In his address at the 50th anniversary of Wolfe Tones na Sionna, Uachtarán Cumann Luthchleas Gael, Aogán Ó Fearghail, said, “As President of an Association with three quarters of a million members in Ireland, almost 2,000 clubs on the island, and 465 clubs around the world, I simply want to wish you all a happy birthday.
“I want to congratulate the club, not only on all the 50 years of achievement. I visit on average four GAA clubs every week and I have a great opportunity to view and to take the pulse of the association. Every club is a little bit different and it’s wonderful to see the good health of a GAA club and I’m absolutely delighted with that here. I see on the very first year of your foundation you won the Junior A football title, then to see the growth in all the different grades since, it really is fantastic. Some of the things that I have noticed about your club; I come from behind a hill in Cavan and we have some links with this area.
As you know the River Shannon rises in Cavan, but it gets the hell out of it very quickly! There is a very strong link educationally. Last year St Patrick’s Comprehensive celebrated 50 years, it was the first comprehensive school in Ireland. The second was in Cootehill, my home town. Sadly that system of education stopped after only three schools and they changed the model. But there was always a strong link between Shannon and Cootehill. Many teachers in the early days particularly went up and down to both of those schools.
Something that I particularly like is that you play all our games, that’s not something I can say to every GAA club. All Gaelic Games are catered for within your umbrella and I would strongly encourage you to continue on that road. Just looking around the room, I would suspect there are slightly more women than men and that’s wonderful. It’s important for all GAA clubs as 52% of the population of Ireland are female. In the Croke Park photos of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, most of those at matches were men, usually rural men in caps. That has now changed totally, modern technology helps us capture the data very efficiently and now we are able to see that as many women are attending our games.
As a general message, and we say this all the time in the GAA, if one were starting again, if we were founding the GAA tomorrow, we wouldn’t have separate associations for handball, rounders, ladies football and camogie; we would have one association for all and that’s how it should be. I’m also delighted that you put a great emphasis on youth. Without young people and without equality for girls and boys, a GAA club is not really humming.
As I said, we have almost 2,000 clubs, and we have never had as many. We had a commission in the GAA just after your club was founded, in 1969 we had the McNamee Commission, at that time the GAA had 950 clubs, so the association has almost doubled in the life of your own club. That growth has been primarily at youth level, any club that really has a future is one that puts a huge emphasis on good quality coaching for girls and boys equally, for all our games and for all aspects of the GAA.
So congratulations to everyone in the club and everyone who is involved in schools, coaching, and with any team that goes out on the pitch, they are the real people who are the building blocks for Wolfe Tones na Sionna and for County Clare. I would like also to congratulate you on your facilities, I had a look at your wonderful facilities, if a GAA club like yours is to be really successful it needs five things;
1. It needs activity. Once you have activity, lots of boys and girls coming into your club,and I can see you have that, lots of things are happening. Hopefully there will be rows over who gets the pitch and tension between different teams, for that’s a good sign of activity.
2. You need organisation, any club that can organise a night like tonight knows about organisation, so you clearly have that well in place.
3. You need to know about finance. I’m a Cavan man and we’re supposed to know something about this! You do need to keep your eyes on financial planning in a GAA club.
4. You must have ambition, and I sense it in this room. You just have to always want to be better. I was very taken tonight when one of your coaches stood here and congratulated the lads on winning the Junior B and his last comment was ‘next year we’ll win Junior A’. That is important, you must always have ambition. I launched a Strategic Plan for a GAA club a couple of months ago. It was a wonderful plan on how that club wanted to improve. On the way out the door a man said to me , ‘What are you saying about that Strategic Plan, I used to be chairman of this club for 20 years and all that planning you’re talking about – it’ll never work around here’. I just thought to myself, I’m glad he was the past chairman. Every club can achieve anything, every human can achieve anything, but you have to have ambition. You do keep your feet on the ground, but you must keep your eye on the stars. I would say to Wolfe Tones na Sionna and to County Clare that everything is possible, you simply have to be ambitious for it and put in the organisation for lots of activities and have a financial plan underpinning it.
5. Last thing you need in any club is a good sense of fun. From I arrived here tonight there’s been a laugh a minute. I’ve never seen a more happy bunch of people in any room anywhere. Well done on that, we have to always have fun and be able to enjoy the GAA. It’s important always that we give as much effort to our club and to our county, other sports don’t have that so it’s important that we keep it strongly.
Attachment to our own place is paramount for all of us in the GAA , the real bottom line is we know where we are from. I live on the border with County Monaghan but I’m not a Monaghan man and I don’t think there are too many Limerick men in this room! We all have good Christian charity, we like our neighbours but we also like to beat the living daylights out of them! I would congratulate you on that sense of community, the fact that you are from your people in your community, for the girls and boys teams of all ages and you pull together and support all codes because it’s of your community. But you can and should transfer that to Up the Banner and supporting Clare.
There are some counties that arrive in Croke Park and they are so used to the place that they just give a nice polite applause when they win. When the Clare folk arrive, by God we all know they’re in town! We’re all well able to enjoy that Clare Shout and we need that, so I congratulate Clare County Board on keeping close to their clubs. Congratulations to your chairman Mike, who is leading the club in a good direction, well done on your 50 years. I hope you have a successful night and, more importantly, I hope you have a successful next 50 years.
We have never had more activity in GAA clubs than there is now. We have 465 clubs around the world, no matter where you go we have a GAA club everywhere. Last year I was in Wellington, New Zealand, where we had a GAA festival and I met hundreds of Irish people. One of the nicest girls I met was Stephanie Regan from this club, the grand-daughter of your founding member Brendan. Stephanie is an engineer, working to rebuild Christchurch after the 2016 earthquake. Congratulations to herself and to the Regan family, but isn’t it amazing the reach of the GAA club, no matter where you go you will meet GAA people.
It’s refreshing where you can go to a club and there’s so many Irish people mixing with people who never heard of Ireland and they are enjoying GAA clubs. As I said at the start congratulations, happy birthday and up the Tones!