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This month we're reading: A Parish Far From Home


17-07-2013 10:00

As part of our reading campaign, Books Are Good For You, each month we encourage our followers to read something different. This June, we recommend Philip O’Connor’s A Parish Far From Home, and we’re giving you a chance to win a copy of this remarkable book in our monthly giveaway!

 

Philip O’Connor’s marvellous book is an account of one year in the life of one player and one club in one country. You wouldn’t normally associate the GAA with Sweden or with continental Europe generally but it’s there, wherever there are Irish exiles to nurture it — in parishes far from home. Read the book’s foreword by the wonderful Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh.

 

They say one should never judge a book by its cover, but I am willing to admit that I was won over to this wonderful book by its striking cover. The location depicted seemed on the verge of a vast, uncharted territory, but the partial gap in the background trees invited curiosity beyond the unmarked, snow-covered football field. I became curious there and then about the content that would soon emerge from those pages which, strangely, may have started life as a sapling tree right there, in the heart of Sweden. Didn’t we all learn about that trade while in primary school.

 

‘Is ait an mac an saol, ‘ I mused to myself, as I contemplated the improbability of a book extending well beyond two hundred pages that details the history of an infant GAA club ‘far from home’. The team featured on the cover looked a seasoned one to me, and, at first sight, those stout-hearted Stockholm Gaels appeared to be in good humour. It was as if the playing season were just over, during which they had won many a hard-fought match. I noticed one in particular sporting a badge of honour on his ciotóg knee – the famous bandage proclaiming that the owner suffered from the dreaded affliction of a ‘Croke Park’ knee.

 

At any rate, I quickly ventured beyond the tree-line, and became fascinated with one of the latest Michael Cusack’s family members. Tá sé ráite riamh go mbíonn gach tosnú lag; Cusack’s start in 1884 was indeed weak, and it took a while for a number of clubs in the new association of the GAA to multiply. There are now close to three thousand clubs, and the phenomenon is that over four hundred of those clubs are ‘overseas’. They are spread around the world and they owe their origins to people like Philip O’Connor and his friends in Sweden. You see, Irish people of all generations loved their native pastimes and took them with them on their wandering. The practice existed even before the founding of the GAA, and I discovered this fact while on a trip to Australia’s Adelaide a few years ago. While there I was shown an advertisement in the Adelaide Advertiser of 1843, inserted at the request of Westmeath footballers, inviting a challenge from any other Irish county, or a combination of counties, to a game of Irish football on St Patrick’s Day.

 

And now to Sweden’s ‘Parish Far From Home’.

 

I learned that they were once in a state of semi-panic when wondering how to make a team out of ‘six or seven’ players. But, with patience and the implication of the Swede’s inherent love of orderly progress, one day or night the Stockholm Gaels club became a reality, and henceforth the Swedish-Irish and some of their friends from elsewhere had found a base.

 

It is easy for anyone ever associated with a new venture to visualise the problems that can materialise soon after the joys of the birth wear away. Where do we train while the snow is still on the ground? How about outdoor facilities when the days lengthen? How do we go about getting more players? How about opposition for a match, etc?

 

Those problems, too, were met head on; progress continued, and the great day arrived when a team from Gothenburg came to play a challenge game of football. The show was then truly on the road. Of course, it was a day never to be forgotten, as were the many other matches and events covered in the story which keeps unfolding.

 

It is all told in a convincing manner, with a clear message that the ‘Parish’ is much more than a vehicle for teams who wish to play. Parish members are now in fact woven into a community, and in this easy, ‘read-along’ narrative, one feels the presence of many wonderful people and characters who have become even better as a result of the existence of the Stockholm Gaels. It may indeed be a bit far away, but it has a communal link with some three thousand kindred clubs, radiating in all directions from Hayes’s Hotel in Thurles, County Tipperary.

 

Comhgháirdeachas leis an údar, Philip O’Connor, agus gach naon a chabhraigh leis chun an leabhar suimiúil seo a chur in ár measc. Maybe someday we might see the ‘Gaels’ play in Croke Park.

 

Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh

 

WIN one of three copies of the book! Simply enter your details HERE by midnight, Sunday, August 4th, 2013. Good luck!

 

A Parish Far From Home. How Gaelic Football Brought the Irish in Stockholm Together is available from the Gill Books Online Bookshop, and all good booksellers nationwide.



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