The greatest day in Croke Park‘s yearly calendar has once again arrived. 82000 seats are filled with either people dressed in the colours of their respective county, and today green and red represent county Mayo, or dark and light blue represent the boys of county Dublin. It’s now halftime in the GAA All Ireland (Gaelic) Football final. 35 minutes have passed and if the pace is anything to go by, the 30 players on the pitch need as badly a break as I do.
If you never witnessed true passion, partisanship and a fan base as devoted as the players themselves, then I propose you forget about soccer for a short while and submerge yourself in Gaelic Football and Hurling. I deliberately start both sports with a capital letter as they are truly herculean unknown to those that have never immersed themselves in Irish culture and history. In my opinion, they speak to the way Irish people simply are, they are the Irish psyche and they’re in the Irish psyche.
For those who are unaware, GAA stands for Gaelic Athletic Association and is steeped in history, good and bad. The association is the largest Irish and international amateur sporting and cultural organisation, devoted to the promotion of traditional Irish sports. These include Gaelic football, hurling, camogie, rounders and handball. Not only does the GAA stand for all this, they also promote Irish music, dance and the Irish language.
The association is an important part of the fabric of Irish life and has been so since 1877. Although some sort of football/soccer was already played in the 14th century in Ireland, by the 19th century it had become quite popular. Hibernian lovers know all too well the impact the British crown had on Ireland. Often banned by the then British ruling classes, the Irish – needlessly – sought to keep on playing it… ye little rebels ye! I love it!
About a decade and a half before the GAA came to be, rugby took on in Ireland also, and was, in fact, one of the first countries where it became popular after it was born in England. Parts of rugby play found its way into Gaelic football but the Irish would not have been Irish if they would have been happy by this move. They wanted to keep Gaelic football as Irish as possible, which meant that English play could not be part of it.
Where a country is invaded by foreign forces, in this case, an almost 700 year-long invasion, politics is permeated into every millimetre of life. As such, a Gaelic football game at Croke Park was attacked by British forces on Bloody Sunday (November 21st) in 1920. The Anglo-Irish war was halfway breaking point; 14 Irish people were killed, 14 British and 3 republican prisoners, and 65 were injured during the game in an RUC retaliation to the IRA murders of the Cairo Gang.
You can, therefore, understand – given the nature of the British rule and domination over Irish culture – how important Gaelic football, as well as other Irish sports, were and still are to people in Ireland. Croke Park in itself, where GAA games are played during the summer months, is partially built with the rubble of what was left of the Easter Rising in 1916 and is now called Hill 16. This is how important the Irish mindset was when building and creating a home for its native sports.
(In the meantime, please allow me to do another lap of honour around my couch as Dublin just won the final!)
In the end, my blog post will never do justice to what the GAA is and what it means to people like myself who arrived way after we first set foot on this planet. Right now, I am just ecstatic and so happy for Dublin and its county!
My love is for Ireland itself, its nature; its history and culture – though ridden with heartache and war; its music and its people in general. They are rebellious in a good way, they laugh when they really mean to and they’ll tell you when they have something on their mind.
What I love about GAA games is that kind of rebellion, and the hunger and passion children grow up with today for their native sports. Remember Winston Churchill once said that “We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English.” A wonderful lack of respect for anything British almost. And whereas babies in Belgium are born with a bicycle between their legs, Irish babies enter this world with either a hurling stick or a ball in their hands.
While rugby was and still is my biggest love of Irish played sports, GAA games are a very, very close second. I prefer Gaelic football over hurling, although hurling is even more spectacular. Today the senior Dublin football team won, and despite what my friends think of me for always wanting them to win, I can now boast to them again that the Dubs won their second All Ireland final in three years.
Not bad for a bunch of hardy, strong, fast and utterly delightful players, right?
© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2013. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.