GAA Football

Laochra Loch Lao: a growing community flourishing in the gaelic field

Laochra Loch Lao, Belfast's first stand-alone Irish-speaking GAA club training at the Sportlann, Coláiste Feirste in west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann.
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

WHEN Laochra Loch Lao defeated McQuillan’s at Coláiste Feirste off the Falls Road on a Sunday afternoon in May it was less a watershed moment than quiet confirmation that Antrim’s newest club were on the right track.

To underline that point, 10 days later, the Belfast Gaels lost by no less than 20 points to table-topping St Patrick’s, Lisburn.

However, that win on home soil over the Ballycastle outfit, the club’s first ever in Antrim’s Division Three, was proof that, if the hard work continues, Laochra Loch Lao can compete in senior football.

After all, this time last year, the club that caters for Belfast’s Irish-speaking community and conducts all its business through the medium of Irish, didn’t officially exist.

“Last year, the big question was whether we were going to be allowed to affiliate as a GAA club,” says club secretary Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh.

“We went before the county board in January and there was whole load of different questions that were asked.

“It wasn’t something that sailed through, people were worried about it.

“There was a lot of support for the idea, but the representatives there were concerned about the senior structure, you had clubs closing down in Belfast and now you had a new club on the scene.

“But our idea was that this would increase participation by bringing both new members and members who had lapsed back into the fold – we have a unique focal in that the club functions through the medium of Irish and it’s for the Irish language community, specifically.

“And in that case, it was very hard to argue against.”

It is this growing community which has responded with great enthusiasm to the Laochra call over the last year.

Not only did the club, in its maiden season in the All-County League Division Three, fulfil all fixtures and pick up three points along the way, but the ladies’ footballers raised a few eyebrows in their Division Three, at one point topping the table, while a second men’s side was able to take the field in the south Antrim league.

The juvenile structures, meanwhile, have flourished, with the club attracting recruits from bunscoileanna from across Belfast.

“Our aim at the start of the year was to establish a club, to establish a club identity and to try to be as competitive as we could,” Mac Ionnrachtaigh adds.

“We won a game and drew a game in the senior men’s league, we had a number of close encounters where we lost by a handful of points and we went to Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta and we won a game there - we beat the Kerry champions from Listowel, which was a turn up for the books.

“Our ladies’ footballers, at one point, topped the league and won their first three games, but it got a lot more competitive obviously after that.

“In that sense, we achieved a whole lot more than expected.

“We had something like 54 players who turned out for the two men’s teams this year. So that was, in effect, 54 new GAA players who lined out for the Laochra.”

As with the burgeoning Irish medium education sector in the North, there is a sense at Laochra Loch Lao that they are the pioneers for a different type of sporting engagement.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the club’s juvenile structures.

As Conchuir Ó Mudaigh, chair of Laochra’s juvenile committee says: “These kids will go down in the club’s history books in 20, 50, 100 years from now as the first kids that represented the club.

“They will be recognised as the first kids that represented the first Irish-speaking GAA club in history here in the North.”

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