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Economic downturn 'will impact on Gaelic games'

16 December 2010

The economic downturn in Ireland will have a dramatic impact on Gaelic games across the island of Ireland according to researcher Stephen Moore who was awarded his PhD from the University of Ulster.

Dr Moore, who examined the history and role of Gaelic games in London as part of his doctoral research, said that the grim nature of the economy and the lack of job prospects are forcing members of the Irish community to emigrate once again.

During the research, supervised by Dr Paul Darby of the Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute, he discovered a pattern between the strength of the Irish economy and the strength of the GAA – when the former was performing well, the latter also prospered.

“During the ‘boom years’ of the Celtic Tiger there was a dramatic reduction in the number of people emigrating from Ireland, which resulted in the number of Gaelic clubs in London dropping to below 30 for the first time over 60 years,” Dr Moore said.

“Prior to this, during the 1950s and 60s there was a booming GAA community in the English capital with almost 90 fully functional Gaelic clubs in existence, which was more than the majority of counties in Ireland. The popularity of the GAA in this period was such that Gaelic games were showcased on an annual basis at Wembley stadium on the Whit weekend, events which attracted upwards of 40,000 people.”

Dr Moore’s research showed the earliest records of Gaelic games in the south east of England and London date as far back as the early 1700s were ad-hoc games of un-codified Gaelic football and hurling were played by the Irish diaspora.

After the Great Famine from 1845-52, Gaelic games and Irish culture developed rapidly as Irish people left the country for London and locales much further afield. However, a formal structure to govern Gaelic games in London was absent until the mid 1890s when the actions of numerous Irish migrants, including Sam Maguire, Liam McCarthy and Michael Collins gave a solid structure to the association.

Dr Moore’s research also identified the changing demography of the GAA’s membership. He said: “Throughout the 20th century, a huge proportion of the footballers and hurlers recruited in London were manual labourers. However, the current trend, a trend which we will see continuing into the future, is commonly known as the ‘brain drain’.

“This is basically the growing wave of young Irish people with professional qualifications who are now travelling to London to work in the IT and financial industries. This is something we haven’t seen in such large numbers since the 1980s. Unfortunately, these are the very people required in Stormont and Dublin to get our economies back on track.

“One of the most recent illustrations of this was the formation in late 2005 of Fulham Irish GAA Club. Located in a prosperous area, previously uninhabited by large numbers of Irish people, Fulham Irish now draw the majority of their players from the growing number of highly successful and educated Irish people living in the area. Therefore, these people are leaving Ireland to seek an entirely different kind of employment to that of their compatriots in the last century.”

The PhD research also showed how the GAA acted as a beacon for Irish immigrants as it gave them a ‘home from home’ to indulge themselves in and enjoy their Irish culture while in a different country.

“The GAA was a social glue, that facilitated a sense of community amongst Irish immigrants. It also served as a place to make contacts that often led to employment, a place to live and important social networks,” he said.

“Although the drain on players, managers, administrators and supporters looks like continuing for some time, it could ironically lead to a resurgence of Gaelic games in London making the football, hurling and camogie in the city hugely competitive once again.”

Dr Moore’s research also investigates the important role played by second and third generation Irish in the Association in London, acting as a central agent in the expression of their own unique form of ‘Irishness’.

“It is of vital importance to note the strong and growing presence of those with Irish heritage in the Association in London. For this generation, its far more than just a game, it’s a form of identity, a link with their ancestry and a strong connection to what many see as their spiritual home in Ireland.”

Dr Moore himself plays both Gaelic football and hurling with his home club in Dublin, St Brigid’s. He recently captained his side to Championship victory in September. During his studies at the University of Ulster, Dr Moore was also an active member of the Gaelic football club in Jordanstown, playing with the Fresher’s team that won the All-Ireland in 2003 as well as the Sigerson panels of 2006 and 2007.