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Gaelic Athletic Association

Sports

In Glenside, Raising the Next Generation of Gaelic Athletes

On a recent Saturday night, the voices of more than 60 kids, many of them 10 or younger, echoed off the roof of a huge inflatable dome on the campus of Arcadia University in Glenside. Often with more enthusiasm than skill, they grabbed, tossed and kicked a white ball into mesh goals and through uprights up and down adjoining courts, with adult coaches shouting instructions and doling out liberal doses of encouragement.

At times, it seemed like chaos, but if you looked closely and paid attention, you could see that there was an organization underlying it all.

This was Gaelic football for kids, a primer on how to one day play the game in all seriousness. Serious, because they represent the future of Gaelic athletics in the Philadelphia area—and to a larger extent, the United States. Continue Reading

Sports

First Philly-Area Collegiate Gaelic Sports Tourney Scores Big

Slugging it out at Bonner

Slugging it out at Bonner

Normally, it’s the players on the losing team who look stunned. Ciarán Ó Braonáin had that look in his eyes last Saturday afternoon at Monsignor Bonner—and his team, the newly formed Radnor Saints of Villanova University, had just won the Junior B Gaelic football trophy at Philly’s first-ever collegiate Gaelic sports tournament, sponsored by St. Joseph’s University Gaelic Football Club.

‘Nova’s opponents were more experienced by far. “We had our first practice in November, but then we had the bad winter, so we didn’t really get going until February,” Ó Braonáin said. “But we’re off to a good start. I couldn’t be happier.”

Villanova was just one of many college and university teams from throughout the Northeast that descended upon Bonner’s artificial turf for the day of football and hurling. The teams were purposely small—seven a side. That enabled two games to be played on the Bonner field at the same time. The host Hawks kept things moving with revolving door precision. One game would no sooner end, than the next game would start. Sometimes players from the previous game were jogging off the field even as the referee was blowing the starting whistle for the next game.

Most of the players were American, but not all were Irish-American, and a few of the teams were co-ed. And every player on every team fought as fiercely as if they were slugging it out in the All-Ireland Championship Finals.

All of which was gratifying to David Cosgrove, who coached the hurling club from Kean University in North New Jersey.  Kean undergrad Dave Lewis founded the club. Cosgrove is also founder of the Hoboken Guards hurling team, and chairman of the New York Gaelic Athletic Association hurling division.

“It’s great to see the game growing so fast in the Northeast,” Cosgrove said. “We’re getting the word out. It’s just like lacrosse exploded 30 years ago. This is what’s happening here.”

Iona College players assisted the Kean team in the tournament. Cosgrove says a joint Kean/Iona team will take the field in the 2014 NCGAA Championships May 24-25 in Gaelic Park, Riverdale, N.Y. Fifteen other collegiate GAA clubs from around the U.S. will take part.

The footballers from St. Joe’s came away without a trophy, but they still notched up the day as a big win, both for their club and for collegiate Gaelic athletics nationwide.

“It went very well,” said the Hawks’ Brian Mahoney. “Boston College was the biggest question mark, whether they would make it, but they traveled the farthest and they brought the most people. We took an important step at St. Joe’s to get cleared to be a club. Now when other teams approach their administrations, they can say, ‘This is how St. Joe’s did it.’ It just feels like it’s viable.”

Competition at the college and university level is vital to the future of Gaelic athletics in the United States. There are vibrant youth leagues, up to the Under-18s, but after that there’s nothing until the adult leagues.

“When you see something like this,” Mahoney said, “you know it’s working. There’s a gap being filled.”

Sports

GAA Kids From Around the Nation are Headed Here

2008 in West Chester

2008 in West Chester

The biggest Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) competition outside of Ireland is coming to our own back yard.

From July 25 through 28, roughly 2,000 young Gaelic football and hurling players from as far way as the West Coast will converge on the Greater Chester Valley Soccer Association fields in Malvern for the Continental Youth Championships (CYC).

Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the tournament has exceeded its organizers’ wildest expectations, according to Simon Gillespie, CYC recording secretary.

“We started in 2004,” Gillespie says. “They (organizers) didn’t think it was going to survive. It started out just as a trial, with 50 teams. Now we’re at nearly 200 teams. We’re the only competition for kids 3 to 18. It really is a highlight of the year for underage GAA sports. We estimate more than 10,000 spectators will come in over the four days.”

The only GAA youth competition that compares, Gillespie notes, is the Féile Peile na nÓg, Ireland’s national festival of football for boys and girls under 14. The CYC is is unique in that it features both football and hurling.

