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""The GAA player who performs in front of 70,000 at the weekend will be teaching your kids on Monday..."
May 8, 2011 1:25 AM   Subscribe

"It was a picture of the dissidents' worst nightmares. The GAA was defining the police in Northern Ireland as "us" and Ronan Kerr's killers as "them"." Fintan O'Toole muses on the role of the Gaelic Athletic Association in defining and redefining what it is to be Irish.
posted by rodgerd (23 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
These days, the GAA mostly defines what it is to be Irish in terms of how much Guinness your average fan at Croke Park consumes during any given match.

(Okay, okay, they actually played a pretty important role in Irish history. Given how innocuous the organisation seems now, it's kind of surprising how much they were involved in at one point. Also the Queen's visit has everybody in Dublin a bit nervous, as you can imagine...)
posted by anaximander at 1:33 AM on May 8, 2011


Genuinely interesting post. It always fascinates me how poorly countries understand one another's internal politics (there was this great display from a Russian professor, discussing the US splitting into five pieces).
posted by effugas at 4:02 AM on May 8, 2011


Very interesting post. Reminds me I need a better primer on the history of Ireland.
posted by jopreacher at 4:59 AM on May 8, 2011


It is a very good article. Personally I don't care about the Queen's visit, or Obama's either, apart from the expense. I mean don't these people know that we have no money!

I'm a very big fan of the GAA, I think that it has changed a lot over the years, and hopefully will continue to adopt and change in a positive way. It made a lot of mistakes in the past, but I think it has learned from it in many ways. Of course there are still the die-hard anti-Brits, but I think they are fading away.
posted by Fence at 5:03 AM on May 8, 2011


This was really interesting. I've just moved to Ireland (ROI) and am slowly figuring out the context of things around me, so it was good timing. I'm all excited to see some hurling now!
posted by shelleycat at 5:10 AM on May 8, 2011


Good article. I have a great appreciation for the GAA as they have managed to preserve and reward athleticism, while staying as an amateur organization. I've known people (directly or indirectly) who have played for their county, and they train 5-6 times per week while holding down a full time job.

My only quibble with the organization, is their willingness to accept sponsorship from alcohol companies, in particular the multi-national corporation Diageo, who make Guiness. For example, the hurling final has been called the 'Guinness All-Ireland Hurling Championship' for many years (I'm not sure if it still is). Yet the GAA tries very hard to get young people involved playing sport, and I think that having such a strong link between alcohol and sport is damaging for society. It probably does not outweigh the benefit of children getting involved in the GAA, but it shapes cultural values in a way that is not positive. The advertisements for Guiness and Hurling are so good (even as I write this I feel a thrill of joy due to forced-conditioning), that they must affect people. (As an aside, this advertising link strengthens the mis-perception that Guinness is an Irish drink. It's about as Irish as a McDonald's hamburger, but I'll save that rant for another time.)
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:14 AM on May 8, 2011


Good stuff. Here's some more on the GAA and the 1916 uprising.
posted by tigrefacile at 6:37 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everytime I read something like this about Ireland, I am filled simultaneously with great sadness and great hope.
posted by tommasz at 6:48 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My only quibble with the organization, is their willingness to accept sponsorship from alcohol companies...Yet the GAA tries very hard to get young people involved playing sport, and I think that having such a strong link between alcohol and sport is damaging for society. It probably does not outweigh the benefit of children getting involved in the GAA, but it shapes cultural values in a way that is not positive.

I'm fairly certain that if you could find a way to raise more money for the GAA than Guinness donates, from a source that has the cultural values that you prefer, the GAA would be happy to be sponsored by you.
posted by dubold at 7:33 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love Fintan O'Toole a lot.

This article raises a question for me, though, which also comes up in the introduction to O'Toole's last book. (I've only read the intro: maybe he deals with it more later on in the book.) Irish identity is no longer about being anti-British. It's also no longer about being agricultural or Catholic. It's not about the Celtic Tiger thing, which O'Toole argued served for a time as a replacement for the old certainties about what it meant to be Irish. So what is it about? He says that the GAA provides a kind of substitute localism, even if you're not actually following the team that plays for your little village. Is that what Irish identity is these days?
posted by craichead at 7:39 AM on May 8, 2011


Growing up Irish in the US we were always taught that the British were bad and that the IRA was fighting to free the last bit of Ireland. My parents and grandparents told me that back in the day, at family get-togethers, the women would go in one room and play cards and the men would go into another and "talk troubles," which meant talk about getting the British out of the country. Apparently this went on until the early 1960s.

When I was in college, I had an Irish grad school roomate. I was amazed that he didn't care at all, although he was from the South.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:44 AM on May 8, 2011


shelleycat: "This was really interesting. I've just moved to Ireland (ROI) and am slowly figuring out the context of things around me, so it was good timing. I'm all excited to see some hurling now!"

I see from your contact info that you are in Cork, so one of the best places to see hurling :)

As for the whole alcohol sponsership thing, well, they have to get their money from somewhere, and I love those adds, yet never feel the urge to pick up a pint of Guinness. It is horrible.
Most sports are sponsored by alcohol aren't they? Or banks, and they are a lot more evil if you ask me ;)
posted by Fence at 8:25 AM on May 8, 2011


When I was very young, in the early 70's, my parents divorced and my father left Oregon for Ireland with the idea of joining the IRA. Apparently he found them and learned they weren't at all what he expected, so he changed his plans and cast about Dublin for a while looking for a job. In a story he wrote about the experience, he said he came across two fishermen cleaning fish on a dock. He asked them where he could find a job on a fishing boat. One of the men took off his apron, handed to him, and said "here, you can have mine!" He said it was the hardest work he'd ever done, but I could also tell he wouldn't have traded that experience for anything.
posted by dylanjames at 8:38 AM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I spent a semester in Dublin and came away totally enamored with hurling. It's amazing to see that kind of fanaticism about a sport that only exists in a country smaller than a lot of U.S. cities.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:03 AM on May 8, 2011


Or banks, and they are a lot more evil if you ask me

I'll drink to that!
posted by tigrefacile at 10:22 AM on May 8, 2011


I'm fairly certain that if you could find a way to raise more money for the GAA than Guinness donates, from a source that has the cultural values that you prefer, the GAA would be happy to be sponsored by you.

