Friday 18 August 2017

Fightback must begin on the ground in rural areas

The GAA's place is more important than ever in these difficult times, writes Páidí ó Sé

Paidi O Se

T WO of the three great bastions of the old order in rural Ireland have collapsed -- the Catholic Church and the Fianna Fáil party. While the third, the GAA, is in robust good health, there is nonetheless great uncertainty about the future in many rural clubs.

By virtue of the single-mindedness, wisdom and vision of many of the people who ran the GAA over the years, in many ways the association has never been stronger.

But we are in danger of creating a rural wasteland because of bureaucratic red tape, emigration and economic decline, and all this is being exacerbated by the exodus of good players to the big clubs as revealed in Damian Lawlor's story in this newspaper today.

There is no doubt that the big clubs can offer substantial incentives to the most talented young players such as cannot be matched by small clubs in the country.

Some very big clubs have the backing of leading business people, many of whom are in the position of being able to set up jobs for young players who join their clubs.

Jobs are like gold dust in the midst of this terrible recession, and it is a temptation hard to resist for many young men who want to get on in life. As well as that, it is often the case that such businessmen have lots of spare property on their hands, with the result that the players they recruit can be fixed up with apartments or houses.

Rural Ireland is in danger of becoming a wasteland because of red tape. I am not arguing that farmers' sons and families should be allowed to build houses wherever they like, but the present situation is far too restrictive.

The planners -- who seem to know everything -- want to have an urbanised structure in society and they don't understand the appeal of a countryside dotted with modern dwellings.

We all know that the great curse of emigration has resumed and this is in danger of denuding GAA clubs of some of their best players in the remoter parts of the country.

We know that dance halls were one of the hubs of social life in rural Ireland and that they have now disappeared. The country pub is in danger of going the same way because of the restrictive drink-driving laws. It is all too depressing a vista and the prospect of a rural wasteland is something we must fight against with every fibre of our being.

It is no use having great football and hurling pitches and excellent facilities and dressing rooms if there are no players to use them. We can all do something, every single one of us. This weekend, I have been once again running my own Tayto Topaz Comórtas Peile Páidí ó Sé in West Kerry. Eight men's and eight women's teams

have been taking part, including three from London, and the finals are in Gallarus today, the ladies' at 12.30pm and the men's at 2.0pm.

In its own way, this Comórtas is a measure of what can be achieved with a bit of commitment, and I have got the most tremendous support in West Kerry for this venture. In this area, 85 self-catering houses are completely full for this weekend, as are the hotels in the region.

It is a very badly-needed boost for us all and if the same effort could be replicated in every village in Ireland, the economic landscape would be dramatically altered.

PS: I've never mentioned cricket before in this column, but I would like to congratulate the Irish cricket team on its fantastic win over England in the World Cup last Wednesday in India.

Kevin O'Brien's sensational innings and his scoring of the fastest century in the history of the World Cup now ranks with the greatest achievements in sport by any Irishman or any other nationality for that matter.

My congratulations to those great sportsmen.

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