WITH a thriving membership and club activities extending across Scotland’s main centres of population, Scotland GAA is one of the most vibrant and visible Irish organisations in the country. Their influence is now extending beyond the world of sport, however, as they join the members of Causeway: Scotland Ireland Business Exchange. Aoife O’Sullivan spoke with Scotland GAA Chairman Peter Mossey about the story of the GAA in Scotland, the connections sport can build and the impact Gaelic games can have on communities around the country—particularly at this time of unprecedented social restriction.
The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is Ireland’s largest sporting organisation and is celebrated as one of the greatest amateur sporting associations in the world. Since it was founded in Thurles, County Tipperary in 1884, it has played a key part of Irish culture and identity. Not motivated by profit, but played for pride and passion of culture, county and community, the GAA has thrived throughout towns and villages in Ireland and beyond. Across the globe, wherever Irish communities have emigrated and settled, GAA clubs have often played an integral role in providing a community base for the Irish abroad.
The rise of the GAA in Scotland
Irish emigration to Scotland took place throughout the 18th and 19th century, with a significant peak following the Great Hunger. With the rise of established Irish communities in the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, along with the founding of Hibernian Football Club in Edinburgh and Celtic Football Club in Glasgow in the late 19th century, the first GAA Club was also established in Scotland in 1897. Mirroring how the GAA fixtures are set up and structured on the island of Ireland with provinces and counties, the Gaelic games in Britain follow a similar structure, and are made up of provinces and counties, with Scotland represented as a County.
From dentistry drills to training drills
Peter Mossey is currently Head of Orthodontics at the University of Dundee and Chair of the Scotland GAA County Board and has also chaired Britain’s Universities Gaelic Games Championships for over 20 years. Originally from the village of Gortin, County Tyrone, Peter first came to Scotland in 1978 as an undergraduate to study Dentistry at the University of Dundee. After graduation, he returned to Northern Ireland for a year, before coming back to Scotland and in 1989-1994 studied a PhD in Orthodontics at the University of Glasgow while in a lectureship post. On his return, he found a dwindling GAA presence in Scotland.
“Although the GAA had been established in Scotland since 1897, it had somewhat started to decline in Scotland during the 1970s, and when I arrived in Scotland in 1978 to study dentistry there were no active clubs, at any level,” he recalled. “Consequently, some Irish friends and I decided to establish a new team in Dundee… but at that time our team had no one to play against!”
That was until 1990, when Peter chaired a meeting to set up a new club on the east coast of Scotland, Dundee Dalriada, just six years after a GAA revival in Scotland in 1984. Simultaneously, a British University league was starting up and Dundee University established and entered a team. Over the last few decades, the GAA in Scotland has steadily grown. Today, there are currently six active adult clubs within Scotland—four in and around Glasgow (Glaschu Gaels, Tír Conaill Harps, Sands MacSwineys and Ceann Creige); one in Edinburgh (Dúnedin Connollys); and one that represents Dundee and Aberdeen combined (Dálriada). All of them have developed opportunities for Ladies GAA and are at varying levels of development of youth GAA and there is also a thriving and active GAA scene throughout the leading universities in Scotland.
Fostering community and professional connections
Explaining more about the role of the GAA to the Irish community in Scotland and what brought him to join the GAA up as corporate members to the Causeway network, Peter expanded: “There are a lot of strong links between Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Every year, we find a huge number of students from Ireland—from both north and south— who come initially to study in Scotland, with many deciding to settle after their studies for their careers, and this all definitely helps create a GAA scene.
“With the commonalities, it made good sense for the GAA Scotland to join Causeway as corporate members. I first heard about the Causeway at a St Patrick’s Day celebration in 2018 and have since attended networking events at the Irish Consulate in Edinburgh and their Awards Dinner at Kelvingrove in Glasgow last year. The key benefits I view of Scotland GAA joining Causeway are the friendships and connections you can make. By going to Causeway functions and networking events you meet with likeminded people, with shared culture and values. I remember what was said at one of the early Causeway events I attended was ‘business is not done between businesses; business is done between people!’’ This philosophy has stayed with me.
“Being at Causeway networking events and joining the network offers a lot of opportunity for valuable discussion. Not only is joining a networking organisation like Causeway very useful in building an organisation’s network and profile, but it may also help with establishing future collaborations and sponsorship opportunities for support. Although we are also a voluntary-led organisation, the GAA has very strong links with—for example, we have established business links through O’Neill’s Sportswear who make our Scotland GAA kit, and Creagh Concrete who are a major sponsors of both the GAA in Antrim and Scotland GAA.
Caring for communities during crisis
It’s not just the love of the game and celebrating shared culture and connections that motivates the GAA. The GAA has always gone beyond that, and has played a key role in the communities it serves. The current coronavirus crisis—although a severe blow for the GAA across Ireland and the UK—has given the clubs the opportunity to engage with their communities and use the downtime to develop strategies for growth.
“The GAA in its core roots has always been a community-led organisation, so with the recent Covid-19 outbreak, I’ve been encouraging our clubs in Scotland during this unprecedented pandemic to look after the public health and the people in their specific communities, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable,” Peter said. “It’s difficult to predict how long this crisis will last, but we are adapting. Last year, we launched our County strategy for the GAA in Scotland and during our ‘downtime’ we can work on the complementary club strategies. The strategy launch event was hosted at Clydebank Community Hub—a £3.5 million 4G floodlit sporting facility developed with West Dunbartonshire Council, which last year was designated as a county ground, and with a community hub, catering facilities, and state-of-the-art changing facilities it is one of the best GAA facilities in Britain.
“This strategy has a key goal of revitalising and boosting the development and profile of the GAA to help us to usher in a new era of the Gaelic games in Scotland. If our clubs can use this ‘downtime’ to progress their own strategies we should be able to stay on schedule and take these to our May 2020 County Board meeting. Whether this meeting will be in person or online, time will tell—but it’s important that all clubs discuss their strategies that might need to take account of the consequences of this COVID-19 crisis.”
Ní neart go cur le chéile—There’s no strength without unity
Looking further forward, 2022 will mark 125 years of the GAA in Scotland and major celebrations across Scottish GAA communities are planned and Scotland will host the 2022 British GAA Provincial Council meeting. Causeway is committed to supporting and collaborating with the GAA Scotland in helping it achieve its aspirations for growth across Scotland and sharing in the goal of strengthening and celebrating our Irish-Scottish communities.