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Welcome Back, Tyrone!

A valiant effort by Tyrone (in the green, orange, and white.

A valiant effort by Tyrone (in the green, orange, and white.

There’s a new team in town.

For the first time in seven years, the Philadelphia Gaelic Athletic Association football lineup will include Tyrone, a club that was premier in the city since 1949 but, like other Gaelic clubs, struggled with the loss of players—immigrants who returned home—and the pressures of fundraising and time, the two plagues of every volunteer group.

Tyrone’s first match against the Kevin Barrys on Thursday night, under storm-darkened skies at Cardinal Dougherty High School in Olney, wasn’t the best of debuts. The seasoned Barrys controlled the ball the entire game and, at least on the Tyrone sidelines, no one even bothered to keep a score. It was a rout.

But, as coach Aidan Trainor told the crestfallen team at half-time, “You can’t lose heart. “

Trainor didn’t. Nor did his brothers, Sean and Joe, who, with Peter McDermott and Noel Coyle, resurrected the team this year, basically appropriating the National Junior C champions, the Eire Ogs, to form the new team. “It’s all for the love of the red hand of Tyrone,” said McDermott, referring to the red hand that appears on the Tyrone flag. The upright hand honors Eoghain O’Neill, high King of Ulster, who, in a sea race to claim his land, took the rules literally. The first to lay a hand on the land was its king, so O’Neill cut off his hand and threw it to shore. There are those who will tell you that that exemplifies the Tyrone spirit: They’ll do whatever it takes.

That offers some hope for the season which starts now at Cardinal Dougherty and may end at the GAA’s new field in Limerick. “One of the fields is finished,” said Sean Trainor, “but we have some work to do on the parking lot.”

Also in the hope department: The reinforcements have yet to arrive, but the Irish players who spend their summers in Philadelphia just to play football in the heat and humidity are on their way. There are fewer Irish accents on the field before they arrive; many of the players these days are Irish-American (some not even Irish) who made their way through the vibrant local GAA youth clubs. It’s not easy getting even visiting players, says Sean Trainor. “Not when air fares are $1,000. But some of the players are willing to pay their own fare.” They’re that motivated.

Peter McDermott wasn’t concerned that the Tyrone team’s first effort on the field wasn’t the best. That, he said, is yet to come. “They were playing a senior team and it’s good for them,” he pointed out. “That’s how you learn, you know.”

Check out our photos of the action.

On Thursday, May 30, the Young Irelands will meet the St. Patricks on the Dougherty fields, 6301 N. Second Street, in Philadelphia, starting at 6:30 PM.

News, Sports

Irish Heritage Night at PPL Park

Local GAA Youth footballers escorted the players onto the field.

Local GAA Youth footballers escorted the players onto the field.

Last Wednesday, it was Irish Heritage Night at PPL Park in Chester, home of the Philadelphia Union soccer club, and the place was packed to watch the Union square off against  Los Angeles Galaxy (sadly, the Union lost 4-1). There was an Irish connection to the game in more than just the stands too–the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane is the all-time record Irish goalscorer for the Irish national football team. While in the city, Keane met up with members of the Irish Memorial (and has his photo taken there). Proceeds from the ticket sales to the game will go to help maintain the memorial, overlooking Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia.

Check out our photo essay, done by photographer Gwyneth MacArthur.


This Is Your Brain on Philadelphia Hurling

Hurling on ThingLInk.

Hurling on ThingLInk.

If you’ve never watched the ancient Irish game of hurling, it can be a lot to take in. It’s described as the fastest moving field game in all sports. That might just be the Irish saying so, but still … catch a game, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue.

At its simplest, hurling is about using a flat-bladed bat (the hurley) to slam a small ball called a sliotar (pronounced “slitter”) past a goaltender. But of course, it’s never that simple.

To get to the point where you can actually attempt a goal, you just might need to run at breakneck speed down the field, balancing the ball on the end of the bat, through heavy traffic, and trying not to allow your hurley-slinging opponents to confuse your head with the ball. Think Harry Potter’s quidditch, but without the brooms.

So we could keep on telling you, but we thought it would be better to just break down and show you. Roll your cursor over the interactive photo below, and you’ll see what we’re talking about. And thanks to the Na Tóraidhe Hurling Club for posing.

Na Toraidhe hurlers in motion

Na Toraidhe hurlers in motion

Kieran Donahue, public relations officer for the Na Tóraidhe (na TOR-ig) Hurling Club, is still breathing heavily as he comes off the Northeast High School soccer field. Donahue’s a young guy, as are the dozen or so teammates who are taking a break during a practice game. They’re prepping for the beginning of the Philadelphia Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) season, just around the corner. It’s a game played at breakneck speed, but he recovers quickly, and you can tell that it’s with some pride that he talks about the team, its devoted players, and the future of hurling in Philly.

