Gaelic games have returned to East Belfast for the first time in a generation. The last club of this kind to hail from the area, St Colmcille’s GAC, was disbanded in the 1970s as a result of the Troubles. A new cross-community GAA club has now been formed.
East Belfast GAA
Announced earlier this year, East Belfast GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) is one of the world’s newest GAA clubs. It has been founded on the principles of sport and bringing communities together. East Belfast GAA only formed in May. The club is now fielding senior teams in hurling and camogie, and both men’s and ladies’ Gaelic football.
The club’s crest, designed by freelance creative director Rory Millar, was unveiled last weekend ahead of its first games. The club colours are neutral yellow and black and its crest seeks to represent all. Among the features of the crest are the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes; the sunrise which symbolises a ‘new beginning’ – ‘The Sun Rises in the East!’; the Red Hand of Ulster, the shamrock and the thistle, representing the different communities coming together, and the waves symbolising the area’s connection to the sea. The club motto ‘together’ is translated into three languages; English, Irish and Ulster Scots – with the ‘Farset Feirste’ typeface featuring strongly. It was kindly donated by Professor John McMillan, Emeritus Professor of Graphic Design at Ulster University. The typeface is inspired by Belfast’s historic tiled street signage and adds another level of authenticity to the design.
Irish language campaigner, Linda Ervine, has been named as president of the new club. Linda was born and raised in the mainly Unionist stronghold of East Belfast. Linda is the Irish Language Development Officer for a group called Turas. Turas is based in the Skainos Centre on the staunchly Loyalist Newtownards Road in East Belfast. Turas, meaning journey or pilgrimage in both Irish Gaeilge and Scots Gàidhlig, is an Irish language and cultural project. It aims to connect people from Protestant communities to their own history with the Irish language. Turas is based on the belief that the language belongs to everyone and that it can be a mechanism of reconciliation.
“East Belfast GAC has been bombarded with interest since it was formed”, said Linda. “Malone Rugby Club, which is based on the Cregagh Road, has also offered its clubhouse and pitch facilities on an interim basis to the club. There are emails and responses that we haven’t been able to deal with yet”.
Linda went on to say: “It’s a cross-community initiative and the founders come from a GAA and rugby background and are very passionate about both sports and cross-community engagement with both sports”.
Return to normality
“St Colmcille’s GAC was lost with the Troubles”, said Linda. “So for me it’s very much about normality returning to the area and people moving on 20 odd years after the Good Friday Agreement”.
Offers of help
“There have also been offers of help from different organisations and sporting groups”, said Linda. “People have been really good and schools also want to get involved. It’s been fantastic and a really positive vibe”.
David McGreevy, co-founder with his friend, Richard Maguire said: “On May 31, we sent a tweet out, with the hope of getting the numbers to start an under 12 boys team to enter into competition next season but things exploded. We thought we were doing well with one senior team in each of the four main codes. But it looks like each team will have reserves with men’s and ladies’ football teams both having a third squad”.
East Belfast GAA faced St Michael’s, Magheralin in their first men’s football game last Friday and the ladies team took on Saval on Saturday. David said: “We’re still hunting the first win but you have to be realistic. The teams we’re playing against have been playing together their entire lifetimes. About 50 percent of the club have never been part of a GAA club before. We have talent right across our squads however it won’t click overnight”.
David’s hopes for the future of the club are that it will remain sustainable and will be delivering the club’s ethos decades from now.
If you’re interested in playing, coaching or administrating for East Belfast GAA, you can get in touch by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook @eastbelfastgaa.