GAA president Horan applauds ABC and overseas units
By Damian Dolan
The GAA in Britain and overseas continues to occupy an “extremely important’ role within the organisation, says GAA president John Horan.
Speaking at the All-Britain Competition at Tir Chonaill Park in Greenford, west London, over the weekend, Horan gave his backing to the work being undertaken at all levels of the association in Britain.
“The GAA overseas is huge and we at home have to recognise its importance and support it,” Horan told the Irish World.
“When you come away from Ireland and go to overseas units and see the importance of the GAA in the life of the Irish community overseas, and the extended GAA community as well, you realise it is very important.”
Horan, who in February became the first Dublin native in 97 years to be elected to the office of president of the GAA, spent a summer in Calgary in Canada at the end of his first year in teaching.
It was there he “got a feel for the importance of the GAA” overseas and the “connect it gave to people”.
As well as often being able to assist with finding work and accommodation for young Irish people who might be leaving home for the first time, Horan saw twice weekly training and games as bringing people together “in a healthy way”.
Horan’s time in Calgary made him aware first-hand of how those who wish to pursue Gaelic Games overseas may have to put “their hand in their own pocket” to subsidise that desire, that travelling distances to training can be longer than in Ireland and of the amount of “self-sacrifice” needed to stay involved.
Overseas, for Horan, means not being “pampered”.
His appointment of former London county board and Tir Chonaill Gaels secretary Niall Erskine as chair of the World GAA committee was another significant choice.
“That’s the importance I place on it [overseas]. We get involved with the Department of Foreign Affairs in the whole context of providing funding and support for the overseas units,” said Horan.
“We’ll always go and negotiate for the overseas units to get those benefits for them. We give funding. We’re looking at improving the funding model for overseas.”
Last weekend’s flying visit to London, fresh from rubbing shoulders with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during their visit to Dublin, which included a tour of Croke Park, was Horan’s second taste of the ABC experience.
This year’s event was the biggest yet, with 2,500 participants taking part in a four-day celebration of Irish culture, including Gaelic football, hurling and camogie.
Horan is a big admirer of the ABC and has huge respect for those who have worked to make it what it is today. It’s helped give him a “feel” for the GAA in Britain.
“It’s a great competition to run for the youngsters here in Britain. The numbers have increased and that’s testament to how well it’s run – if it wasn’t well run people wouldn’t come back,” he said.
“But they’re coming back and in greater and greater numbers.”
Horan sees the ABC as providing the GAA in Britain with a “stronger foundation” and a “greater stability”.
“The GAA can’t continue to just survive on immigration of Irish people who play Gaelic Games,” he added.
“It’s important that we set down roots within the community over here. Some people are playing it now that don’t have an Irish connection, as well as second or third generation Irish.
“That’s the important part; we’re in the schools and we’re looking after the juvenile end within the clubs. We’re not just relying on adults arriving over here to play the games.
“You can imagine all of the work that’s going on in the schools – they [the children] get to put it into practise, and for the clubs as well. You can see the enjoyment and energy.”
Now in its seventh year, Horan regards the ABC as a “tremendous success”, and it was based on that success that Horan identified Brendie Brien, one of the driving forces behind the ABC concept, to chair of the National Feile Committee.
It’s the first time an individual from overseas has chaired a national committee.
“Everybody knows what Brendie did to bring this competition to what it is, and it was on the back of this work that I said ‘this man can take Feile to another level’,” said Horan.
Transferring the success of the ABC into numbers joining clubs at underage and eventually progressing through to play Gaelic games at adult level is the real challenge.
For Horan, the success of that will be down to the respective county boards across Britain “to make sure that competitions at adult levels are organised in an efficient way”.
He added: “People will stay with you if you do your business in an efficient way. They’ll walk if you don’t organise things properly. Sloppy organisation will cause people to drift.
“But I’ve every confidence that things are well run here.”
This year’s All-Britain Competition, added to recent success at Féile Peil na nÓg, certainly reinforces that sentiment.