There was a time in Philly’s GAA past when putting together a hurling team was not such an issue, given the vast numbers of Irish who moved to America in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Those times are gone, but Donahue is hopeful that Na Tóraidhe will grow and prosper.

“There are five Irish guys on the team, and all the rest were born here,” says coach Kieran Donahue. “We seem to be attracting local guys. This year, we have two new guys who are really adding to the team.”

And that’s good, Donahue says, for without enthusiastic Americans, Ireland’s ancient national game has no future in Philadelphia.

Na Tóraidhe has about 25 players, 14 of whom are on the field for this practice session.Saturday’s practice is a family affair. Wives and girlfriends–and one toddler, Liam, the son of player Frank O’Meara–sit along the sidelines, sheltered from the sun by a couple of canopies. They keep an eye on the game, but it’s also an opportunity to chat. Picnic fare is set out on a folding table, waiting for the end of the game. This is how Donahue likes it. “We meet, we set up the tents. The family comes out. There are some drinks. There is a lot of food.”

Of course, the team is always on the lookout for new blood. The game can be a bit intimidating at first, Donahue says, but it doesn’t take long or the Yanks to see that, while hurling is not for the faint of heart, it also happens to be huge fun. “It’s interesting for the guys who have never played before,” says Donahue. “They think we’re crazy.”

We have photos from the weekend practice. Check them out, and “like” the team on Facebook.

They also have a website.

Here’s a video from last season.

May 16, 2013 by
News, Sports

First Rule of Fight Night

Yes, Jackie "The Hammer" Daley won her match.

Yes, Jackie “The Hammer” Daley won her match.

The Irish Center ballroom turned into a boxing ring last Saturday night for the second annual Young Irelands Gaelic Football Club’s “Fight Night.” Except for the mirrored balls on the ceiling and the occasional glimpses of the Irish countryside backdrop on the stage, you would have sworn you were at Madison Square Garden.

There were 10 match-ups of male and female amateur boxers and while they pulled no punches–literally, as you could tell by the blood–the purpose was and remained entertainment.

The Young Irelands has been playing Gaelic football in the Philadelphia area for about 28 years.

Check out our photos above and pretend you were there!


Glenside GAA Takes Its First Baby Steps

Never too young to learn hurling.

Never too young to learn hurling.

Why do hurlers wear helmets? Every one of the little people who lined up to learn a bit about the no-hold-barred Irish sport, knew the answer, summed up by one little girl eager to take a crack at the ball herself: “‘Cause if you don’t, you will hurt your head.”

The football field at Bishop McDevitt High School on Sunday afternoon was filled with small, enthusiastic kids, all of them running, jumping, and kicking. Because those are the things you do when you play the traditional Irish sports of hurling and Gaelic football.

Brendan Gallagher and his many colleagues on the new Glenside Gaelic Athletic Association club are hoping the fun of the weekend clinic will carry over into a season, and more, of youth GAA competition.

“I’m very happy with the turnout today,” Gallagher said. “We probably had around 35 kids. I’m not sure how many have registered so far. Some were here out of curiosity, and some were friends of kids who had already signed up. We’re encouraged by the numbers and the interest level. For a club to get off the ground with a sport that maybe 99 percent of the population in an area have never heard of, that’s always going to be a challenge, but we’re very happy.”

A hands-on clinic is one of the best ways to get kids interested in Gaelic sports, Gallagher said. Also helpful? A demonstration game by kids from the Delco Gaels GAA.

For Gallagher, a youth GAA club based in Glenside is about more than sports. It’s also about the survival of Irish culture in the Philadelphia area, including music, dance and more.

“Any Gaelic club formed in a parish in Ireland is well known because of its sports, but it also has speech and drama. It has music. It has dancing. It’s all part of the club. It’s a hub for the whole community. And that’s what we want; we want to be part of the community.”

Other Irish cultural organizations have had a good deal of success in perpetuating all the various aspects of Gaelic culture—notably, the dance schools. “They’re our role model,” Gallagher said. We’re trying to emulate their model. They’ve been so successful. We have a little catching up to do. If we want our culture to be passed on down and survive, we have to step up and do something about it.”

The next registration will be held April 20 at 10 a.m. at the MacSwiney Club, 510 Greenwood Avenue, in Jenkintown.

For more information, contact:


Up Donegal!

Kids might have been the most excited fans ... but it would have been a close contest.

Kids might have been the most excited fans … but it would have been a close contest.

Up Donegal! If we heard it once, we heard it a thousand times, and it never got tired. On a Tuesday night when a lot of kids otherwise would have been home getting ready for bed, they were instead decked out in their bright yellow Donegal jerseys and running around the Philadelphia Irish Center like children possessed.

