The future of GAA in Britain will rest not so much with immigrants but with the younger generation of players and officials born in this country, the launch of the eighth annual All Britain Competition at the Embassy of Ireland heard.
This year’s tournament will take place at the Tir Chonaill Gaels grounds in Greenford from 11-14 July.
Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK Adrian O’Neill, hosting the launch recalled his first visit to the tournament last year: “I had the pleasure of spending some very happy hours there and saw for myself what a wonderful occasion it was, something like 214 teams competed over four days, 510 matches were played, there were about 2,400 children there in attendance and the teams came from all across Britain, Hertfordshire, Warwickshire, Lancashire, Gloucester, as well as, of course, from Ulster.
“We had the cross-community Cu Chulainn team from Northern Ireland there last year and I think they’re coming back again this year.”
He said he was delighted to learn that this year the ABCs had expanded more broadly again with teams from Yorkshire and Scotland and – in a comment directed to the President of the Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association Marie Hickey – said how pleased he had been to see so many girls were playing Gaelic Games there last year.
While he said he had been “really very impressed by the really efficient organisation of the games, by the spirit of camaraderie and friendship that characterised them” he was especially impressed by the diversity.
“It was fantastic to see so many kids of Irish descent playing GAA games – and it was even better again to see so many kids who were evidently not necessarily of Irish descent playing GAA games.
“The attraction of Gaelic Games is their athleticism, their skill, their vibrancy – its appeal goes beyond the Gael.”
President of the Provincial Council of Great Britain Paul Foley said the ABCs now represent the culmination of a year’s under-age development work in Britain.
The ABCs has made it possible to branch out into other regional competitions, he said.
“In the last few weeks we’ve had the schools’ tournament in Hertfordshire, 34 teams, and over 500 kids taking part in competition.
“At the start of May, we had inaugural Northern Games where we had over 870 kids take part in the competition.
“This weekend we ran our homegrown competition as a tournament based on the World Games rules and regulations and we had teams up in Birmingham.
“Historically school holidays and everything have been barriers to teams coming down to London in the middle of July, but the Northern Games has given them an avenue to showcase what’s going on there and an avenue to come down to the ABC as well.
“None of those would be possible if the ABC hadn’t been there to cement what we’ve been doing at under-age level.
“The GAA has always been there for us as Irish emigrants. It’s a home from home, when we come over to a foreign country, one of the first ports of call is always a GAA club. I know when I first landed in Cardiff nearly 20 years ago, for the first six months, I embedded into the job I’m in now. It was the middle of winter when I arrived, I found the GAA club in March and things took off from there and I really felt home.
“But what the ABCs symbolise is the development of home-grown, British-born talent and it is that which is going to the bedrock for the continuation of GAA here in Britain.”