It's not about what I prefer; it's about what values the GAA institution wants to associate itself with, and ultimately how they want to influence society. For example, I find it hard to believe that they would take money from a land-mine company. Anyway, it's mainly the upper-management of the GAA who make these pro-alcohol decisions; I can't think of any county team that has an alcohol sponsor on their jersey (I could be wrong though), and the county teams all seem to be doing fine.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 10:41 AM on May 8, 2011


Most sports are sponsored by alcohol aren't they?

It's illegal in lots of countries, cigarette sponsorship too. There's always a lot of moaning from various sports when the laws come in (I remember it being a big deal in formula one for example), but in the end things seem to work out generally OK.
posted by shelleycat at 12:25 PM on May 8, 2011


Yesterday, the DUP leader Peter Robinson dedicated his victory at the polls to Kerr's memory. An unworthy, weaselly part of me thought (even with the maaaajor problems I have with Robinson), "This guy can show a bit of aul' dacency- what's wrong with the knee-jerkers exactly?" I heard them out in force after Ronan Kerr's death- all saying things to the effect of "good enough for him" and accusing him of being some sort of cultural traitor for joining the PSNI in the first place. How was that, exactly?

Much of what O'Toole says about the GAA's power in the Irish mindset and its position in relation to defining/redefining Irishness rings very much true. I think I might be too close to it all to tease it out any more effectively than O'Toole has done here, mind.

(womble, I honestly don't get what you mean by Guinness not being Irish- explain?)
posted by psychostorm at 2:35 PM on May 8, 2011


Oh dear, 'a new low for the gaa' threads move from celtic websites to here.........
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:19 PM on May 8, 2011


This article raises a question for me, though, which also comes up in the introduction to O'Toole's last book. (I've only read the intro: maybe he deals with it more later on in the book.) Irish identity is no longer about being anti-British. It's also no longer about being agricultural or Catholic. It's not about the Celtic Tiger thing, which O'Toole argued served for a time as a replacement for the old certainties about what it meant to be Irish. So what is it about?

We are southern Europeans trapped in the bodies of northern Europeans. We will stand in a hailstorm wearing jeans and a t-shirt and deny that we are cold. We won't move our lips when we talk. We know a man who knows a man. We are masters of understatement. We call any weather under 4C/40F degrees 'Baltic', anything over 16C/60F a 'heatwave', and three days without rain a 'drought'. We haven't invaded anyone since 500 AD. Our national epic is better than your national epic. Although our language is on its knees, its influence is pervasive in the way we talk and the books that we write. Our accents give away where we are from, down to a resolution of 3 miles. We are fiercely loyal to our county and our province. We have kept our traditional music alive to a greater extent than any other country in Europe. We will not send the food back in a restaurant. We're really sorry about Bono. We consider a baguette stuffed with four different types of fried pig to be a breakfast. We invented whiskey. We invented Halloween. We didn't invent the boycott, but we gave it its name. We are all armchair economists. We were so cool that the Normans decided that instead of ruling us, they would become us. We will bore you with endless anecdotes about how hurling is "the fastest field sport in the world". We can be found in every corner of the earth, complaining about how shite our country is. We are Irish.
posted by kersplunk at 6:45 PM on May 8, 2011 [18 favorites]


kersplunk, that was amazing.
posted by effugas at 10:17 PM on May 8, 2011


Kersplunk, don't go tryin' to steal MY highly scientific theory - I have maintained since 1989 that Ireland used to be an island in the middle of the Mediterranean and some geological disaster moved it where it is today. I mean, look at the evidence: yous are Catholic, gregarious, loud, with a clannish sense of family (which yous looooove to talk about), and when you get drunk you simply sing and if there are foreigners around yous simply include them in the sing-song (and not get xenophobic and try to beat them up, like your next door neighbours...)...;-)
posted by MessageInABottle at 5:58 AM on May 9, 2011


Ahhh, I love Irish threads on the blue. My wife is Irish, we lived in Dublin for 2 years before moving back to Canada. I never managed to make it out for a Gaaaa match, even though my wife's brother-in-law plays Gaelic (football) at a fairly high level (though he's in the older league now). The amount of training he would do caused a teeny bit of friction in his marriage after his first baby came - considering he was training 4 nights a week, plus matches on the weekend, PLUS his full time day job as a carpenter, PLUS they live on a working beef cattle farm in Laois where he does all of the work. That's some serious commitment.

As far as the alcohol sponsorship issues with the GAA? Big deal. Kids in Ireland do not need sports sponsorship to introduce them to the notion of drinking. It's drifting away from it now, at least in the cities (having said that, quite a few of our friends in the city still partake in this behaviour), but the "pub culture" in Ireland is what will introduce them to drinking FAR more effectively. Seeing their fathers/uncles/grandfathers head off to the pub a couple times a week for pints with the lads is the best advertising Diageo could ask for.
posted by antifuse at 12:35 PM on May 9, 2011


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