The Gaelic Athletic Association has two key roles here in London. It acts primarily as a something familiar to new emigrants but it also represents a marker of identity. We are now no longer just London Irish but connected back to where your family come from. Here James Walsh gives us his view on the matter! 

Growing up in London I always had a keen sense of who I was, and where I came from. I was a Cork man. The accent, the clothes, the culture might have told you differently but it was through the GAA that I could express exactly who I was.#

Although not in the same way as those living in Ireland. To those people, the GAA was in The parishes, the local clubs. For us, the county scene was everything. If your county was lucky enough to be competing in the later stages of the All-Ireland competition you would go wild with excitement, despite being as far removed from the players as you would be from todays premiership footballers. The flip side is that you would be more likely to interact with another second generation kid from the opposition county. You would have far more of an interaction with those who followed the opposition than the kids at ‘home’. So for us, the inter-county scene was more akin to the club scene. You shared a similar experience as your rival….but you still wanted to flake the stuffing out of them for 70 minutes.

“Back home”, these guys were your butcher, your electrician, your car salesman but to us they were just as inaccessible as the football stars of the premier league.  It wasn’t the type of fame that would get you on a red carpet. It might get you a daycent aul wag….or several. It wouldn’t get you a free car……but it would get you a job where you’d get the car.

I took some friends to Croke Park a while back. Before the place had been opened to ‘foreign’ games. Rule 42 had been suspended to allow Lansdowne Road to be rebuilt and rebranded. These lads hadn’t much of an idea about the history and traditions of the GAA. My cockney accent didn’t betray that I did. Our tour guide was a young lady from one of the weaker GAA counties. Full of knowledge……from books and repetition.

Tour guide; So, where are you guys from?

Myself: London

TG; Oh, we are very embarrassed in my home county of Leitrim lost to London last year….

Myself: Listen love, there are more Irish people living in London than there is in Leitrim….you needn’t be embarrassed.

You see, you can tell people about the GAA…..You can show them about the GAA but they’ll never understand. Not unless they live it, breathe it…feel it. To most people that is pride in the jersey, pride in the locale…you get that with soccer. In the GAA, its more than that. Its a stamp of who you are. Association football can’t define you. The GAA can.

Mayo people WILL tell you this is their year

Kerry people WILL tell you they don’t know if its their year….or not.

Cork people WILL tell you they have the ability to win it all

Tyrone people WILL tell you something…you won’t understand it, but they’ll tell you something

This is what they learn in school, this is what they are.

“Hurling….that’s the one like Hockey isn’t it?”…….No….No its not Its like hockey insomuch as its an invasion game played by folk with sticks……there the comparison ends.

Hurling is more like an Indian carpet. Its absolutely perfect in every way…..but for one stitch. Its one error that shows us that perfection is divine and that to err is human. We have a lot more explaining to do, being second generation  GAA fans……but we get it. We really get it.

by James Walsh

Gaelic Athletic Association –https://www.gaa.ie/

London Gaelic Athletic Association – https://www.londongaa.org/

North America GAA – https://usgaa.org/

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