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"It's an extraordinary phenomenon" | Paul Rouse on the GAA

Thom Malone
Thom Malone

22:15 5 May 2020

Paul Rouse virtually dropped in for Tuesday's Off The Ball as he continued his History of Sport series - this week, he focused on the origin, importance, and singularity of the GAA.

Rouse went about explaining how the GAA was completely unique as a sporting body and a cultural icon for Ireland.

"You look around Irish life," began Rouse, "obviously the sporting life, but way beyond that. Look at the general social, cultural, political, economic imprint of the GAA.

"It is difficult to look at Irish life as currently constructed without the GAA. Without its reach, without its meaning in the lives of so many people across the island."

"It's something that need not have happened, it may not have happened. We like to think of it as a natural offshoot of Irish identity and of Irish character but this organisation was constructed at a very particular moment in time."

It all began at Hayes' Hotel in Thurles in 1884, a venue convenient due to the proximity of the train lines and access from other parts of rural Ireland at the time.

An extraordinary phenomenon

From that meeting stemmed the Gaelic Athletic Association, which is according to Paul Rouse, unlike any other sporting body on the globe.

"There are bit and pieces of similarity [to the GAA] in various organisations around the world," says Rouse, "but there is nothing that puts it together in the same manner as the GAA does.

"This capacity to be a broad-based community sport, a community organisation, and a sporting organisation that bears almost all the trappings of what we would consider top-level elite sport.

"It is an extraordinary phenomenon which is a product of the peculiar circumstances of Irish history, Irish geography, and the presence of Ireland within the sports revolution that re-shaped life and the life of Great Britain, the United Kingdom and Ireland as it was in the 1880s.

"All of those things operating together, created by very, very peculiar people at a very particular time in history, in response to a very particular set of circumstances."

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