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GAA provides a home from home for emigrants

Tuesday, 31st December, 2013 3:32pm
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GAA provides a home from home for emigrants

Wearing the Frankfurt Sarsfields GAA club jerseys in the front of the euro sign at the European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt are from left (with home GAA club in brackets) Lorcan Fox (Multyfarnham), Ollie Merlehan (The Downs / Clonkil), James Staunton (Athlone), Ray Coleman (Lough Lene Gaels).

GAA provides a home from home for emigrants

Wearing the Frankfurt Sarsfields GAA club jerseys in the front of the euro sign at the European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt are from left (with home GAA club in brackets) Lorcan Fox (Multyfarnham), Ollie Merlehan (The Downs / Clonkil), James Staunton (Athlone), Ray Coleman (Lough Lene Gaels).

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The Westmeath Examiner’s Rodney Farry has been in touch with Westmeath natives living across the globe in the weeks leading up to Christmas to find out what life is like where they are. He discovers that for many of today’s Celtic Tiger refugees, the GAA is as important as ever it was when it comes to alleviating home sickness and finding work. 

One of the first things on Ballynacargy native’s Louis Eivers’ to do list when he moved to Jakarta from Seoul earlier this year was to join the city’s GAA club.

“Prior to moving to Jakarta, it was probably the first thing that I Googled; as my experience of playing football in Seoul had been so good,” Louis told the Westmeath Examiner. “Given the size of this place, a city of 10 million people in a country of 230 million people, it would have been nigh on impossible to cross paths with other Irish people. The GAA team is an ideal opportunity to do this, and of course an invaluable social outlet.”

From Queens to Kuala Lumpur, GAA clubs all over the world have seen their ranks swell in recent years as growing numbers of young Irish men and women emigrate in search of work. In addition to providing a ready-made social network, for many players heading to England or America their new GAA clubs play a vital role when it comes to finding a job.

Greg Crowley from The Downs says that in London – his home for the last two years – many Irish looking for work go the GAA clubs before signing up for recruitment agencies.

“In terms of work, especially if you are in the construction industry, the first port of call is the football manager. There are so many big Irish contractors out there and there is an abundance of work. For any GAA player at home coming over, the first call they make is to a club manager. Most are very successful and have serious contacts, it’s also in their interests to get lads work.”

Although he is now working in accounts, Greg’s first job in London came through his GAA club, Parnell’s. “I rang on a Sunday and had a job the following week,” he said.

The economic downturn and subsequent rise in Frankfurt’s Irish population enabled Collinstown native Ray Coleman and his friend Bobby Bashford to reform Sarsfields Football Club in 2009. The club had gone out of existence during the Celtic Tiger as members returned home.

“I think it would be fair to say that the reformation of the club was also a rebirth of an Irish community within the city as up until that point there was no focal point for the Irish arriving, especially those interested in playing sport,” said Ray.

“Like myself, quite a few of our players had never played Gaelic football before – I played hurling with Lough Lene Gaels up until I was 21 – but were willing to get involved from a social aspect, to keep fit and also avail of the chance to play GAA throughout the continent.

“Nowadays our club is often the first point of contact for an Irish person moving here, which can make it that little bit easier to settle down to life in a non-English speaking country – the usual sort of networking regarding employment and accommodation.”

While our Celtic Tiger economic refugees may be better educated than many of the emigrants of previous generations, for Greg Crowley and many of the hundreds if not thousands of young Westmeath people living away from home today, the GAA is as important as it ever was.

“London is a big city and can be a lonely place, so there is no better place to go than training and meeting your own,” Greg said.

The photo below shows: Maryland’s Eoin Farrell, far right, is the secretary of Wellington GFC. Eoin, who has been in New Zealand for three years with his girlfriend Eimear Murphy from Ardnagrath, second from right, is the son of former county board chairman Tom. Also in the picture are fellow Westmeath Gaels, from left, Caolan Keegan from Ballykeeran and Catriona Young from Castledaly.

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Greg Crowley

Martina Rooney

Conor Eighan

Tom Bawle

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