Browsing Tag

Delaware County Gaels


Gaels Still Riding High After Their Tournament Play in Derry

The Delco Gaels at the Giant's Causeway. (Photo by Mike Boyce)

The Delco Gaels at the Giant's Causeway. (Photo by Mike Boyce)

When most people tour Ireland, they visit the crumbling castles. They sniff wildflowers in the Burren. They tap their feet to fiddle music in Doolin. They ignore all the warning signs and stand looking out over the edge of the Cliffs of Moher. They eat brown bread and butter in the morning, and drink Guinness in the evening.

And make no mistake, that’s a pretty good trip.

But becoming a part of the community, and throwing yourself heart and soul into one of Ireland’s most prized pastimes? Priceless!

That’s what the Irish football-playing boys of the Delaware County Gaels did a few weeks ago when they headed to County Derry for the Féile Peile na nÓg, a national festival of Gaelic athletics for young people.

Did they come home champs? Nah. Did they come happy? You bet, says Tom Higgins, of the Gaels organization.

“We did well. We won our group,” he says. “We were in with the host team from Derry and another team from Derry, and a team from Gloucestershire, England. We got to the semi level of our division, and we lost by a point to Kildare, in overtime. Kildare eventually got killed in the finals, and the same thing would have happened to us, anyway. We did as well as we had hoped to do.”

When the Gaels first arrived, over the July 4th weekend, they played a warmup game against the host team, St. Gall’s. “They hosted us and had a great night for us,” he says. “Then we went on to Letterkenny in Donegal for a four-team tournament. We won two out of three of those games, and then it was on to the tournament.” The team and families stayed in Letterkenny for most of their visit.

The last two nights they stayed in Ballymaguigan in Derry’s far southeast “They’re the smallest club in Ulster, maybe the smallest club in all Ireland. So an event like this might never hapopened again for them,” says Higgins. “They hosted us well and treated us great.”

Traveling to the Feile in Derry was a huge thrill for the boys, Higgins says. More than half of the kids aren’t Irish. “I’d say they were blown away by the hospitality,” he says.

Playing in Derry was also gratifying because there are so many ties between Philadelphia and the North. “A ton of people came out to see us,” Higgins says. “It was a reunion of sorts.”

For a time, Higgins says, it must have seemed to the locals like Ireland was overrun by Philadelphians. He and a group of about 30 from Philly were visiting a pub called The Cottage in Letterkenny, and a lot of them were wearing Philadelphia GAA jerseys. Higgins said he overheard a tourist comment on the jerseys and ask the bartender: Is there a Philadelphia in Ireland? Higgins says he went over and introduced himself. Turns out the tourist was from Levittown.

A little while later, another tourist came ambling in, looking for a place to hear Irish music. Higgins recognized the new visitor as Tom Johnson, someone he knew from Lafayette Hill.

“The bartender comes over to me and asks: How many people from Philadelphia are in this town?”

Ah … never enough.


For the Delaware County Gaels, the Ultimate Road Trip

The competition

A look at the Delco Gaels' tough competition.

They’re the future of Philadelphia’s Gaelic Athletic Association, and they’re just about to be put to the test.

On the upcoming July 4th weekend, when most of the rest of us are attending parades, noshing on hot dogs and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over fireworks, 22 young members of the Delaware County Gaels Irish football team will be slugging it out at the Féile Peile na nÓg, a national festival of Irish athletics for young people, this year held in County Derry.

Tom Higgins, a Gaels coach, says the boys are looking forward to the challenge and are busily preparing to compete in the tournament’s Division 5. (There are eight divisions in all, with Division 1 reserved for the toughest and most skilled.)

A group of under-14s from the Philly area competed in that grade three years ago, with some success. “We did pretty good,” says Higgins, now a real estate agent in Plymouth Meeting. (He’s originally from Galway, with a long history of involvement—on the field and off—in the Philadelphia GAA.) “We won two out of three. This year we chose to stay in that same division. We try to know our limitations. We’ll play local Irish teams from smaller clubs.”

The trip lasts from June 25 to July 6. Once they get to Ireland, the boys will play a few warm-up matches before they compete in earnest. The first is in Convoy in County Donegal, the next at St. Eunan’s in Letterkenny (also Donegal), and the last against St. Gall’s in Belfast.

Three of the boys who competed three years ago are with the Delco Gaels club that is going to Ireland this year to represent Philadelphia. In the last tourney, the team included members of all the local youth teams. This year, it’s just the Gaels. It’s a strong team, says Higgins.

Like many youth GAA teams in the States, he says, the Gaels are a mix of boys whose dads are from Ireland, who themselves played Gaelic athletics, and kids for whom the sport of Irish football was brand-new when they joined. The Irish come to the game already knowing a lot about it. The kids who have not played before have a bit of a learning curve, he says, but they catch on fast and seem to love it.

“They like the contact,” Higgins says. “They like the speed of it and the passion. It’s like soccer but there’s more activity and it’s higher scoring. It’s a mix of football, soccer, basketball—there’s a few sports jumbled up in there.”

If GAA sports are to survive in the United States—and certainly in the Philadelphia area—Higgins says teams like the Delco Gaels are essential.

Higgins, who has played Irish football in the Delaware Valley for years, says he remembers back in the 1980s, when there were about 15 teams, and the games brought out hundreds of spectators. One reason for the success of GAA teams in those days, he adds, was the participation of players from Ireland—many of whom were in the country illegally. Bringing in players legally these days just isn’t happening.

“Immigration (to the United States) has stopped,” he says. “The players are going to Australia or Canada instead. So we really need to grow our own. It really should have been done long ago.”

The team needs about $50,000 to get the team to Derry, Higgins says, and so far about $35,000 has been raised. The team has already run two fund-raisers, he adds, and around mid-June there will be one more. “That should put us over,” he says.

The team is also looking for a sponsor for its jerseys—roughly $5,000. If you want jersey naming rights—or you want to help in a smaller way—contact Higgins at (215) 275-0591.