GAH Humbug – How You’re Helping the GAA Ruin Your LIfe

If you’re of my persuasion (and you’re probably not, unless you’re the sort of reckless maverick who uses parentheses in an opening sentence), Croke Park strikes the eye as a kind of optical illusion. At once monstrously conspicuous – a brusque interruption of a familiar landscape – and curiously invisible, by virtue of one’s utter indifference to everything it represents.

For international readers – Croke Park is the 80,000-seater Dublin headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association, the body which governs Gaelic Games.

If you’re unfamiliar with Gaelic football, it is essentially an archaic kicking-and-catching code, akin to those played in elite English schools 150 years ago (from which modern football quickly evolved). Its sister sport, hurling, resembles a hybrid of lacrosse and field hockey in which the ball is plucked and volleyed freely.

The common format of the Gaelic Games (amateur players, multiple scoring methods, 70-minute matches) is unrecognisable from those practised at the elite level of sport, and they are better understood as elaborate athletic folk-rituals (along with other regionally popular spectacles such as bullfighting and Morris-dancing). – Dublin Dilettante

It is beyond dispute that football (and there will be no qualification of that term) is the game, indeed the primary cultural outlet, of the global working class. It conquered the world in parallel with the very processes which formed that class, rippling outwards from the British Isles along the earliest currents of globalised capitalism.

Enthusiasm for the game was immediate and uniform, throughout Latin America and Central Europe (except, initially, in Germany, where football was condemned as a malign foreign influence amid a vicious swelling of Teutonic nationalism, but survived and thrived nonetheless).

Curiously, however, those countries which proved most resistant to the game were precisely those which appeared best-placed to assimilate it, by virtue of their cultural ties with Britain.

Even today, football remains institutionally marginalised (though wildly popular amongst much of the general public) in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States. South Africa is an atypical case, where majority rule has seen football displace rugby union, the sport jealously favoured under Apartheid as an exemplar of disciplined white supremacy.

Football had the misfortune to take the playing field at a time when all these societies were attempting to disentangle themselves from British influence, with varying degrees of urgency. But in order for the native elites of these countries to  preserve their own political and economic power, they needed a forge national identities which did not conflict with existing systems of ownership.

Cultural and ethnic differentiations were a means of short-circuiting the more radical currents of thought which emerged from anti-colonial struggles in the English-speaking world. Sport was a central battlefield in this cultural war, even in those places where the trenches had to be carved from virgin land.

The supposedly ancient Gaelic Games (and how weird is it that a sport should carry a racialising prefix?) were not actually codified until the 1880s; like so many feats of  “national awakening”, this was hailed as an heroic revival rather than an outright contrivance.

From the very outset of Ireland’s independent existence, the Gaelic Athletic Association constituted the sporting wing of the corporatist Irish state, a state which sought to bring all cultural, religious and social institutions under its control while allowing private capital to operate freely.  Gaelic Games were, in effect, the racial purity and brutal simplicity of De Valera’s Gaelic Ireland neatly encased in pigskin.

Professional football is a primarily urban sport in which the club-based structure tends to highlight local class tensions and divisions. Dublin’s clubs have their roots in unambiguously working-class communities such as Inchicore, Phibsboro and Ringsend.

Gaelic Games, by cunning contrast, are contested at the inter-county level (Ireland’s counties being more-or-less arbitrary parcels of land with no distinct socio-economic identity). It’s hardly surprising that this meaningless and unthreatening “county pride” is relentlessly promoted by the Irish media, political class and the massive multinationals which back the GAA to the hilt.

If you’re still not convinced that the GAA’s supposed centrality to Irish life is a political and marketing exercise, attempt the following:

Take a walk through any estate, park, or viable patch of grass in any major urban centre in Ireland. You will see gaggles of children breathlessly kicking, heading and dribbling footballs, just as – if not God, then some happy combination of human biology and human genius surely intended. (Indeed, it’s significant that football involves the head and feet – the organs of thought and dance – whereas catching codes express the acquisitive desire to grasp and manhandle, to fumble with the greasy ball).

By contrast, the only evidence of Gaelic Games you will encounter will be taking place within caged-off reservations festooned with civic and corporate sponsorship, or under strict and peremptory adult supervision.

The Gaelic, Catholic model of nationalism upon which the state was founded has largely fallen into disrepute in recent years. It has been replaced by Ireland Inc., a perverse concept which presents the “favourable business climate” as the bedrock of 21st-century patriotism.

But this novel definition of Ireland as a patchwork of taxation rates and share prices excludes the populace entirely, and makes for a vague and tenuous claim on their allegiance. And so the GAA must continue to be fostered, the atrophied black heart at the centre of the Irish state, the eternal reminder that your ancestors were every bit as unworthy and servile as you are.

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17 Responses to “GAH Humbug – How You’re Helping the GAA Ruin Your LIfe”

  1. Shifty Says:

    Absolute nonsense, from start to finish. Fairview Park in Dublin, which is more of a soccer stronghold than the rest of the country, usually has more people having a puck around than people casually playing with a football.

  2. Captain Redbeard Says:

    I would argue that the classless nature of GAA is it’s greatest achievement. It is a unifying force.

    You are correct in your assertion that there’s something inherently creepy about any racialised sport, to a point. But you fail to recognise that all sport is racialised to some degree. Sport is culture, and culture is racial. Are you proposing we’d be better off in a state of global homogeny? With a single global sport, or set of sports? I sense that this globalised model is why most Olympic sports are so utterly uninspiring for 3/4 years. They are not tied to any one place, they are not the property of the people in the way that GAA is to the Irish.

    I follow the Dubs and Ireland(soccer and rugby). They are my three teams, they are my values, they are my people. And I don’t see why you must sacrifice one for the other.

