By Damian Dolan
Jack Grealish has given his backing to a campaign to save Pairc na hÉireann and transform it into a modern state-of the-art facility for grassroots sport in the West Midlands.
Pairc na hÉireann in Solihull is the home of the GAA in Warwickshire and Britain.
It has 3,000 volunteer members and attracts people from across Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton to engage in Gaelic football, hurling and camogie.
The ground’s redevelopment is part of the M42 Improvement Scheme, which will see a relief road run directly through the site’s current pitches, clubhouse and a memorial to deceased members.
Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s (SMBC) planning committee are due to hear Highways England’s planning application for Pairc na hÉireann on 11 August.
Warwickshire GAA chairperson Michael Collins says it’s imperative that planning approval is granted.
“Planning permission has been deferred twice now and a further deferral or rejection would prove catastrophic for us. Any appeal process could take over 12 months to complete,” said Collins.
“Highways England have stated that they will commence work immediately after the council’s 11 August planning meeting, regardless of the outcome.
“Such a scenario would mean that we would be left with barely one full size pitch and an uncertain future.”
England and Aston Villa star Grealish played underage Gaelic football for Birmingham GAA club John Mitchel’s.
In 2009 he represented Warwickshire at Croke Park in the half-time exhibition game during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final between Dublin and Kerry, even scoring a point.
“As a boy I spent many happy years playing Gaelic football in Pairc na hÉireann,” said Jack Grealish, in a statement via Warwickshire GAA.
“The skills I learned and the encouragement I received helped me become the player I am today.”
Grealish’s father, Kevin, has credited GAA with helping to prepare his son for a career as a professional soccer player.
“Grassroots sports are so important for kids across the West Midlands. Warwickshire GAA is at the forefront of making sure everyone from all backgrounds has the chance to play and participate,” added Jack Grealish.
“I fully support the campaign to save Pairc na hÉireann.”
The Warwickshire county board hope the backing of stars like Jack Grealish will highlight the contribution of the GAA on their sporting careers, as well as the positive impact the redevelopment would have, not just on the GAA, but on the community of Solihull Borough at large.
The new facility would see Warwickshire GAA enter into a community use agreement with Highways England that would open up Pairc na hÉireann to local people and organisations.
Warwickshire GAA has already received several expressions of interest from sports clubs and schools.
“For us to move forward as an amateur sporting organisation we need the certainty of this planning consent to continue to flourish, and also provide a fantastic facility for the local community,” added Collins.
Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) President Larry McCarthy, said: “Pairc na hÉireann has been such an important facility for the GAA and the West Midlands community for many years.
“I am hopeful that the planning permission will be given on 11 August, and I look forward to visiting Solihull to see the new development in the near future.”
Former boxer Matthew Macklin is another ex-Warwickshire GAA player to lend his support.
Macklin played Gaelic football for Sean McDermotts and hurled for John Mitchel’s, as well as representing Warwickshire at Féile. In 1997 he also played under 16 for Tipperary.
“Prior to boxing I used to play for Warwickshire GAA. I had a great time playing for them, and it led to me playing for Tipperary underage,” Macklin posted on his Instagram account.
“If my family had made the move back to Ireland who knows maybe I would have stuck with hurling over boxing.”
He added: “But they were great days out in Pairc na hÉireann and I hope everyone supports the Warwickshire GAA regarding plans for a new ground.”
In March, the council’s planning committee voted to defer the application due to a number of concerns.
It was scheduled to go back before the committee on 14 July, but was withdrawn due to a technicality.
Speaking to the Irish World recently, Collins said he was “happy” that all of the issues raised by councillors in March had been addressed by Highways England.
If the plans get the green light on 11 August, it would provide Warwickshire GAA with “one of the finest facilities outside of Ireland”.
Funded by Highways England, the application comprises three pitches, including one full-size all-weather surface, a new modern sports pavilion with eight dressing rooms, including two of inter-county size, and car parking.
“It will put us at another level – a clubhouse and pitches to modern standards, including a top-class inter-county pitch,” said Collins.
“The all-weather pitch will be there, not just for us, but for the local community to use as well.”
Warwickshire GAA have been locked in discussions with Highways England and council authorities since early 2017.