The CYC rotates through a different host city every year. The Philadelphia Gaelic Athletic Association is hosting this year’s competition. It’s a really big deal.

“Last year, it (the championships) was at Gaelic Park in Chicago,” says Gillespie. “Next year, it’ll be in New York. Each area gets it every so often. It’s as big a commitment for the host committee as it is for the national committee.”

Learn more about the championship. And take a gander at our photo essay from 2008, the last time the locals hosted the CYC.

Sports

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: gaelicclubglenside@hotmail.com

Sports

Tuesday Night Lights

Matthew Quigley

Matthew Quigley belts one.

It’s 7:30, and daylight is already giving way to twilight over the athletic field at Northeast High School. Out on the freshly mown grass, about a dozen sweat-soaked young guys are running, jumping, and batting a ball. They’re trying to get as much practice time in as they can, before it gets so dark that they run the risk of beaning somebody.

Unlike the kids on the adjoining diamond, these mostly 20-something athletes aren’t playing baseball. They’re tthrowing themselves, body and soul, into a sport that is said to have originated over 3,000 years ago–the mad, bruising, distinctly Irish game known as hurling. The team goes by the name of Na Tóraidhe (na TOR-ig), meaning “pursuer” in the old Irish language. The word originated with a band of Irish guerrillas who battled (who else?) the British in the Irish Confederate War in the mid-1600s. The modern-day Philadelphia “pursuers” are sponsored by The Bards.

Over on the sidelines, assistant coach Kieran Donahue, one of only two Irish players on the team alternately shouts words of encouragement or mild exasperation.

“Great strike, Mike, use your hand now!”

“Hold on there a minute!!! Does everybody know where they’re supposed to be???”

“Beautiful, man! Lovely!”

“You gotta concentrate!!! This ain’t that complicated, and we’re (bleep) it up!!!”

Most of the players come to the game with a history of participation in American sports like baseball, football and hockey, says Donahue, and in spite of the occasional correction from the sidelines, he says they’re fast learners. They’ve already competed a bit, and will continue to play teams from other cities, like Washington or Baltimore, throughout the summer.

Some of the faces on the field seem familiar. We’ve seen them before—as members of Philly’s Shamrocks hurling team. Last year, the Shamrocks didn’t have enough manpower to compete much,  so the purpose of last season was to rebuild. Somewhere along the line, the name changed.

“The Shamrocks didn’t field a team last year in the North American Championships,” says Donahue. “They did continue on with training, and they also played some travel games. They used last year to recruit as many guys as they could to keep hurling alive in the city. Most are completely new to the game, and we’re in the process of teaching them. We got a lot of new blood, and so we said, ‘Why don’t we re-brand ourselves?'”

With so few native Irish available to keep hurling going in the Delaware Valley, American recruits are indispensible. Says Donahue: “It’s the only way hurling will survive.”

You can help keep hurling alive in Philadelphia. For details, visit the club’s website.

And if you want to see how the game is played, check out our video (above) or watch our big photo essay.

Sports

A Knockout Fund-Raiser for the Young Irelands

One of the contenders: Martin “Slieveboy Savage” McKernan

One of the contenders: Martin “Slieveboy Savage” McKernan

The gentlemen of the Young Irelands Gaelic Football Club were looking for a new kind of fund-raiser, not just another beef and beer or night at the races. They decided to think outside the box. They wound up in the ring.

“Fight Night” at the Philadelphia Irish Center is the result of their brainstorming and, if recent ticket sales are any indication, it’s going to be a knockout.

Twelve fights are on the card for the event, which takes place Saturday, April 28, starting at 7 p.m.

Each one should be a bruising affair, says the Young Irelands’ Declan Gormley, but local boxing aficionados are looking with particular interest at two matchups: Chris Flanagan against Dennis Friel, and Paul Welsh versus Paudraig McCaffery.

There’s been “a lot of buzz and talk around town about it (fight night),” says Gormley. “We are hoping for a great night. Fight nights being so popular as a fund-raiser in Ireland at the moment, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to have one here.”

Though the fights are sponsored by a local Irish organization, Gormley expects the fights to appeal to a broader audience. “We will most definitely be drawing a good crowd outside the Irish community, with some popular American bartenders on the cards.”

