A GAA club in Uganda has issued an appeal to Irish clubs for second-hand helmets, boots, football gloves and jerseys for dozens of local schoolchildren who have fallen in love with hurling and football.
The club was founded by friends Moses Amanyire and Robert Bazake after coming across videos of matches on YouTube and TikTok in 2019. They then started watching matches on the GAAGO app using a subscription gifted to them by the GAA for the 2022 season.
The club is currently waiting for over 100 hurls and sliotars which will be distributed by the Irish Embassy in Uganda once an ongoing Ebola outbreak in Kampala is contained. The equipment was sent to them by Co Meath company Cultec after its owners saw the children on Instagram playing with makeshift hurls and tennis balls.
“There was a lot of logistics involved in getting 100 hurls from Meath to Uganda,” said Deirdre Donohoe, who runs Cultec with her husband, John, outside Navan. “But between us, the club, the GAA, the Irish Embassy, a travel agent – Simba travel – and John Walsh of the Irish Society in Uganda we managed to get the stock over to them safely and it’s being stored in the Embassy until such a time when it’s safe to distribute.
“They were making some of the hurls from mahogany, which is a weapon altogether,” she says, adding that the synthetic material Cultec uses for its hurls is more suited to the hot climate than traditional ash.
PE teacher Amanyire says that after seeing videos of hurling he and Bazake wanted to establish if hurling was indeed the fastest sport on grass.
“The GAA football struck us as fascinating as it seemed to combine all elements of soccer, handball and volleyball, which was amazing. We play all those individual sports anyway, so thought it would be great to introduce the Irish football and the kids love it,” he said..
“And the sport has such a rich culture and heritage. Hurling is the most loved here. The boys love it and we can see them putting in so much hard work and dedication already.”
Walsh says the children seem to have embraced hurling because it is unlike any other sport they’ve ever seen. “This club started organically and will continue to do so,” said the economics lecturer from Galway. “I’ve just come on board for guidance, in training tips, and helping with logistics when we are lucky enough to have donations of equipment if needed, and to help them get more equipment.”
Walsh says there was no Irish involvement in the club for two years until they got in touch with the GAA. “They don’t have a full GAA handbook. If you can imagine from watching TikTok and YouTube videos, they had snapshots of the rules and guidelines of both hurling and Gaelic football. But in true Irish spiirt, gave it a lash and began making hurls themselves.
“For example, they thought you threw the ball in football instead of hand passing and didn’t realise you can hit a sliotar along the ground. They thought from videos that you had to pick it up all the time. As the most popular videos on social media are all fast and fancy stuff, it took a while and a little bit of guidance to get some videos on basic skills.
“The handmade hurls were good and thick, made from mvule and even mahogany, and they used tennis balls initially. The kids love it.
“The GAA were kind enough to give them a subscription to watch the GAA matches and they watched a game every Sunday. Watching hurling though had their heads in a spin. They couldn’t quite get to grips with the speed of the game,” he says.
“There are now three, four schools now with about 120 kids involved but schools here are under-resourced. We are aiming to stage a blitz ahead of St Patrick’s Day with four teams. We are aiming to have two girls teams as we feel it’s important to push gender parity. It is something that all involved are keen to have at the centre of the club,” adds Walsh.
“You rarely see girls participating in team sports in Uganda and we can’t fix that overnight, but we are determined to do our bit to include girls in the club and ensure that all children are seen as equals.”
He said they desperately needed helmets as they currently only have 15 so can only play seven-a-side. “Any helmet that is donated will get a second life with a new personalised makeover. This will be a combination of the children painting helmets, and some local Ugandan street artists who can show off their artistic skills to a wider audience.”
He also appealed for companies who wished to sponsor the players to come forward.
The club can be contacted on Instagram at @officialugandagaa