A group of Ghanaian fishermen have taken up Gaelic football at a County Down GAA club. The men from Ghana in Africa have been living and working on fishing boats out of Ardglass harbour for the past year.
The local GAA club, Ardglass Gaelic Athletic Club (GAC), has welcomed the men into their club with open arms. They have now begun to learn new skills at the club.
The club reached out to the men before the outbreak of Covid-19. “I had been contacted by the local social work team who had been out doing some work with the guys. They wanted to know if we could give them access to our shower facilities and we said it wouldn’t be a problem”, said club secretary, Ruth Curran.
“We had been keen to work with them. The club had hoped to put food on for them weekly and give them access to the pitches. Then Covid happened and our clubrooms shut”, said Ruth.
“I then spoke with a colleague who runs a charity for ethnic groups in Belfast. He agreed to work with us to support the guys and help bridge the cultural gap. We met with everyone a few weeks back at the harbour. Israel and the team from iAssistNI came down with some West African food and it all kicked off from there”, Ruth went on to say.
Ruth explained that during the height of the pandemic, the club had set up a Covid response in the community. It had been delivering food down to the harbour for the boys. They have also set up some laundry facilities for them to use. “We have used our social media outlets to let the community know what’s happening so we can better integrate them into the community. Then obviously the Gaelic football training has given them an opportunity to exercise as well as learning new skills and more about Irish culture”, she said.
“The boys are all young fit men and we know there is limited space for exercise at the harbour. So being a GAA club with two pitches it made sense to give them access to the pitches to exercise”, said Ruth.
“I suggested to our senior manager, Paul O’Shea, about doing some basic skills with them to give a bit of structure to the exercise and he agreed. So then we asked the boys what they thought. They were all happy to take part”, she said.
Ruth said that the boys have all been getting on great. “We had our first session two weeks ago and hadn’t planned another, but they texted last week asking if they could use the pitch. So we came out with them and Paul O’Shea took another session and even got them playing a mini match amongst themselves. Some of the boys have real skill and you can see the improvement already, although there were a few throw balls and some over carrying”, joked Ruth.
On plans for the future, Ruth said that at the minute they were just seeing how it goes and keeping it quite casual. “We have had a few clubs approach us for friendlies but our focus at the minute is on the boys and making sure they enjoy things and are happy with how things are”, she said.
Health and wellbeing
Ruth has also been health and wellbeing officer for Ardglass GAC. Her role is basically to identify key areas of wellbeing they can promote within the community as a club. Over the past five years they have run mental health awareness programmes, physical activity classes for non-playing members, walking initiatives, dance classes, tea dances for older people in the community and health check sessions. Most recently was their Covid response program where they set up a food bank and supported the local pharmacy with deliveries.
The club also delivered food parcels for the council, provided goodie bags to all the primary school kids and left tray bakes for all the older members of the community. “The GAA is parish based”, said Ruth, “so we have a real opportunity to improve the lives of everyone living within our parish and I think the role of the health and wellbeing officer really brings that to life”.
Ruth said that the positivity that comes from these initiatives is always good for the club. “It helps make people feel more part of the club set up”, said Ruth. “Not everyone likes football or hurling so it’s easy to isolate people from the community, but wellbeing initiatives help change that. We can see an increase in membership, volunteers and general support due to it. The benefits to the community can be very individualised or can be widespread. In a time when most news articles are bad news, it can really lift people’s spirits seeing some good news stories”.
“It also helps people by making them feel part of something. I think that gives people hope”, said Ruth. “In an age where social isolation and poor mental health are increasing, it is important that communities stick together and look out for each other. I think the GAA is a very positive way to help do this”.