Here’s the entire rundown:

1. Sean O’Neil vs. Gary McDonald
2. Pat Petit vs. Kevin Trainor
3. Ramie Conlan vs. Eddie Davenport
4. Mike Kavanagh vs. Martin Curran (kickboxing)
5. Adrian Mark vs. Martin McKernan
6. Mixed martial arts or women’s boxing
7. Dean Farrell vs. Raymond Coleman
8. Seamus Sweeney vs. Barry Hassan
9. Damien Butler vs. Chuck Cawley
10. Brian Mullen vs. Dan Schaffer
11. Chris Flanagan vs. Dennis Friel
12. Paul Welsh vs. Paudraig McCaffery

As of  Thursday, the club has sold more than 300 tickets. This week, as the fights get closer, Gormley is confident they’ll sell “a good few more.” Tickets cost $40. The price includes transportation from Upper Darby and Center City to the event and back, as well as admission and food. For details, email: deckygormley@gmail.c​om or x2express@hotmail.com.

News, People

Hundreds in Philadelphia Mourn Michaela Harte McAreavey

Father John McNamee offers a eulogy for Michaela Harte McAreavey, whose photo is in the foreground.

Ciara McGorman carefully set the large wedding photo on an easel at the front of the chapel at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. It showed her friend and neighbor, Michaela Harte McAreavey, from the little village of Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Ireland, beaming and radiant, as only a bride can be, in her wedding dress.

The dress in which the 27-year-old teacher was buried this week.

Friends, family members, and representatives from the organizations Michaela Harte McAreavey loved so much—the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Tyrone Society, and the Rose of Tralee—gathered at the Sunday evening Mass, concelebrated by poet-priest Father John McNamee of Philadelphia with Father Gerard Burns, formerly of St. Cyril of Alexandria Parish in East Lansdowne and now a parish priest in County Mayo, Ireland.

Michaela Harte McAreavy, married on December 30, 2010 to noted Down footballer John McAreavy, was found brutally murdered on January 10 while on her honeymoon in the Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius. She had been strangled in their hotel room, apparently after surprising hotel employees who used a key card to enter the room to burglarize it. Five men have been charged in connection with the killing of the only daughter of popular Tyrone senior football manager, Mickey Harte. Michaela McAreavy was buried on January 17th after a funeral mass at St. Malachy’s Church near Ballygawley.

Father MacNamee, pastor emeritus of St. Malachy’s Church in North Philadelphia, opened his remarks with a sigh. “This is the week that was,” he said, noting it was also the week the death toll from cholera was rising in Haiti and in which a 9-year-old girl, Christina Green, granddaughter of former Phillies Manager Dallas Green, was killed in Tucson, Arizona, along with five others in a shooting that wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Christine Green had been featured in a book on babies born on September 11, 2001. “Her parents had her as a sign of hope to all us in time of sorrow,” said Father McNamee. She had been “as innocent and fragile and vulnerable as the beautiful Michaela,” he told the more than 200 mourners who lined the chapel pew. “Life is a terrible beauty, as Yeats called it.”

Michaela was also eulogized by Sean Breen, president of the Philadelphia Gaelic Athletic Association, Angela Mohan, coach of the Mairead Farrells Ladies Gaelic Football Club; Mairead Farrell footballer Orla Treacy, whose father, Mick, is a friend of the Hartes; and McGorman. Music—including a heartbreaking rendition of Sarah MacLachlan’s “In the Arms of an Angel”—was provided by Karen Boyce McCollum, who, like Michaela, was an International Rose of Tralee contestant, as well as Roisin McCormack and Raymond Coleman.

Father McNamee twice quoted Irish poet William Butler Yeats in his eulogy, reciting from “The Stolen Child””

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”

“The world,” he said, “is both a beautiful place and a tragic place. . .and more full of weeping than we can understand.”

Click here to see photos from the mass.

Sports

GAA Ladies Bring It On Home

Woo-hoo! The Notre Dames cheer their trophy. Photo by Eileen McElroy.

Woo-hoo! The Notre Dames cheer their trophy. Photo by Eileen McElroy.

The Mairead Farrells (Máiréad Ní Fhearghail) Ladies Football Club of  Philadelphia became the 2010 North American Senior Football Champions over Labor Day weekend at the national GAA games at Chicago’s Gaelic Park. The footballers had already won the Philadelphia senior football title a few weeks before.

The team they beat in the city match-up, the Notre Dames, also brought home a trophy from Chicago. This team is now the 2010 North American Intermediate Football Champions. They’ll both be defending their titles next year in San Francisco.

Notre Dames player Eileen McElroy is also a talented photographer and she shared some photos from the ladies’ competition and the men’s matches featuring Philly GAA teams the Kevin Barrys and the Young Irelanders. The men didn’t bring home trophies, but they fought like Celtic tigers.

Check out Eileen’s photos:

 Thanks to Peadar McDiarmada for reporting the results from Chicago.