Berlin on the Spree with the GAA
[ Tue, 4th Apr 2017 ]
Gerry O'Sullivan (Front row, 3rd from left), Dervla Nash (Front row, 4th from left). Back row, from left Pat O'Leary, Luke Quinn and back row 8th from left Robert Henneberg.
At first sight, the banks of the Spree might not seem to be a place to spot 20 or so young men and women going through their paces in a football and hurling/camogie training session.
But it's no longer a wonder as the Berlin GAA goes from strength to strength and on a beautiful spring Saturday morning (25 March) a multinational group was putting down the foundation for what they hope will be a successful season. A few weeks ago Ballyboden St Endas was twinned with the German club at a ceremony in the Clubhouse attended by Dervla Nash from Berlin via Scariff as well as the Boden Club Secretary Pat Nash, Vice Chair Ciarán Maguire, Boden-Berlin liaison officers Paddy Walsh and Eamonn Treacy as well as Paudí Ó Néill (who conducted some training sessions in Berlin last year) agus Caoimhe Ní Néill representing Croke Park.
It's now estimated that about 20% of the GAA's membership is outside of Ireland with clubs on all continents. Ballyboden has a strong connection in this area. Back in 1995, the club hosted one of the first International Tournaments organised by Croke Park in football which was a huge success. Last August more than 1,700 footballers, hurlers and camogie players from 10 regions around the globe took part in the 2016 Etihad Airways GAA World Games in Dublin. A total of 87 teams from 20 countries travelled for a week-long festival of Gaelic games activity between August 7 and 14 at UCD’s Belfield campus, with the finals being played at Croke Park. Teams from as far away as Australia, South Africa, and Argentina were present, as well as teams from China, Canada, the Middle East, the US, Europe, and Britain.
In terms of personnel former Boden players played/are playing their part on other soils - James Griffin was a founder of Paris Gaels; Stephen Fee was an active member of the Barcelona club; Colm Sharkey in Toronto; Margaret Francois and Irene Kirwan in Brussels and I'm sure several more.
With the arrival of summer time, Berlin GAA will train three times a week - twice during the week on what was once Tempelhof Airport and on Saturday morning at Jungfernheide - a park not unlike Tymon North with a number of soccer and rugby pitches. On the Saturday I visited, Pat O'Leary of Ballingeary in West Cork was in charge of the football session which was followed by the hurling/camogie part with Luke Quinn, from Confey - an Institute of Technology Blanchardstown Erasmus student. The team is managed by Declan O'Doherty from Donegal. Erasmus students who spend time either on placements or studying in Berlin universities feature strongly both past and present. Maeve Killen from St Sylvester's in Malahide did her Erasmus study visit in the famous Humboldt University while a TCD student some years ago. She now works for the Irish Embassy in Berlin. Tá Gaeilge flúirseach aici. DIT social work student from Dunboyne Sinead Clince is currently having the time of her life and plans on returning to Berlin for matches even when her Erasmus period finishes in the next couple of months.
But the Berlin canvas has a multi-cultural appearance including dual star Ahmed from Baghdad, a girl from Ukraine, and several Germans including the Club's Irish Language Officer Robert Henneberg who speaks fluent Irish after taking up the language about two years ago. He's a regular attendee at the Berlin Conradh na Gaeilge bi-weekly session.
Banner girl Dervla Nash is a new recruit to football having grown up with a hurley in her hand in Scariff. Working for the Comer Group in the city, the NUI Galway graduate typifies the new GAA official as all the officers of the Berlin club are also players - a common feature of the clubs sprouting up around the globe. The club plays a role in keeping in touch with one's roots but its more than that. One can clearly see that the generations that are now pursuing careers and settling down in places like mainland Europe and elsewhere are not only proud of where they come from - they want to share the great sporting and cultural richness of Ireland with the rest of the world.
Agus má bhuann siad aon rud i mbliana beidh Robert Henneberg in ann I bhfad níos mó na cúpla focal a rá.
Gerry O'Sullivan with Ahmed from Baghdad, Iraq