GAA allows us to embrace our national identity
The origins of the GAA in London can be traced back to 1896. Over the intervening one hundred and seventeen years the organisation has grown to the extent that ensures London can lay claim to being the most successful and vibrant unit within the Association outside the island of Ireland. London place in the annals of GAA history has been secured due the contribution of Liam Mc- Carthy and Sam Maguire amongst notable figures in the history of the Association and the State, to the vibrant organisation that the GAA in London is today.
Liam McCarthy was on London’s very first County Committee holding the position of Treasurer. The following year McCarthy became Secretary before assuming the position of President (now Chairperson) in 1898, a position he held for the next 9 years. 1898 also saw Liam McCarthy nominated as a Vice-President of the Association. In 1906 McCarthy stood down as President before returning to the position in 1906 and serving until 1911. McCarthy commissioned the manufacturing of a trophy which he offered to Croke Park and which was gratefully accepted. The trophy now bears his name and is awarded annually to the winners of the All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.
Sam Maguire served alongside Liam McCarthy as Vice-President from 1902 until 1906. Maguire was an active player during this period and had the honour of captaining London against the All Ireland champions in 1903. Sam Maguire held the position of President in 1907 and again in 1908, stepping down in 1909 before returning to the position in 1912 and serving until 1915. After his death in 1927 a cup was designed and presented to the GAA, who presented it to the winner of the All Ireland Senior Football Champions for the first time in 1928.
London has a proud history on the field of play. London is one of only eleven counties to have won an All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship having been crowned champions in 1901. In Junior football London is the third most successful county that participate with six titles with the first coming in 1938 and the last in 1986. More recent success has seen the county hurling team winning the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2005 and 2011. Chirsty Ring success in 2012 will mean that London will take part in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship in 2013, competing again for the Liam McCarthy Cup which originated in the county.
Role in the community
GAA is well-known for its role to Irish emigrants worldwide, and as London is probably the largest single destination for those leaving Ireland, it is no surprise that the GAA plays a huge role here, in both promoting and preserving the Irish identity overseas. Clubs are very often the first point of contact for young people moving over here, and they immediately provide a familiarity in what can be an unknown place, making Ireland seem a little less far away.
The level of commitment required in London is considered far greater in Ireland, with no natural affiliation for a club, and the commute to and from training is often lengthier.
It is here that emigrants will find new friends and a support system outside of work, although help looking for employment can also be made through the clubs. The clubs provide a social outlet for new arrivals, an opportunity to secure jobs through the Irish network and a place where those who arrived long ago with every intention of eventually returning home can reminisce.
Much in the same way as in Ireland, Gaelic sport has provided a platform for the Irish diaspora to embrace and celebrate a distinctively Irish ethnic and national identity.
But it is not just the Irish who enjoy GAA, and the sport has allowed other cultures embrace our national games, most tellingly with Dulwich Harps in South London, where many London-born teenagers of African or Afro- Carribean descent have excelled.
Many clubs, Tir Chonaill Gaels and St Kiernans included, have a strong second and third generation Irish representation with many players growing up with the club due to their parents’ involvement.
More than the younger emigrants and development scene though, there is still a group of older emigrants, who have called this city home longer than their native land, who meet weekly at the games at Ruislip.
For many, the GAA provides a familiar structure which enables people to negotiate their new environment whilst retaining a connection with home and offsetting feelings of isolation.