The Gaelic Athletic Association is an affront to the modern world. It is a voluntary association in the strict sense. Its players do not play for hire. But soccer and rugby, though conducted on a commercial basis, and therefore in harmony with globalist principles, do not rival its popularity in Ireland. Though they are commercial, they are unable to provide themselves with adequate stadiums for international games. The Gaa, though conducted on a voluntary basis, has reconstructed Croke Park into a stadium which matches any of the famous soccer stadiums of the world. It has done so by terrific voluntary effort, and it would have done so if it had never received a penny from the state.
The Gaa also has a network of parish grounds throughout the country, all maintained to a high level. And they are not run by wealthy individuals who have a fancy to own a club, but by the members. The Gaa must be the institution with the highest community participation in its affairs in the world. It is a popular participatory body which exists everywhere, and it is a national body in that sense. One could even say it is the national body. It is not national in the sense that it is an organ of nationalist propaganda, but in the sense that it has a cohesive and structural popular existence throughout the country.
Other bodies whose proper function it is to be nationalist institutions of the state have been de-nationalised. The Universities, for example. But the Gaa is beyond the reach of the British Council and the ideologists of the Oxbridge Universities. And for that reason it is fiercely resented.
An acquaintance of ours who lived in a Protestant housing estate in North Belfast moved out of it some years ago and got employment where there were large numbers of Catholics. On the basis of this experience he began to reflect on what it is that constitutes people into a community. On the housing estate he had bumped into the same people every day, but when he returned to it after a few months he felt he was a stranger there. There was no wider bond than continuous presence in the same small physical space. But he observed that Catholics had an instant rapport with one another, wherever they happened to come from, through the organic influence of the Gaa.
Soccer is utterly unlike Gaelic in that respect. It has no definite local structure and no organic social dimension. And relations between the supporters of Gaelic clubs are utterly unlike the relations between the supporters of Soccer clubs.
Gaelic is played for the love of sport and the glory of it. The players belong to the areas they play for. But, though its structure is strictly local, it has a well-organised existence throughout the country. And the Gaa is the only sporting body to take women's games seriously.
It exists below, or beyond, political divisions. Its popularity is universal. And, for that reason, it was a major influence in overcoming the division of what is called the Civil War. Cork hurling and Kerry football exerted an irresistible gravitational pull on Treatyites and anti-Treatyites alike.
The powerful revisionist lobby has reason to hate it. It is immune to their influence. Their power can get no purchase on it. Professor Roy Foster has therefore condemned the Gaa as chauvinist, irredentist, and negative. He only means that it doesn't bother its head about him. And, if it is irredentist for having a 32 County structure, then so is the Church of Ireland.
But the failure of the commercial sports, in which the players are hired, to be successfully commercial has been seized upon as a device for making a small chink in the self-sufficiency of the Gaa. Soccer and rugby have failed to establish adequate national venues for themselves, and a campaign has been waged against the Gaa, for entirely political purposes, to oblige it to let soccer and rugby be played in Croke Park. And this year the Gaa gave into the pressure, at least in principle. But great practical difficulties lie in the way of practical implementation.
Something like Euro 20 million would need to be spent to allow soccer and rugby to be played in Croke Park. This is because the international soccer authorities require physical segregation of supporters to prevent hooliganism—something not needed for Gaelic games. Indeed separating rival supporters would work against the Gaa ethos. Also, floodlighting would have to be installed to facilitate evening matches for television, which are not now played. As the numbers of matches for which these facilities would be required is small, it is hard to see how the work could pay for itself. And, if the Government stumped up the money, allowing the Gaa to profit by hosting soccer and rugby at Croke Park, that would only increase the pressure to concede professionalism to leading players, ending amateur ethos and the playing of the games for their own sake.
In addition, the Gaa has been careful to keep the Dublin inner-city population which lives around its stadium on-side by limiting the numbers of matches that are played there. Hosting other sports would strain this relationship, particularly as other supporters are not as well-behaved. If the locals are asked to put up with the inconvenience of extra matches, there are plenty of other Gaelic fixtures which would be more suited to be played there.
John Arnold, PRO to Bride Rovers (Cork) has explained why he thinks Rule 42 is important. Gaelic sports are in competition with the 'sexy', heavily-promoted sports of soccer and rugby in attracting participants and supporters.
"We can't offer professional contracts, or an international element, or weekend trips to premiership games—the only thing we have is a magnificent world-class stadium; it's the only thing we have" (Sunday Independent 10.4.05).
Sharing it with other sports would undermine the one major asset of the Gaa.
Incidentally, Croke Park re-made itself whilst remaining open for matches. Why can't Lansdowne Road do the same?
If you wish to subscribe to the Irish Political Review, Labour & Trade Union Review, Church & State or Problems Of Capitalism & Socialism please go to our secure sales area.