I tend to avoid these things as they bring out the worst in people, but one thing that caught my eye was East Belfast GAA posting that GAA was "a sport for all". I take exception to this. I have much respect for the GAA, it is a great organisation. I have even more respect for East Belfast GAA. Indeed, on a wider basis what they are doing there in conjunction with Linda Ervine and her Gaelic language push is excellent and they have my admiration. The fact that it annoys knuckle dragging loyalists makes it even better. I am a passionate supporter of fitness and language. I regularly cycle around 100 miles per week. I teach English to foreigners and I speak Spanish, a smattering of French and have an MSc in linguistics. Anything that gets people to play sport/exercise and learn languages is a great thing, and the GAA is a big supporter of both. I saw a piece on TV about Slaughtneil GAA club and it has hundreds of young people regularly training, playing sport, socialising etc. What that club does for that rural community is exceptional, and it is replicated in many clubs the length and breadth of this island.
Personally, I just don't like Gaelic football. I tried to watch it years ago and during the match a cross came over and everyone jumped for the ball. I was waiting for someone to get their head on it, a la soccer, but instead someone slapped the ball into the net with his hand. Disgraceful! Get your head on it, son! In another move a player was clean through with the keeper to beat when he just kicked the ball over the bar for a point! Nooooooo! Go for the 3 points, you loser! Hurling I find to be like rugby, a good game is very entertaining, but a poor game is unwatchable. I'm just not into it, and more importantly, I don't feel the GAA is a warm place for people like me. Growing up in a family with military and police connections and joining the British Army at 21, Rule 21 barred my family and I from playing, so I was pretty hostile to the sport. Rule 21 was eventually abolished thanks to the GAA in the RoI, the northerners mostly opposed it. I changed my mind on GAA after having lunch with Jimmy Deenihan, the Kerry GAA legend and FG minister, in 2018. He spoke so warmly of what the GAA means to the people of Kerry, it was impossible not to be moved.
Anybody that has read my blogs over the last months will know that I am a firm believer in the separation, as much as is possible, of sport and politics. The GAA is just the opposite. Some northern clubs openly support the PIRA and INLA. Indeed you would be forgiven for thinking that the GAA is the sporting wing of PSF. Some northern clubs and competitions are named after members of both republican organisations. For me, this is totally unacceptable. Commemorate who you want to commemorate, but keep it out of sport. I wouldn't support a team named after a loyalist killer and I certainly wouldn't expect a member of the CNR community to do so either. Could you imagine a football team called Top Gun McKeag FC? Or a schools rugby competition called The Soldier F Cup? These people left victims and victims have families and friends.
It is just not acceptable to bring this into sport. You cannot expect people who had friends and/or family killed or maimed by members of armed groups to support or participate in a competition or interact with a club named after the perpetrators. So, East Belfast GAA club, I support what you do, teaching fitness and sportsmanship to young people, reclaiming your Irish identity, and I wish you well, but don't suggest to me that GAA is a sport for all.