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Gaelic games in Wembley, Dubai and beyond: Irish emigration through the eyes of the GAA

Here’s nine things we learned from Setanta Sports’ new documentary to be aired this week.

THE GAA HAS had a huge impact upon the lives of Irish emigrants throughout history, with the common ground and social aspect of the games helping Irish people to settle into their new destinations across the globe.

Setanta Sports’ new Home from Home documentary tells us the story of how the GAA has affected Irish emigration, focusing on the stories of both new and old emigrants’ lives in four cities - Dubai, London, Toronto and Christchurch. Here’s nine things we learned from a sneak preview of the film.

1. The 1964 All-Ireland finals were broadcast live on BBC

Due to the the ‘demand being so huge from the Irish community in London’ the 1964 finals were broadcast by the BBC.

GAA Archive / YouTube

2. GAA games were played in the old Wembley stadium

Yes, the GAA ran exhibition games in England often featuring the All-Ireland semi finalists and finalists. These games grew so popular that they had to be moved to Wembley Stadium where at it’s height over 40,000 people were in attendance.

3. Christchurch McKennas’ Steven Joyce absolutely loves the GAA

And that is a major understatement. The man responsible for putting together a 35 man plus gaelic football panel in New Zealand is madly passionate about his new club.

The Galway man has his heart set on winning the Owen McKenna cup, a competition in the memory of the founding club member who died during the 2011 earthquake in the city.

He also loves a hopping pass, and he doesn’t mind if his forwards shoot on sight as long as they’re trying.


4. There is now an All-New Zealand Cup 

There is indeed, and guess who’s intent on winning that too, you got it, our boy Steven is on a quest to do the double by overcoming fierce rivals Auckland.

Last year was the competition’s debut year as the game continues to grow in the country. With plans to rebuild the city after the tragic earthquake three years ago, contractors are now looking for 27,000 people to come in and work over the next decade.

5. Gaelic games are played in huge indoor domes in Toronto

Clubs in Toronto play one another in indoor domes, the weather can get pretty extreme on the other side of the Atlantic.

Toronto, a particularly hostile environment for Irish Catholics in the nineteenth century, now hosts the ‘new Irish’; the new generation of educated Irish emigrants who are now in search of specific jobs to match their degrees.


6. There are about 60 GAA clubs in the Middle East

Dubai, the ‘city built out of the desert to be a playground for the super-rich’, last year hosted 58 GAA clubs. Only 20 years ago there was no GAA whatsoever in the region.

7. They have made their own adaptations to the rules though

As you can imagine it’s very hot in Dubai, so teams have slightly bent the rules to adjust to the conditions.

Teams consist of nine players rather than 15, with seven minute halves – “it’s 15 minutes and it’s more free flowing because with the heat you couldn’t sustain it.”

8. ‘Horsing about’ is not okay in Dubai

A number of things are not acceptable in Dubai, which would otherwise be the case in Western cities.

Although there are many misconceptions of what is and isn’t permitted, if your spotted “kissing in public” or “horsing about with a friend”after a night out, you will be arrested, jailed and fined heavily.  Still though the Irish there tell us that the pros far outweigh the cons.


9. When things get bad at home, the GAA abroad thrives

Officials in Toronto say they went from fielding reserve teams, and four u17 selections to barely having fifteen during the Celtic tiger. As small Irish rural GAA clubs are forced to fold or amalgamate, the clubs abroad prosper.

Here’s a quick teaser of the doc produced by Lucia Gavin and directed by the award winning Andrew Gallimore. You can see the first part of the film on Setanta Sports tomorrow at 9.45pm.

Lucia Gavin / YouTube

The GAA football emigrants XV – 15 intercounty players who are away this summer

‘If we’re getting straight red cards for that, the game is going down’ – James Horan

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