The full awareness of being both an island apart and a small country integrated into Europe lastingly inhabits the Irish. Although the « Celtic Tiger » has given the country a due national pride, mathematically speaking, Ireland is still a dwarf in a world of giants.

Even if we all play in the same yard (that of the European Union), what is fascinating to observe with the Irish is this mixture of inferiority complex against other Western countries, and this national pride reserved to the initiates only.

Do foreigner really know what hurling, camogie or All-Ireland finals are? Conversely, which Irishman worthy of the name does not know about these topics? Those are important concepts and highlights of Irish life. The term « All-Ireland » refers mainly to sports competitions, organized by the powerful GAA (or IRFU for rugby). And that encompass the whole island of Ireland, not just the Republic. The GAA, Gaelic Athletic Association, was founded in 1884. The idea of Michael Cusack the founder was both to promote Gaelic culture, but also to democratize sport. The GAA is thus a strong defender of Irish culture, and its website is fully bilingual. But it is through sport really that the GAA is the best known. “GAA” is an acronym that can be seen all over Ireland (banners, advertisements, T-Shirts). The GAA is a must of Irish culture. The association has about 800,000 members, which is huge, (Reminder: The Republic has not even 5 million, and Northern Ireland about 1.8 million) and it “reunites” the two Irelands for its different sports.

The GAA goes hand in hand with the sense of belonging to the Irish nation that all Irish people share, those who live on Irish soil, but also the diaspora (more on the subject « diaspora » in a future article)

The headquarters of the association is at Dublin’s Croke Park, a mythical place for all Irish people). The hurling for men and camogie, its feminine version, are two sports derived from hockey. Having had the chance to once attend the final All-Ireland hurling event at Croke Park, I can assure you that this is a particularly fast sport. I sometimes felt like I was watching a quidditch game desperately looking for the Golden Snitch with my eyes, minus the brooms. Croke Park has 82,300 seats. There were 82,297 delirious spectators that day (you can’t even imagine) … plus the 3 of us, 3 foreigners both stunned and fascinated. Particularly lucky to be here on that day, the spectator seats of the Final All-Ireland are particularly sought after, and the march of spectators by foot, beer in their hand, to enter Croke Park, is cult.

Croke Park was unfortunately also the scene of the first « Bloody Sunday » in November 1920, during the War of Independence. That morning, the IRA had organized a raid on Dublin city center to track down undercover British agents and wounded/killed about 15 officers. As a result, in the afternoon, British forces searching for IRA members entered Croke Park where a Gaelic football match was being held and opened fire arbitrarily on spectators killing or wounding 75 civilians. I tell you this so that you understand how important Gaelic sports and Croke Park are to the Irish, but also how from provocations to retaliations, the troubles lasted 30 years, and the ashes can still cool off or burn again depending on how History blows on it.

In rugby, managed by the IRFU, it is also the whole island that counts, what matters is to be Irish from Ireland regardless of whether you come from the North or the South. The Irish Rugby Cup, also known as Bateman-cup, sees the top four teams from the four provinces compete: Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht. So for sporting events the old provinces come back to life, not an administrative life but an athletic one. Therefore, it is also an All-Ireland competition. Ireland IS a fuzzy concept I tell you..

With the return to school at the slow exit of lockdown 3.0, it is also the return of uniforms and sports training.  And there is an interesting phenomenon to observe: in the middle of the afternoon, when the classrooms empty, the busses fill up with teenagers in school and sports uniforms on their way to the second part of their day: team sports training. At the very least 3 times a week in general. Sport is a value in itself here, as I have already written. Many young people continue to train and play for their team during their college years, which involves going back to their hometown/village every weekend. It should be noted that Gaelic sports retain amateur status, even for top athletes, which makes their motivation even more remarkable.

Hurling, All Ireland finals, Croke Park

Publié par pchatelain

Je suis une Française qui habite actuellement en Irlande et qui s intéresse particulièrement à la valeur des mots

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