Counting cost of another lost generation
IT is 43 years since the Meath team were pictured strolling under the famous Sydney Harbour bridge during their historic Australian tour.
And the picture now has an added poignancy as thousands of talented young GAA players are once again forming teams abroad after being forced to emigrate. Emigration is one of the central themes in a a new book 'The GAA: County by County' which explores the irrevocable imprint the GAA has left on Irish society.
The sporting ties between Ireland and Australia kicked off in 1968, when the Meath All-Ireland champions began a relationship that blossomed into a full-scale Aussie Rules exchange in the 1980s.
Throughout the book, clubs from every county report they have lost young people through emigration to Australia, where they have swelled the ranks of GAA clubs in the cities of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.
"We traced it in the book. So many of those who go either set up or join a club when they go. They may never have played when at home but they do when they go away," one of the trio of authors, Paul Rouse, said.
Mr Rouse explained the book -- a follow up to 'The GAA: A People's History' -- taps into an oral history project being carried out into the GAA, with flavours of the 1,000 interviews with club members completed used throughout the book.
He said there was a central theme throughout the counties -- that the love of the GAA extends throughout the communities. "One thing that is striking is that the GAA matters not just for an hour on a Sunday when you play a match, but people's lives revolve around the association," the UCD history lecturer explained.
The book also depicts the growth of the GAA through a collection of photographs dating from the 19th century up to this year's Tipperary All-Ireland Minor football victory.
A photograph taken in Antrim in the early-1900s appears to show the game of hurling in its early stages, as the rules of the game were only just being accepted in large swathes of Ulster at that time.
Yet, in Dungarvan, Waterford, during the same period, hurling appeared to be a long-accustomed game. In 1910, the strength of camogie in Belfast was displayed by the number of women from the Ardoyne team who donned their best bonnets for a trip out of the city.
"People are always worried about the health of hurling. There are more playing now than in its history. The GAA has never been in better health," Mr Rouse said.