Northern Ireland news

Huge response to plans to set up new GAA club in east Belfast

There are plans to form a new GAA club in east Belfast, which would play in the Co Down leagues
Connla Young

AMBITIOUS plans are being put in place to revive Gaelic games in east Belfast.

News that a new club may be set up has already sparked a huge response in the area.

Traditionally a unionist stronghold, the last club to play at adult level in the district, St Colmcille's GAC, went out of existence in the early 1970s.

Now a group of young Gaels have come together to form a new club on a cross-community basis.

Those behind the plan say they hope to be in a position to enter a team in the Co Down junior leagues by next year.

A post on the East Belfast GAA Twitter account yesterday urged people interested in playing, coaching or administration to get in touch.

“All ages, genders and backgrounds welcome,” it said.

Organisers say there has been a massive response and already enough people have come forward to field a team next year.

Currently people from east Belfast who have an interest in Gaelic games tend to travel to nearby Bredagh GAC or the Markets-based St Malachy's club.

St Malachy's traditionally attracts players from the Short Strand area of east Belfast.

Sean Martin's GAC, which no longer exists, previously fielded under-age teams in the Short Strand area.

St Paul's GAC in Holywood, which borders east Belfast, also serves a large part of north Down.

Those behind the plan say other clubs, including St Brigid's GAC which was formed in 1998, offer an example of how a new venture can flourish.

“You have to start somewhere and you would have the likes of St Brigid's in south Belfast,” one of those involved said.

He added that an important element will be that the club is cross community and attract people who traditionally participate in other codes.

No decision has been taken about where any new club will be based.

“It will be interesting to see how it goes,” he said.

“It's 2020 and it's well past due.”

Down county board chairman Jack Devaney said that while the body had yet to be approached it is open to the possibility of a new club in the area.

“We are all for growth and if there are areas where the GAA community can evolve and prosper, certainly were would be enthusiastic about that,” he said.

East Belfast-based Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine, who comes from a Protestant background, welcomed the development.

“Starting up a GAA club in east Belfast is almost a return to normality in a way,” she said.

“If this does get off the ground and if there is cross-community uptake how powerful would that be?

“It could be a very positive thing and I hope it happens and there's a very good uptake.”

A previous club in east Belfast, St Colmcille's, was formed in the 1950s.

Based in Ballyhackamore on the Upper Newtownards Road, it went out of existence in the early 1970s as the Troubles took hold.

It was one of several GAA clubs formed in unlikely areas during the period including Scrabo Harps in Newtownards and St Comgall's in Bangor.

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