'The GAA Way' to be a 'must-do' pilgrimage for fans
The 27-year-old entrepreneur who snapped up the Hayes Hotel in Thurles, the birthplace of the GAA, for a bargain basement price of €650,000 plans to turn it a "must visit" destination for Gaelic games fans worldwide.
As more than 80,000 fans travel to Croke Park for today's All-Ireland football final between Kerry and Donegal, Jack Halley confirmed that he had already been in contact with GAA officials.
He plans to create a fitting museum or permanent exhibit in the 30-bedroom hotel to mark the fateful meeting on November 1, 1884 where, in the billiards room, the Gaelic Athletic Association was established.
That came just a few weeks after Michael Cusack had issued a cri de coeur calling for the establishment of a new body to promote "every form of athletics which is peculiarly Irish, and to remove with one sweep everything foreign and iniquitous in the present system".
Mr Halley, who is from Fethard, Co Tipperary, has worked in London and was in the process of expanding his pub business in the UK capital when he switched tack.
He told the Sunday Independent: "I thought it was on the market some time ago and expressed an interest which didn't work out. Then, when it came on the market again, I decided to have a go. It is a gamble but there are people like me who moved away some years ago when the recession kicked in who want to come home. I would have liked if it was a bit cheaper, but I believe it represents good value."
There are already proposals to create a "GAA Way" - modelled on the hugely successful Wild Atlantic Way - that would link iconic GAA landmarks as part of a tourism trail.
Labour Senator Denis Landy believes the route would be designed around key GAA landmarks and could be targeted at enthusiasts of GAA sports, history and culture.
"The sale this week of Hayes Hotel in Thurles, the birthplace of the GAA, was a great news story," he said.
"I think this presents us with a brilliant tourism opportunity - the 'GAA Way'. This concept would include tour routes for enthusiasts of GAA sports, history and culture to travel around the country visiting homesteads, monuments and various historical artefacts relating directly to the GAA.
"Landmarks could include the Michael Cusack homestead in Co Clare, the Lory Meagher centre in Kilkenny, the recently unveiled statue of Maurice Davin in Carrick-on-Suir, the Nicky Rackard monument in Wexford, and many others that stretch right across the country," he added.
Hayes Hotel underwent trading difficulties in recent years and went into receivership last year.
Before the sale there were calls - led by MEP and former GAA President Sean Kelly - for the GAA to buy the hotel.
But it ended up being sold at auction by Allsop Space last Monday to Mr Halley, who beat off opposition from a number of interested parties.
"I am going to start slowly. I want to make it a really good hotel for anyone visiting Thurles and I want it to be a hub for sports fans of all codes," he said.
"Obviously as a Tipperary man I have a great love for Gaelic games and, of course, Hayes Hotel's iconic status as the home of the GAA should be commemorated in a proper way. I have spoken to figures in the association already on an informal basis but once all the paperwork is completed in relation to the sale I would love to talk to them about concrete proposals."