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'I'm Irish, and the GAA culture really sums it all up'


Aaron O'Neill. Photo: Tony Gavin

Aaron O'Neill. Photo: Tony Gavin

Aaron O'Neill. Photo: Tony Gavin

Growing up as one of only a handful of people with dark skin in a predominantly white town could have led to a horrible experience - but for Aaron O'Neill the reality was just the opposite.

It is something he credits to growing up in the small community of Derrinturn, Co Kildare. "It was kind of just like growing up white," Aaron says.

"I've grown up with Irish people. There's nothing about me that is extraordinary. I wouldn't really lock into me being black."

Derrinturn has a population of 1,601, according to the 2016 census. Of those, only seven - or less than 0.5pc of the population - identified themselves as black.

"Everyone knows everyone around here. My family knows everyone, so everyone knew where I came from."

While insisting he had an overall positive experience, he did encounter isolated instances of racism. "Sometimes, you have a run-in with someone or if there's a playground fight or something it might turn to race. I think it was just kids' stuff and them not really realising what they were saying. There's one clear incident that would stick out when I was playing with my cousins around my estate. It was the older lads that would be saying things and they knew what they meant. You would feel very upset from it."

Curiosity is the most common reason the colour of his skin would come up in a conversation. "I don't mind when someone asks 'where are you from?' but sometimes when I say Ireland they say 'no you're not'. I have to say 'Yes, I am' again," he said.

Now studying civil engineering at Athlone IT, he is making a name for himself as a goalkeeper with the under-20 Kildare team. The GAA is a "massive" part of his life, one of the greatest ways in which he feels a sense of 'Irishness'.

"There's a good culture with the GAA. If I was asked to describe being Irish, the GAA is what I would describe," he added.

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