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Linda Ervine named president of in demand cross-community East Belfast GAC

Linda Ervine

Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine has been named president of a new GAA club in east Belfast.

East Belfast GAC has been bombarded with interest since it was announced at the weekend, she told the Belfast Telegraph.

Malone Rugby Club, which is based on the Cregagh Road, has also offered its clubhouse and pitch facilities on an interim basis to the club, she said.

"About 100 members have been signed up and there are more emails and responses that we haven't been able to deal with yet," said Mrs Ervine.

"It's a cross-community initiative and the founders come from a GAA and rugby background and are very passionate about both sports and cross-community engagement with both sports."

The club hopes to field a team in the Down junior championship this year.

Co Down native David McGreevy is one of those involved, having played Gaelic football for London in the 2013 Connaught final.

Mr McGreevy also plays football for his home club of Teconnaught, near Downpatrick, and rugby for Belfast-based Instonians.

The last GAA club of its kind to play at adult level in east Belfast, St Colmcille's GAC, was disbanded in the 1970s.

Mrs Ervine, sister-in-law of the late PUP leader David Ervine, said the establishment of a new GAA club represents a return to normality and they had been flooded with offers of support.

"[The GAA club] was lost with the Troubles, so for me it's very much about normality returning to the area and people moving on 20 odd years after the Good Friday Agreement.

"There have also been offers of help from different organisations and sporting groups. People have been really good and schools also want to get involved.

"It's been fantastic and a really positive vibe."

Daithi MacRaibhaigh is one of the founding members of the club and said the response he received when he first Tweeted about the idea was far beyond what he expected.

"I wasn't expecting this thing to get so big. At this moment we're looking at organising men and women football teams, camogie and hurling teams, and underage sides as well," he said, speaking to BBC Sport.

"And because we are promoting this as a cross community project, several primary schools including some from the integrated sector have been in touch."

He is now preparing for the club's inaugural meeting and creating a newsletter to email out to supporters.

Mr MacRaibhaigh said the club's name, East Belfast GAC, will remain unless the members decide they want to change it but said he thinks it would be appropriate to consider naming the club after someone from the east side of the city.

His friend Richard Maguire had made the original suggestion of forming a team and said he was taken aback by the degree of interest.

"Daithi messaged me on Sunday morning asking if I wanted to be part of a wee team in East Belfast. I was thinking that a casual kick-about would be great," said Mr Maguire.

"I thought there are enough people living around east Belfast who can't travel to their other clubs, but might want to play. It's good to explore these things. However, I didn't see it having so much support so quickly. By two o'clock on Sunday, I had enough people to field a team," said Mr MacRaibhaigh.

"The Bredagh and Carryduff clubs in south Belfast and St Paul's in Holywood have sent us emails saying they are keen to help us out"

East Belfast GAC will come under the authority of the Down County board, who have said they will offer any guidance needed.

"It's positive news that they want to field a cross community team," said the board secretary, Sean Og McAteer.

"In the current climate where there are no activities on the playing fields, the fact that people want to launch Gaelic games again in east Belfast is very welcome. We will do all we can to advise them."

Belfast Telegraph