GAA Football

What is the definition of a True Gael? Ireland doesn't stop at the border RTE.

Jemar Hall's dad is from the USA. Is he a True Gael? Of course he is. Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

THE refreshing tale of AJ McMinn's journey from the ‘other' side of the inter-face to the camogie fields of county Down was greeted with almost universal positivity.

Sport-mad AJ, who comes from a Loyalist area in north Belfast, has fallen head over heels in love with the game of camogie and the many benefits, both sporting and social, that being involved with a GAA club affords its members.

The overwhelming response to the story was: “Good on you AJ, best of luck for the future”. There were messages of support from all over but the story did prove to be too much for a minority of angry individuals on both sides of the political divide who vented their out-dated spleen on social media. Twitter gives anonymous keyboard warriors (maybe keyboard slabbers would be a more accurate term?) the chance to come out with their views and a couple did so.

One lamented the fact that it was always the Protestants who made the effort to cross the barricades and said it was time for the RCs (Roman Catholics) to do likewise.

Another, who I presume is an RC, claimed that AJ's story was not worthy of coverage in The Irish News and, after a robust defence from AJ herself, he went on to claim that she wasn't a ‘True Gael'.

Immediately he was asked to post a test that measured a person's True Gaelness but he failed to oblige so I will ask the question: What makes a True Gael?

Should they have family links to Brian Boru?

Be a fluent Irish speaker.

Possess a Christy Moore back catalogue and t-shirt collection.

Be White.

Be able to discuss the schhtik on a good pint of Guinness.

Have plans to grow their own spuds.

Holiday in Doolin.

Be a Catholic whose parents never miss Mass.

Always watch The Late Late but don't like Ryan Tubridy.

Have worn an Italy jersey for the final of the European Championships but hate soccer (except Celtic and the Republic of Ireland).

Have been to every Fleadh Ceoil since 1982.

I know people who could answer ‘Yes' to all of the above (except the Brian Boru link maybe) but some of them have very little interest in Gaelic Games. So what makes a ‘True Gael'?

Recently I met a Protestant family from Africa who have come to live in the North and are involved with their local club at underage and senior level and there are also many families from Eastern Europe and much further afield who have done the same. The kids they play alongside don't notice their colour, religion or surname but it seems that some in the generations above them still do.

So do you have to be born in Ireland to be a True Gael? If so, North or South, or does it matter? Are you more of a True Gael if you were born in Africa to Irish parents, or born in Ireland to African parents?

What about an Irish mum and an American dad? I remember a man called Sherman Hall playing for Forkhill in the Armagh leagues back in the 1990s. A black American man playing Gaelic Football! The novelty was enough to add a few quid to the gate receipts.

His son Jemar is now a regular with Armagh and the last time I saw Sherman, he was on the line coaching the Forkhill U11s. “Goood guuurl Blah-heeeen,” he shouted encouragingly to one of the players in his team.

So are the Halls True Gaels? Of course they are.

Jemar has had to deal with racial abuse on the field while playing for his club but the sight of black and brown faces will become increasingly commonplace until, inevitably, they becomes unnoticed.

In the GAA we hold our memories close and our traditions are dear to us and so they should be but the Association must continue to be welcoming and inclusive to the new people who are coming to live in our communities. That is how the Association will survive, grow and thrive in the modern world.

And we shouldn't just welcome the people who are coming here from overseas.

In many ways it's much harder for a Protestant person who lives next door to a GAA club in the North to get involved than it is for someone who arrives from overseas with no baggage and no stigma.

Someone like AJ McMinn had to set deep-rooted societal divisions to one side and risk the barbs of a minority of the nationalist population who would claim she has no business setting foot in a GAA club.

At the same time she risked the wrath of a minority of the unionist population who will see her as a traitor and also claim she has no business setting foot in a GAA club.

Crossing the divide takes bravery and the GAA should highlight the fact that the door is always open to everyone at every opportunity.

So what makes a True Gael? There is no answer. It's about being passionate about Gaelic Games and encouraging others to be the same and the club is open to everyone.

AJ is a member of East Belfast GAC. She trains and plays and supports her club and county and soon she'll be coaching the kids.

That's a True Gael for me.

GREAT news from Tokyo yesterday as Ireland duo Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy won a gold medal in the lightweight men's double sculls.

Viewers in the North would have been disappointed, as they have been throughout these Olympic Games, when the message – ‘This programme is not available' – flashed up on their screens as they sat down to watch the Irish Olympic team's progress in Japan.

The RTE coverage isn't available to viewers in the six counties but the adverts during the breaks are! It really is a ridiculous state of affairs when you consider the number of athletes from the North who are part of the Ireland team from boxers like Michaela and Aidan Walsh, who created history by being the first brother and sister pairing to compete at the Games, giant-killing Kurt Walker and of course Brendan Irvine, who carried the flag at the opening ceremony.

That show of unity has not been matched by the national broadcaster and RTE have denied people in the North the opportunity to cheer on family and friends from their own communities in all manner of sports including athletics, hockey and cycling.

It feels like a betrayal. Ireland doesn't stop at the border RTE.

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