  3. Phil Says:

    Absolute twaddle. Waste of time writing it.

  4. Macca1087 Says:

    I see you hint to GAA bias to other sports and its previous policy to the “foreign games”, but you fail to mention that the GAA games were banned under the British occupation of Ireland. So to put it in context it is understandable that they would have animosity to the English sports which also reflected views of the people at the time too with anglo irish relations not being that great, but now with the opening of soccer and rugby at croke park and God save the Queen been played there I think that has symbolized how strong anglo Irish relations are today . Also had the GAA not gone down the root of discouraging other sports it may not be the game it is today if you look across Europe a lot of countries have their own indigenous sports but has very insignificant following even in their own country as they have been absorbed by the global games. In Contrast to the GAA which is growing globally year on year. Is it not great that we have a sport that we can call our own and be proud of? and to me The GAA is symbolic of Irish resistance to an Imperial power in this case the empire being Soccer. Just like in the past the Irish resistance and hatred towards the English, the GAA had towards Soccer and Rugby. But today just as the Irish people have embraced and are friendly with Britain, we now see fans coming to GAA games wearing their favorite premier league football team former hurlers Tomas O’Leary and Shane Long now playing rugby and soccer. We may not agree with journey the GAA took to get to the place it is at right now, but I think we have to look forward The Hurling final of the past weekend was a great example for the modern GAA and a spectacle rivaling in any sport in terms of skill, passion, courage and excitement.

  5. James Says:

    I always enjoy reading articles like that above. So full of one-sided bigotry all you can do really is laugh at it.

  6. Eamonn Says:

    Total and utter rubbish…….. smacks of a bigotry that I thought had vanished. Shame on you!

  7. CMK Says:

    Well written, obviously touched a raw nerve to go by the peremptory dismissals of it. The GAA doesn’t stand up to that much scrutiny and, I think it was Johnny Giles who wrote about this, where there was a determined effort to oppress soccer in working class communities in Dublin in the 1950’s. Also, the parochialism and narrow mindedness that his fundamental to the GAA outlook infected other sports who were divided into ‘Gael’ and ‘Foreign’ – for instance, cycling, another paradigmatic working class sport. You’d have to wonder how long GAA would survive if it didn’t have to be relentlessly marketed all of the time by banks and drinks companies and RTE. Having said that, hurling is an amazing sport, worth cherishing and nurturing; football, less so, and that’s before you get to the endemic violence of it a senior inter-county level. And, to top it all, women are excluded from the GAA proper, not being worthy of membership of that august organisation but having to do with their, affiliated but lesser, organisations. As I said the GAA wouldn’t stand much critical scrutiny and that’s probably why it is never subject to such scrutiny and even to debate it, as this post has clearly and successfully attempted, is to bring out the mindless ‘rubbish’ and ‘bigotry’ merchants.

  8. marblecitycat Says:

    Two quick points, CMK. RTE began broadcasting in the early 1960s and sponsorship of the hurling and football championships came in in the early 1990s – therefore the GAA was thriving (crowds of 80,000 at All Ireland finals in the 1950s), never mind “surviving”, long before either was a factor. One therefore doesn’t “have to wonder how long the GAA would survive” without such contrived hype; it always has. (By the way, if you want a sport that’s “relentlessly marketed” by the corporate sector and RTE out of all proportion to its attendances at grassroots level, how about rugby?)

    Also, to say that women are “excluded” is laughable. The camogie and ladies’ football associations are not part of the GAA (as yet) as a result of THEIR choice, the reasoning being they’d be lost in such a large organisation. The camogie and ladies’ football finals are played every year in Croke Park. How often does the ladies’ soccer and rugby teams play the Aviva?

  9. CMK Says:

    Point taken about rugby and how provincial rugby teams are more or less marketing constructs. But I think you’ve made my point for me regarding the role of women in the GAA. If half the population can be ‘swamped’ in an organisation, that raises pretty fundamental questions about how power functions in that organisation. You’re more or less acknowledging that women in the GAA don’t have the influence or are not granted the respect to turn back the ‘swamping’ process.

    • marblecitycat Says:

      Sorry, only seeing this now. I think you’re overlooking the very obvious point that sporting organisations running male-oriented games are – get this! – male-dominated and always have been. Why are you picking out the GAA as being somehow anti-women when the FAI and IRFU have, similarly, always been run by men? I’d have thought that raises “pretty fundamental questions about how power functions” in THOSE organisations. The CEO of the FAI is not Joan Delaney (though it would probably be better if that were the case); the CEO of the IRFU is not Philippa Browne. Men run sports played by men. Care to name for me a sport played by men in this country that is largely or even partially administered by women? Come to think of it, the lack of female TDs surely raises “pretty fundamental questions about how power functions” in the Oireachtas. So, again, why single out the GAA when in this regard they’re far from the exception to the rule in this country?

      Incidentally, forgot to point out that one of the stupidest things about the original article was the claim that Gaelic games are contested at intercounty level and none other. The very basis of the GAA is, of course, the club – and for every bastion of working-class soccer like Inchicore and Phibsboro in Dublin there’s a bastion of working-class GAA in, say, working-class Cork (North Mon on the northside, St Finbarr’s on the southside), Waterford (De La Salle), etc. Not that I’dve expected the writer to be aware of this, obviously.

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  14. shea Says:

    dev was a rugby man who also liked hurling. not unusual in limerick.

  15. Jim Monaghan Says:

    Oscar Traynor, DeV’s minister of defence was head of teh FAI. Bans are bad but the GAA one was not teh only one. If you palyed in Rugby League then you were banned from Rugby Union.
    The GAA does a lot for sport for all, especially kids sport. Counties are artificial, so are most constructs like that.
    Oh I am a sport free zone and only support it in general because we are all getting fat.

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