The spiritual home of the GAA in Scotland could finally be set for redevelopment – 16 years after it closed its gates
By Damian Dolan
A return of Gaelic Games to Pearse Park in Glasgow has moved a significant step closer – 16 years after the ground closed its gates for the final time.
The spiritual home of the GAA in Scotland, since the site located in the south-east of the city was purchased by the Association in 1953, was condemned as “unsuitable” for use in 2005.
A ball hasn’t been kicked there in anger since. But all that could be about to change.
With the dreaded Japanese Knotweed, which had held up redevelopment plans, finally eradicated, the Pearse Park Redevelopment Committee has been reconvened and a stakeholder meeting called for 24 May.
Plans are moving forward at a pace for the long-waited second coming of Pearse Park.
Scotland GAA chairperson Peter Mossey says a new and improved Pearse Park is essential to the growth of the GAA in Glasgow, and the county as a whole, as well as to promoting Irish culture in the city.
“It all points to a facility that will really enhance and boost Gaelic Games and Irish culture in Glasgow,” Mossey told the Irish World.
“It would allow us to be ambitious with the development of Gaelic Games and Irish culture in Scotland.”
Without it, the GAA in Scotland would be “sustainable”, but ultimately “stall” in attempts to grow the sport.
A new pitch and modern clubhouse would allow Scotland GAA to develop its relationships with schools in that area of the city.
Some of those schools will be among the stakeholders at next month’s meeting. Positive signs.
Although owned by the GAA, the new facility will also accommodate Shinty (the Camanachd Association) and Australian Rules Football, while strong links already exist with the Irish Consulate, who have expressed an interest in the cultural side of the project.
“Glasgow, for all of its size and big Irish diaspora through Donegal particularly, doesn’t have an Irish cultural centre anymore,” said Mossey, who was appointed Scotland chairperson in 2018.
One of the 2018 board’s first acts was to commission a Strategic Development Plan for the GAA in Scotland. Top of the priority list was infrastructure and the redevelopment of Pearse Park.
“Pearse Park was regarded as the spiritual home of the GAA and the Irish community – we used to have sports days every summer – and the aspiration is to have a cultural centre there,” adds Mossey, who was chair of British University GAA for 20 years (1995 to 2015).
A new Pearse Park would also give Tir Chonaill Harps – the ground’s previous residents – a new home.
The club saw its fortunes decline after Pearse Park was condemned, although it’s enjoyed an upturn in those fortunes in recent years with the move to Cambuslang Rugby Club, after years of living a nomadic existence.
Two years into its own three-year development plan, Tir Chonaill Harps is fast re-establishing itself as a force in Scotland GAA, at both adult and underage, under chairperson Anton Gallagher.
Moving back into a revamped Pearse Park could help accelerate that process.
The new facility would be a three phase development; (i) the pitch, (ii) the building of a pavilion with changing rooms and (iii) a cultural centre.
The plans are those originally drawn up before the Japanese Knotweed took hold. The intention is to resubmit them to South Lanarkshire Council.
Fundraising is going to be the “big challenge”. Mossey estimates the total cost being in the vicinity of £750,000.
With the Croke Park cupboard “bare”, Scotland GAA will have to rely on its “own efforts” to raise the money.
That means sponsorship deals, and approaching Sport Scotland and the Department of Foreign Affairs for funding.
“We know we’re not going to be dependent on Croke Park,” says Mossey, who is the first Scotland chairperson to come from Dálriada GAA club, which combines Aberdeen and Dundee.
He adds: “The pitch is the priority, the second priority is the changing facility and the cultural centre is an add-on, provided everything goes well with phases one and two.”
A full timetable for the project will be laid out at the 24 May stakeholder meeting, but how quickly work can commence will be dictated by how soon the finances can be put in place.
“It will very much depend on how successful we are on the fundraising side,” adds Mossey.
“They thought Clydebank was initially going to be a three-year project, but it ended up being a five-year project. We might be the same.”
Opened in 2019 and located on the north west side of Glasgow, the Clydebank sporting facility is home to Glasgow Gaels – Scotland senior champions in 2019. The facility, while “fantastic”, also has “major disadvantages”.
“Even Glasgow Gaels have to use it very sparingly because it costs so much. An hour training session costs £120,” explains Mossey.
“If we got Pearse Park up and running we’d be able to deal with that on our own terms, and it would be much more affordable.”
It’s an hour and 20-minute trek on public transport to get from Clydebank to Pearse Park, so the two venues are suitably separated.
“You could probably get from Glasgow to Edinburgh quicker,” says Mossey.
The advantage to re-opening Pearse Park is better accessibility. The east of the city provides access to Scotland’s other clubs – Dunedin Connolly’s (Edinburgh), Dundee Dalriada and Sands MacSwineys (Coatbridge).
Indeed, recent county finals have been staged at St Ambrose High School in Coatbridge, located on the eastern fringes of Glasgow.
A return to Pearse Park would also aid the development of hurling in Scotland with the sport banned from Clydebank due to the potential damage to cars in the car park.
The four and a half acre site at Pearse Park, which was purchased in 1953, was bought on behalf of the GAA by the Scotland county board for less than £5,000.
“It belongs to the GAA; we’re not beholden to any authority or committee,” said Mossey, whose hometown club is Gortin St. Patrick’s in Tyrone.
Located between Rutherglen and Cambuslang, it operated as a pitch for decades but its “dilapidated” changing facilities – there was no running water or electricity – were condemned as unsuitable in 2005.
The board’s efforts to redevelop the ground were then halted in 2012 by Japanese Knotweed – an invasive and resilient weed, the roots of which can grow to a depth of 2m – while drainage work was taking place on the pitch.
In September 2020, the Scotland board was able to present South Lanarkshire Council with a certificate confirming that the Japanese Knotweed had finally been eradicated.
Mossey was also chair of the first Pearse Park Development Committee, set up in the early 1990s.
That led to a series of fundraising intercounty challenge matches between 1993 and 1996 – played for the William Dowd Cup – with proceeds going to the Pearse Park Development Fund.
Brian McEniff’s All Ireland football champions Donegal and Jack O’Shea’s Connacht winners Mayo, were the first teams to be invited over. A crowd of 3,000 were in attendance on 7 February 1993 to see the Donegal bandwagon roll on.
Donegal returned in 1994 and 1995, while Derry (’94) and Dublin (’95 and ’96) also visited.
With Pearse Park unable to accommodate the matches due to its lack of changing facilities, they were instead moved to other venues across Glasgow, such as St Aloysius Rugby Club.
At one stage, Celtic Park – the home of Celtic FC – was looked at and discussions had with the football club, but the playing surface was in the end deemed too small to stage Gaelic football.