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Gaelic Athletic Association - Oral History Project

Volunteering

gaa oral history project

At the annual convention of the Leitrim GAA county board in January 1967, the Rev. B. Doyle told the gathering: ‘Patriotism begins and ends for most of us with the parish.’ The place of the GAA in communities all across the island lends an undeniable truth to those words.

This is, in the first instance, a reflection of the structure of the GAA. From the very first meeting in Thurles on 1 November 1884, the GAA laid out its ambition to establish itself in every corner in Ireland.  This ambition was pursued by quickly establishing a structure which established the parish as the primary unit of the Association.

The notion of ‘one parish, one club’ did not immediately assert itself, however. Sometimes parishes held one or more clubs, and in city areas the parish rule had little meaning. Over the decades, though, the most usual way of organising clubs was along parish lines.

This was vital to establishing the notion of community which is the bedrock of volunteerism. Matches did not simply engage the players who lined out for club teams; often, they were important in creating a focal point for many within the parish who came as spectators. In this respect, the GAA afforded a break from the mundane realities of daily life. They offered a space where people could come together and socialise on a regular basis.

The sense that the GAA increasingly acted as a glue binding communities together was underlined by the fact that matches were merely one part of the association’s activities. Many clubs also ran social functions, annual balls and other formal functions.

Later still, as clubs acquired permanent playing fields, built dressingrooms and then added social centres, the place of the GAA at the heart of local communities was given physical expression. GAA rooms became venues for weddings and christenings, for birthday and retirement parties, or as somewhere just to sit.

None of this would have been possible without the culture of volunteerism which so defines the GAA. Players, officials and ordinary members have given of their time freely in service of the association. The fact that the GAA has not faced the obligations which drive professional sports to commit so much of their earnings to paying players, has allowed for a level of investment in facilities which illuminate the lives of tens of thousands of people.

The maintenance of those facilities – the work on the grounds, the fundraising – as well as the commitment required to play and manage at every level requires selflessness from members at all levels. This selflessness is an inheritance from pervious generations which sits at the core of what the GAA is all about.

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