Saturday, July 15, 2017

GAA thriving in the USA

The Great Hunger memorial at Rockland GAC
Rita O Hare says she doesn't understand sports. "A load of balls" says she in a dismissive tone when the subject comes up. So, she didn't really show any interest when I tried to keep up with the Lions versus the All Blacks as we departed from Dublin Airport for the USA last Saturday morning. Later when we got to our hotel, The Time NYACK in Rockland county in the Hudson River Valley, she feigned complete disinterest in my efforts to keep track of the hurling and football Championship play offs back home. 
Me? I was keeping my commitment to Claire Kerraine to support Roscommon against Galway in the Connacht Football Final. I’m a big fan of Galway but given that they are doing so well with the hurling I succumbed to Claire's faith in her heroes and opted for the Rossies. And I'm glad I did. What a win! 
And then the hurling thriller at Thurles when Waterford and Kilkenny were neck to neck at half time. The Déise went on to victory in extra time. What a game! Same buzz on Sunday when Cork overpowered Clare. I like Clare hurling but the Rebel county out hurled them. I followed all these games on social media in upstate New York. Rita was oblivious to it all. 
But even she was impressed when we got to Rockland Gaelic Athletic Club's grand opening of their new club rooms. They are situated in the rural green rolling countryside of Pearl River and Orangeburg, an hour plus outside New York City. The club is a hub for the Gaeldom in that community. It has been years in the planning and two years in construction. It began with some of the club members putting up their homes as collateral for the loan needed to begin work. In April 2015, the construction began and just over two years later the clubhouse has been completed. On the upper floor of this two-storey building is a large community hall which spreads out into a canopied pavilion. From there you have a clear view across the upper and lower pitches. The clubrooms include locker rooms, showers and all of the facilities you would expect in a modern GAA club for players and members alike.
I was in Pearl River before. At the Saint Patrick's Day Parade many moons ago. Another memorable occasion. I was the guest of the late Congress Member Ben Gilman. This time I was the guest of Cormach Murrihy, his wife Vivian and their children Cain and Caoimhe. Cormach is a stalwart Gael and upright citizen from that parish. The new club rooms would grace any Gaelic grounds anywhere. Facing on to the playing field the seated area was bunged with Gaels of all shapes and sizes. A live band pumped out Irish ballads. County geansais (jerseys) competed also in the jersey stakes. O Neill tops were omnipresent. And there were children everywhere. Camógs and footballers swarmed in perpetual games on the pitch. Junior teams vied with one and other. The craic was ninety. The warm July sun shone brightly over us all from a clear blue sky.
GAA Aogán Ó Fearghaíl was there to do the official opening. He had flown in from Argentina where he assured us Gaelic games are thriving. He too was impressed by Rockland GAC. The new facilities there are a tribute to the spirit of volunteerism and community that is the essence of An Cumann Luthcleas Ghael. I spoke to many of the Club Officers all of who gave credit to Brian Pearson who ramrodded the building of the club rooms. The Woods brothers played their part also so did Mick Healy. And big Jimmy O’Sullivan who literally poured the foundations. His father taught him all he knows.  They could rebuild Casement Park on their own. Founding member John Cawley started the whole thing off a long time ago. Hard work, commitment, perseverance and vision paid off. Everyone deserves credit. From Committee members to builders, mentors, players, those who maintain the pitches and mark it out.
Vincent Tyer was delighted with the huge turn out and the excitement of it all. And Vince had another surprise for me. He presented me with a proclamation   designating July 9th in Orangetown, where the Rockland County GAC is situated, as Gerry Adams Day. It was a great honour. I bumped into old friends at every turn. Mattie Reilly and his family. Mike McGinley and his clann. Thirty former footballing All Stars had flown in from Ireland to play a special game on Sunday evening. They included Peter Canavan, Oisín McConville, Paddy Bradley and Graham Geraghty. There were players from Derry, Monaghan, Tyrone, Armagh, Down and Donegal, from Wexford and Meath and Kilkenny, from Sligo and Mayo and Galway and Cork. A warm go raibh maith agaibh to Paul Rowley and Marty McKenna who showed me around the Clubrooms and to Georgina Boyle the architect.
With Jimmy Snr and Jimmy Jnr O'Sullivan
Someone had heard of my prowess and success as a leading competitor in the west Belfast Féile an Phobail Poc Fada and press ganged me into their Poc Fada contest. Me against All Stars, Cork’s Seán Óg O’hAlpáin and Martin and Andy Comerford from Kilkenny. Between us we had twelve All Ireland medals. Jimmy O Flynn and Kevin McKay joined us. One of them, a Carnlough man won the Poc Fada. I softened the opposition up for him. Antroim Abú. 
All in all it was a great weekend. The GAA at its best. The Diaspora united in its vibrant brightest colours. Hot wired into our culture and Gaelic games. Connected to home. Patriots all. 
Rita relented at the end. 
'But that's more than sport' she said 'It’s part of what we are'. 
Rita is right. As usual. 

Mise agus Cormach with Joseph Smith and Vincent Tyer behind

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