The History of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Canada
The History of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Canada
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The history of Gaelic games in Canada, before the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland in 1884 and in the years since, proves a determination by Irish immigrants who have arrived in numerous provinces of Canada. Through their dedication the flag of Irish sports has flown strong, and will continue to fly in the years to come.

The sporting traditions include the oldest European field game of hurling-a masterful art and the fastest game in the world-in which players use an ash wood stick and a hard ball. Many argue with some conviction, and no small amount of fact to support their case, that Canada's national sport, ice hockey, has its origins in hurling. The word puck is derived from the Irish word poc, which is the action of striking the ball with a hurley.

In 1845, the civic fathers of Quebec City banned the playing of hurling in their narrow streets, while in St. John's, Newfoundland, hurling was being played as early as 1788 at the "Barrens" of the city. The ladies' version of hurling, Camogie, has had its presence on occasion in some Canadian communities. The skilful play of Gaelic Football, which has dominated the sporting scene across the country in many Canadian cities, continues to be the greatest strength in modern times. Along with two other Irish sports of handball and rounders, many wonderful memories for the Canadian-Irish community are celebrated in this book that captures an exciting facet of Irish culture.

Trevor Carolan is the international editor of the Pacific Rim Review of Books (Issue Eleven Spring 2009)

Sport and the Gaels go hand in hand. When the Olympic Games were still but a sparkle in the eye of Zeus, at Ireland's Hill of Tara the Ras Tailetann Games were held in honour of Queen Tailte from 1829 BC to AD 1180. That's a rippin' 3,000 year run, so as Vancouver writer John O'Flynn explains, the Irish got good at organizing these things- normally around a grand fair in which heroic drink had no small part. Unsurprisingly, throughout the Irish Diaspora in particular, the current world-wide Celtic renaissance has brought renewed interest in the unique Irish traditions of hurling and Gaelic Football.

With this impressively researched work, John O'Flynn brings to fruition his archival digging within the Irish-Canadian sporting community. Charting the development of Irish sporting associations from Newfoundland to the west coast, from 1796 to the present, en route O'Flynn does more than simply talk sports. Historical migration patterns, relations between the Irish, French and English, ecclesiastical affiliations, sites of famine monuments, and short profiles of scores of local sporting figures make this volume of cultural history worth leaving on the parlour table for guest browsers.

Much of the actual reporting is of a more recent nature, but the Toronto and Montreal Gaelic athletic scenes are well-covered historically. In an aside to hockey enthusiasts, O'Flynn tracks the various recorded Irish, English and Scots development links to ice-hockey - all had 'hurling', 'bandy', or 'shinty', field sports that involved the use of curved sticks, as did the native Mic Macs. Oddly, he reports that as late as 1875, ice hockey in Montreal was still played mostly by Irish Catholics from McGill University and two bilingual colleges where the Irish taught the game to the French. The rest, as they say, is history.

O'Flynn's anecdotal style is founded on plenty of oral history. Leading up to a tale about the founding of Vancouver's Sons of Erin Gaelic Football Club, he recounts a clash between Vancouver and Seattle Irish clubs in which the Americans had salted hard-boiled priests among their sides. Old warriors remember the incognito priests playing "tough as nails", "the dirtiest ones" on the field. It's all in good fun and is well worth a look.

John O'Flynn's father, Thomas O'Flynn (Kilmeedy, County Limerick), first came to Toronto in 1953, and his late mother, Elizabeth (nee O'Keeffe) (Duagh, County Kerry), arrived together as a married couple in 1962 to British Columbia. John was born in 1964 and attended Vancouver's St. Patrick's Elementary, Vancouver College and graduated from the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission.

John's parents introduced him to Ireland's national games of Gaelic Football and Hurling with the members of the Vancouver Irish Sporting and Social Club. He had the opportunity to represent the club and play Gaelic Football in two North American County Board Championships: 1984 Boston and 1985 Chicago. He attended the founding meeting in Toronto of the Canadian County Board of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1987 and currently serves as secretary. He has presented workshops on Gaelic Football to teachers and summer camps that introduce the games to youth. John has also served as a referee in both minor and adult games in the United States and Canada.

John resides in the District of North Vancouver, B.C. with his wife, Kathleen, and is father to Matthias, Kristiann, Kelleigh, Emily and Michael. A graduate of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, John has taught in both denominational and non-denominational schools in Richmond (St. Paul's K-7), Powell River (Assumption K-8), (Vancouver College K-12), West Vancouver (Mulgrave K-12). North Vancouver (Holy Trinity K-7) Vancouver's OLPH K-7 and North Vancouver's St. Pius X (K-7).

John served as a Commissioner on the North Vancouver Museum and Archives Commission. He is a past Director of the North Vancouver Football Club.



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