By David Hennessy
GAA has grown in popularity in London’s Featherstone High School, among children with no Irish heritage. Teacher Brendan Doherty took a group from the school to Ireland last week where they visited Croke Park and played against Galway Under 15s
A school in Southall, west London, whose student body is comprised mainly of children from Indian and Somali backgrounds, took a Gaelic football team to Ireland last week. The sport has grown in popularity since teacher Brendan Doherty, a former member of the Sligo Under 21 panel, introduced the children to it over two years ago. This was the second such trip the club named Southall Shamrocks have made and the novelty has captured the imagination with several news outlets picking up the story and the BBC cameras visiting the school.
Brendan Doherty told The Irish World: “I was coming to the end of my first year teaching and I was kind of thinking, I might bring that (GAA) in. Obviously I never had any ideas it would escalate to all this. We did a little sample course and the students just absolutely loved it. They just genuinely enjoyed the game. So then I thought, ‘right, I’ll try a club’.
“The numbers at the club were huge and then I went to the principal Gerry Wadwa, he just said, ‘yeah, why don’t you go for it (a trip to Ireland)?’ We ran the trip and the trip was a huge success, got a lot of coverage last year off 2FM and the Irish Times and a few newspapers here and at home. It went so well. In the end we trained twice a week and we had 24, 25 at every single training, the numbers and the commitment has been savage.”
Brendan’s initiative had gone down so well that the girls are demanding their own team now, as well as other students looking to get involved: “I do have lots and lots of kids who are like, ‘can you do a club for us? Can we go to Ireland?’ If I had time, I could do it full-time in the school. The interest is absolutely giant. They just love it. We brought 17 last year, 24 this year. In terms of it’s growth, it is huge.”
While in Ireland, the group of 24 school children enjoyed a tour of Croke Park and a 1916 walking tour that tied in the struggle for Indian independence with Ireland’s oppression. The group then travelled to Galway and Pearse Stadium where they played Galway under 15s. The played three thirds with the teams mixing up for the final session.
“It was nearly nice in the last third, we mixed the teams up so you had Galway and Southall lads on the same team. That’s really good because you see lads from Galway passing to some lad born in Somalia. It was very good.”
On their final day in Ireland, the group got to visit Connacht Centre of Excellence where John Tobin, former Roscommon manager, took them for training.
Brendan continues: “Something happened today that was really nice. There was a letter in my pigeon hole in work from a second generation Irish person in London who had seen the BBC piece and wrote in, just to say how nice it was gaelic games had taken interest in the school.
“The reaction is great, kids find it funny more than anything and they’re delighted, there’s a real feel good factor to it, the kids are interested in our sport and I think even the Galway lads were really nice and they were chatting away to our lads, saying where are you from? Do you like Gaelic football? How long you in Ireland for?
“I was looking back at old posts from last year, one of the kids had tweeted, ‘really liked the Irish guys we played against, I wish there was more sportsmanship like this’, even the players themselves found it funny, interesting and a very positive reaction. It’s just all really good.”
London Community Development Administrator Lloyd Colfer has been down to see what Brendan has been doing with the kids. Brendan has also taken a team to Greenford to play against Tir Chonaill Gaels Under 16s.
As for starting another club within the school, time is the problem for Brendan who says: “I’m just getting plastered, I was walking through sixth form the other day and one year 13 girl said, ‘when are you going to do a team for us?’ I goes, ‘will you leave me alone’,” he laughs.
For more information on Southall Shamrocks, follow @SShamrocks on Twitter.