A dhaoine uaisle, Ladies and Gentlemen
Dia dhaoibh go leir a chairde. Is mór an onóir domsa a bheith anseo libhse inniu ar an ócáid spesialta seo.
It’s a pleasure to be with you here in Montreal this afternoon, and an honour to be invited to address this gathering.
As a die-hard Dublin GAA fan, I have broken my period of mourning for the departure of Jim Gavin to join you here today!!
I know you’ve had a busy & productive Development day and I’m sure you’re all looking forward to the more leisurely part of your evening so I won’t detain you too long!
I want first to acknowledge the presence of Canadian Board Chair Sean Harte and the members of the Board; the Secretary of the Ulster Council, Brian McAvoy; Niall Erskine, Chair of the World GAA Committee, and Diarmaid Marsden, Head of Community Development for the Ulster Council whose magnificent footballing talents I enjoyed watching over the years…except when he was playing Dublin!
I want to congratulate everyone present on another very successful year for the GAA in Canada on the competitive front here in North America, as well as for a fine showing at the World Games in Waterford.
The GAA in Canada: yesterday, today and tomorrow
The GAA’s long and proud history here is chronicled in John O’Flynn’s “History of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Canada”, which notes the foundation of the CCB in 1987 as a pivotal moment in the modern development of the GAA in Canada. The book also has a description by the author of what he sees as the purpose of the GAA in Canada, which I will quote:
“The GAA in Canada has always functioned as more than just a sports body. It is a social club, a labour clearinghouse and a point of contact for the Irish community. If any Irish person needed work, a place to live, friends to go for a drink with in a strange town, or anything else, the GAA was the network that people got into, and it remains so to this day”
I think that remains a good summary of what the GAA means to people here in Canada, though I would argue that the GAA through the work of the clubs, under the guidance of the CCB and with the support of the Ulster Council and HQ in Croke Park has managed to exceed that remit, and that the “anything else” which the author refers to is doing a lot of heavy lifting these days!
As a fan back in Ireland, the first time I was really conscious of the Association’s presence in Canada was St Patrick’s weekend in 1990, when exhibition games were staged at the brand new Sky Dome in Toronto. I remember watching the coverage of those games on RTE and they looked as if they were being broadcast not so much from another place as from the future! Remember this was after a grim decade at home where the Troubles continued to rage and the country was economically stagnant, with large scale emigration to countries like the US and Canada.
For the GAA too, it was a few years before the redevelopment of Croke Park began, and a period in which – with apologies to Cork and Meath people in the room! – probably won’t be looked back on a classic era for Gaelic football!!
So for me watching in Dublin, it felt like the GAA was bringing us a glimpse into an exciting future for the games – it was a true statement of ambition that happened right here in Canada, and I know that some of you in this room helped to make it happen.
If the Skydome games were a highlight of that period, there were also of course many more difficult days. Those who kept the games alive here in Canada in tough times deserve great credit and our sincere thanks, because you kept faith with something that is integral to our culture, our heritage and our identity as Irish people, and just as importantly, you shared it with the wider community here in Canada.
I have had the good fortune to serve as Ireland’s Ambassador to Canada for the past three and a half years and have had the chance to get to know so many of you who are engaged in the games across the country as players, referees, coaches and administrators. I have had the opportunity to attend the Eastern, Western and Toronto Championships as well as club functions at home in Ottawa and in different parts of this vast country, and have seen at first hand the great collective voluntary commitment that makes the GAA what it is here in Canada. You are all in your different roles wonderful Ambassadors for Ireland in this country and I want to thank you for what you do.
Your enthusiasm and dedication is helping our games to go from strength to strength all across the country. As thousands of younger Irish people come annually to Canada on working holiday visas, the playing population is continuing to grow, and new clubs are springing up in Vancouver, Toronto and even on Vancouver Island. This growth is a wonderful opportunity but managing and sustaining it is a huge challenge in a country as vast and diverse as Canada. With that in mind, I want to say a special word of thanks to the Ulster Council and to Headquarters for the strong and vital support which they provide for the growth of Gaelic games here in Canada.
GAA, DFAT and the Global Games Development Fund
The GAA has been important to me since my young days as a distinctly average (!) juvenile footballer with my local club in Dublin. It has taught me a great deal about sport, friendship, team work, community and how to have fun. It enriched my life then and it continues to do so today.
I was proud to represent my club, just as I am proud to represent my country as a diplomat. I have had the honour and privilege to travel the world in that role and while gaining experience of other countries, I grew to appreciate the uniqueness of what we have in the GAA. The growing strength of our games internationally is one of the great successes of the modern GAA.
As the Government of Ireland’s representative here in Canada, I am delighted that we are able to contribute in partnership with the GAA through the Emigrant Support Programme’s Global Games Development Fund, which provides matching funds for developmental projects in clubs all over the world. Financial support is offered specifically for projects/initiatives – one off or longer term – which increase opportunities for the Irish diaspora and other communities abroad to play Gaelic games, and help to develop and sustain the games.
In 2019, 13 project proposals from Canada received funding under the scheme with overall funding of €38,500. This seed funding is being used not only to provide coaching, new equipment and improved facilities but also to build the longer term sustainability of Gaelic games here in Canada. As we know, the future lies in growing the numbers of Canadians who play football, hurling or camogie, and development work being done including in the school systems in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere will be key to sustaining the games in Canada.
I encourage you all to engage with the Global Games Development Fund – and remind you that the call for proposals for 2020 closes shortly! Last year Canada received more than 10% of the global funding and personally I’d like to see that % go higher in recognition of the particular challenges of sustaining the games in a country of this vast scale. Decisions on funding are made by a joint committee of the GAA and DFAT back in Dublin but at the Embassy, we review and make recommendations on proposals at the Embassy and, conscious that there are sometime capacity issues at administrative level in clubs, my colleague Laura Finlay and I are always happy to offer advice on how best to frame and shape proposals within the application process.
You know where to find us – don’t be shy!
In closing, I want to congratulate you again on the work that each of you does to promote Gaelic games here in Canada. It is wonderful to see so many delegates here from all over this vast country on a bitterly cold and snowy weekend to discuss how to ensure a bright future for our games in Canada.
As Irish Ambassador, I am proud of what you do and delighted to see the GAA in rude health all across the country – it is a tribute to the hard work and commitment of so many of you from coast to coast to coast, as they like to say here in Canada!
Táim ag tnúth leis an cruinniú ginearálta amárach – I look forward to joining you this evening after we close here and again at the AGM tomorrow, and wish you all a successful and enjoyable weekend.
Go raibh maith agaibh a chairde.