And possessed they were, perhaps, by the presence of the shiny Sam Maguire Cup, brought to Philadelphia by three incredibly proud representatives of the 2012 All-Ireland Football champion team from Donegal: coach Jim McGuinness, along with all-stars Mark McHugh and Michael Murphy.

When the kids weren’t setting land-speed records running from one end of the Irish Center ballroom to the other, they were standing in line with their parents, relatively patiently, waiting for the chance to get their pictures taken with cup and players.

And yes, the place was jammed with ecstatic adult fans, too, including dozens of Donegal natives, and sons and daughters of natives, celebrating the county’s first All-Ireland championship in 20 years. (And they were just as eager to get their picture taken, too.)

After a couple of hours smiling and posing, McGuinness and his players adjourned to the ballroom, where they accepted presentations from the Philadelphia Donegal Association, along with local Gaelic Athletic Association representatives, the Philadelphia Irish Center, state lawmakers Kevin and Brendan Boyle, and many others.

For the Donegal footballers, it had been a long day, but they showed no evidence of tiring. Player Mark McHugh, son of legend Martin McHugh, was still a little wound up—or maybe just jet-lagged—as he spoke about his Philadelphia welcome, and the rigors of the tightly coordinated U.S. victory lap.

“We just got in this morning,” he said. “We flew into New York, and we just drove down. We’re flying off to Chicago at 9 o’clock in the morning, and back to New York on Thursday. It’s just a full-time job, but it’s a good complaint to have. If we hadn’t won the All-Irelands, we wouldn’t be here.

“It’s so good to see all the American kids wearing the Donegal jersey. That’s one of our main reasons for coming over, to promote the GAA, to get young kids involved. And as they get older, maybe their kids will get involved. You never know what could happen.”

Addressing the many fans who have waited a long time to see the cup return to Donegal, McGuinness thanked his hosts for the wildly enthusiastic turnout.

“It’s a great honor for us to be here tonight,” he said. “And along with the honor goes a lot of pride. We’re very happy to bring the Sam Maguire Cup to Philadelphia and the United States. There’s obviously a lot of people in the room tonight who have very, very strong connections to Donegal who were not able to make the journey home for the final, and that’s why I feel it’s very special to take the cup across the water and let the people who were not fortunate enough to be there on the day get their hands on the cup and pretend you’re Michael Murphy.”

McGuinness also recalled his brief time playing football in Philadelphia in the summer of 1999. “I made a lot of very good friends here that I still have to this day. It’s fantastic to be back amongst everybody tonight. I just hope it won’t be 20 years before we’re back with the cup.”

We have many photos from the night’s celebration. Check out our photo essay, above.


“Sam” and Company are Philly-Bound

"The Sam" drew an enthusiastic young audience in a previous visit to Philadelphia.

“The Sam” drew an enthusiastic young audience in a previous visit to Philadelphia.

Jim McGuinness, manager of the Donegal Senior Football Team that this year snagged the All-Ireland Senior Football Championships, played on Philadelphia’s Donegal team for five short weeks in the summer of 1996. He visited Philly again in 1999, and evidently liked what he saw.

When he arrives on Tuesday night for one more visit—this time to the Philadelphia Irish Center—he’ll have some splashy company. It’s called the Sam Maguire Cup, more familiarly known as “the Sam,” awarded to the winning senior football team.

“Jim McGuinness was here 13 years ago,” says Louie Bradley, chair of the Philly Gaelic Athletic Association team, the Delco Gaels. “He hasn’t been back in all that time, and he knows a lot of people here, which is why he wants to come back.”

The Philadelphia visit is one of several in the U.S.—a kind of victory lap that will take McGuinness and the cup to such Irish hotbeds as Chicago, Boston and New York City. The Irish Center event—billed as “An Evening with Jimmy McGuinness and the Sam Maguire Cup”—will also bring to town two Donegal all-stars, Mark McHugh and Michael Murphy.

As eager as McGuinness is to visit Philly, the Sam Maguire tour schedule is tight. Bradley says the local Gaelic Athletic Association, which had only a couple of weeks to pull things together, was hoping to get the Donegal delegation to come to town on a Saturday, but “we had to take what we could get. We are lucky to get them.”

Nevertheless, the local GAA is expecting a great turnout on Tuesday night, with 250 to 300 of tickets already sold, with time to sell more. “It should be a big crowd,” says Bradley.

Admission to the event is $50, which will buy you hors d’oeuvres, dancing to the music of Sullivan Bridge, and photos with the cup, coach, and his all-stars. Kids under 18 will be admitted for free. (Bradley is expecting as many as 100 of them.) Local organizations, such as the Philadelphia Donegal Association and Donegal Philly GAA, will present tributes. State Legislators (and brothers) Kevin and Brendan Boyle will present a citation from the Commonwealth. The Donegal athletes can also expect to receive the key to the city.

The event runs from 7 to 11 p.m.