GAA puts down roots at Stormont with tree planting
The GAA yesterday put down roots at Stormont for the first time as the sporting body marked its 125th anniversary with an historic tree planting ceremony.
An Irish Ash tree was planted near the famous statue of unionist icon Edward Carson, whose little-known support for hurling was recalled at the event.
While the ceremony was part of the GAA's wider celebration of its foundation, it was significant that a body historically linked to Irish nationalism had found a home in what was once the seat of unionism.
The wood from Ash is used to make hurling and camogie sticks and as Ulster GAA President Tom Daly and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams unveiled a plaque below the mature tree planted today, they confirmed a further 1,000 saplings will be also be planted elsewhere on the Stormont estate.
Mr Adams, who hosted today's event, said: "The GAA brings together individuals and communities like no other organisation. It embodies a spirit of pride and identity which enthuses and motivates.
"It is right therefore that we are here to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Cumann Luthchleas Gael.
"Even after 125 years the GAA is still one of the most important and dynamic institutions on this island."
He noted that Edward Carson, immortalised in a statue at Stormont and remembered for his links to militant unionism, nevertheless played hurling for Trinity College in Dublin as a student.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan and the Alliance Party's Keiran McCarthy also addressed the event which took place despite heavy rain.
Trevor Ringland, an Ulster Unionist Party member who chairs the One Small Step organisation that tackles divisions in Northern Ireland, attended the ceremony.
There were no unionist politicians present, but Mr Daly said he received a letter from DUP Culture Minister Nelson McCausland who is attending a British-Irish council summit in Jersey.
Each Ash tree produces enough wood for around 25 hurls and the GAA said trees need to be planted to meet the demand for 250,000 hurls per year.
The Ulster GAA President said he was delighted to support the efforts of GAA clubs in the province to plant thousands of saplings to provide the hurling and camogie sticks for future generations.
Mr Daly added: "I also welcome this opportunity to mark the 125th Anniversary of the GAA by the planting of a tree in the seat of the Assembly and I am thankful to both the Estate authorities and public leaders who facilitated this event."
SDLP Leader Mark Durkan praised the GAA for selecting Stormont.
"The GAA has been a distinct and positive factor for good throughout the island," he said.
"Over 125 years it has made a good contribution to national and cultural life, all based on strong local identity and a dedicated voluntary effort.
"It is appropriate to celebrate an organisation which has grown such strong roots by this tree planting.
"Just as this Ash tree will grow, flourish and strengthen, so too will the GAA."
“We should see this as a process of change, and whether or not the unionists are up for the change remains to be seen. This is about them coming to terms with the importance of equality and realising what it means for everyone and not just them. They have had their way for such a long time and there was always going to be opposition to this.”
Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein
“It would be much better if we could see the flag of the nation flying over Stormont every day rather than planting trees on the grounds. I’m sure for the terrorists inside the government it is probably a minor thing for a tree to be planted outside. Though the GAA and the nationalists would see this as a significant day we hardly deem it as such in the grand scale of things.”
Jim Allister, TUV