m the minor manager for my home club! We were just sitting there on Monday and I was going, ‘Here, I have to tell the chairman I’m leaving to set up a new club’. I rang him on Monday night and said, ‘Look, I don’t really know how this has happened but I’m setting up a GAA club in east Belfast. I didn’t really intend for it to snowball like this but it has’. And he was so encouraging, so helpful, offering me advice. Usually, you don’t get so much positivity when you’re leaving a club.”

He must be doing something right, so.

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