GAA's spirit shines bright and continues to lead by example
Aren't these evenings something else? Last Monday night, I cycled 15 miles over the unforgiving hills of Tyrone to play an hour of football at the Tyrone training complex at Garvaghey. Once it was over, I cycled back, showered and jumped into the cot. Rocking wasn't required. I was out like a light, while outside the evening still had another couple of hours left in the tank.
I went up there again two evenings ago, only it was a cultural rather than sporting activity that drew me there.
When the Garvaghey centre was opened, Mark Conway of Club Tyrone informed me that outside in their recreation of Tullyhogue Fort (where the O'Neill kings were inaugurated) they intended to host a production of Shakespeare's comedy 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', as adapted by William Forbes Marshall.
A staunch Unionist, Marshall was born in Drumragh, Omagh in 1888 and ordained a Presbyterian Minister in 1912. His first posting was in Aughnacloy, nine miles from the Garvaghey site. He later served in nearby Sixmilecross, which is, you guessed it, six mile away.
In his leisure time he was a poet – 'I'm livin' in Drumlister/In clabber to the knee', an author of a book on Ulster Scots in America, and a firm believer in the preservation of local dialects.
Perhaps for that reason, he persuaded BBC Radio to broadcast his adaptation of The Bard's play, changing 'The Rude Mechanicals' accents into strong local Tyrone ones, given that he held firm to the belief that the mid-Ulster tongue was closely aligned to that of the English spoken in Shakespeare's time.
Listen to a rural Tyrone man say words like 'floor' and 'door' and see what we mean.
Anyway, it was this section that we were gathered here to see, performed by The Bardic Theatre. Alongside the main event there was poetry readings and choir singing.
There was a sizeable crowd lapping up the entertainment in the open air. By my estimation, around 80% of the gathering were retirees, enjoying something a little different.
Afterwards, there was tea, soda bread, sandwiches, currant bread and traybakes. The bread and buns were all produced by volunteers of course. Met with that kind of hospitality, the decent thing to do is to make a contribution.
Only they weren't taking anything. There was no plate, cap or bucket passed around.
This was an event staged by Tyrone GAA, for everyone, including – they were delighted to point out – descendants of WF Marshall.
One week ago today, Clare Daly of the United Left Alliance made a remark in the Dáil about the GAA's acquisition of the former Army Barracks in Mullingar.
She wondered what kind of sum the GAA were prepared to outlay on the site, as plans are being firmed up to convert it into a Centre of Excellence for Westmeath. She almost played the ball and not the man but couldn't quite make it, choosing to leave a stray elbow in. Beside her, Mick Wallace TD fed her an old FAI line that the GAA was in fact an acronym for 'Grab All Association.'
The sad thing is though, that the GAA is the best example of working socialism within a sporting body, perhaps anywhere in the world.
The earnings of the GAA are filtered down through county boards for coaching, administration and capital developments – such as the one in Mullingar that so exerts Clare Daly.
Should any skulduggery be suggested, they publish their accounts annually, inviting the media to cover the event and ask questions. The accounts are scrutinised by outside agency Mazars and are kept up for everyone to see on gaa.ie.
It thrives on the spirit of volunteerism. This works on a macro level through the many administrators that sustain the Association but also on a micro level with the example of the Naomh Columba football team who, returning home from the Peile Na Gaeltachta in Moycullen recently, pulled over the bus when they spotted an elderly farmer turning his turf.
They all got stuck in, turning two days' work into 20 minutes.
A Grab All Association would not charge fans as little as £5 into Championship games. A Grab All Association would find it hard to persuade a panel to gladly attend hospitals of sick children as their first engagement as champions, the day after an All-Ireland final.
There is no greater example of socialism in action than the GAA. Clare Daly TD could learn plenty rather than hiding behind lazy stereotyping.