All China Gaelic Games and GAA in Korea

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to join 2 ladies and 14 men from Seoul Gaels in Shanghai to compete in the All China Gaelic Games. Teams from Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Dalian and Seoul, over 200 players from 10 different nationalities took part in the competition.

This was a weekend that showed that GAA in Asia is well and truly alive. I can’t help but wonder if, in 1884, Michael Cusack ever thought that 130 years after the GAA was founded, it would see clubs doing so well in Asia, thousands of miles from Tipperary.

I also think about how we, as Irish people, take GAA for granted. Every parish, village and town has a pitch with proper goals, people who know what Gaelic football is and how it’s played, access to footballs, jerseys, sponsors and trainers.  In Seoul, I see the committee struggle each week to secure a pitch for us to play. Each year, due to the very nature of expat living, there is a huge changeover of players. But despite all the difficulties, clubs continue, training goes on and so starts the dedication to the season and the team.

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Playing here is a little different to how we play back home. Games are 7 minutes a side, 9 players per team. In 30 degree summer heat, 7 minutes is a long time. In Korea, we have our own league with teams, mens and ladies from Seoul, Busan and Daegu. If numbers allow, teams are divided A and B. The league has at least 3 rounds so it provides a great opportunity to improve on fitness and skills between rounds, especially for new players.

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Then, there are Asian competitions like the All China Gaelic Games (ACGG’S), North Asian Gaelic Games (NAGG’s)and the Asian Gaelic Games (AGG’s). For the ACGG’s, only three of us were able to travel from the Seoul ladies team so Shanghai kindly agreed to let us play with one of their teams. This is the perfect example of how attitude is the winning formula for GAA in Asia. There is literally no such thing as “can’t” here. Everyone is welcome regardless of age, nationality or skill set. Everyone is encouraged to come out and get involved regardless of whether they’ve played before or whether they can commit to every tournament or not. It’s that welcoming approach that makes me regret not joining my team sooner. Despite never having met the women from Shanghai before Saturday, they welcomed us as part of their team and by playing with them, we walked away from the tournament having learned a lot that we can bring into the next games with us.

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Our mens team enjoyed exceptional success in Shanghai, losing out on the gold medal by just one point. Two of our players also won All star awards so overall a successful outing.

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It’s not all about the football either. Being part of the team is as much about the craic we have off the pitch as it is about the football itself. The theme for the after party last weekend was “Pirates of the Carribbean” and there were a few strange looks from the other guests in the hotel as pirates walked in and out of the lobby!

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Here in Korea, we’re preparing to host the North Asian Gaelic games this year which we’re really looking forward to. Teams from Japan and China as well as our own Korean teams will travel to take part in the tournament on July 5th.

If you’re interested in getting involved in GAA in Korea, you can contact our clubs;

http://seoulgaels.weebly.com/

https://www.facebook.com/daegu.fianna.3

https://sites.google.com/site/busangaa/home

Or for GAA in Asia

http://www.asiancountyboard.com/

Keeping it Irish in Korea.

Possibly the greatest fear for anyone who emigrates is losing their national identity.Will that move make you less nationalistic than you are when you were at home? In a new country, the fear of being “just another foreigner” is terrifying and idea that there is no organisation there to encourage you being you is frightening.

When I moved to Korea almost 3 years ago, I retired myself to the fact that I would have to stop all the Irish things I love,  hurling, playing Irish music and ceili dancing. The fact that I was going to Asia pretty much convinced me that from there on in, I was just another foreign teacher in Korea.  And for a while, I was.  Irish in Korea aren’t as numerous as other countries so for a while I played music to my walls and left my dancing shoes in the corner. 

Then by a random stroke of good luck, I found out about a Ceili happening in Seoul.  That Ceili turned out to have been organised by the Irish Association of Korea, a voluntary organisation that help to promote Irish culture in Korea.  The difference that Ceili made to my experience in Korea was incredible.  They helped me get in touch with Irish musicians and I finally started playing music again.  That music turned into ceili dancing and now I’m playing music and dancing more often that when I was in Ireland! And now that you can find I.A.K. everywhere (meetup, website, twitter, facebook) the numbers joining us are increasing. 

While I don’t play Gaelic or hurling in Korea, it doesn’t mean I couldn’t.  Seoul Gaels promote and encourage Irish sport in Korea and they have a really strong following.  They have a great team, are always encouraging new members and regularly play in national and international tournaments. 

What I notice most, though is that, for these two organisations, the number of Korean followers is growing.  I.A.K. have monthly meetups and usually half are Korean. When I talk to these people, the knowledge of Ireland and all things Irish are quite high and they are only too happy to get the opportunity to get involved with Irish dancing and music, sport and language.   Irish events are a regular feature in Seoul, the big ones being St. Patrick’s Day and the Seoul Ceili. It makes me quite proud to think that Koreans are becoming integrated with Irish culture and it couldn’t be done without the people who volunteer with the I.A.K.  and Seoul Gaels. 

I can definitely say that now, I am possibly more Irish (or at least as Irish) as I was when I came here. Now that I have this opportunity to continue doing the things I love doing but in Korea, I can’t see myself leaving any time soon. This Saturday, the IAK are running their annual Seoul Ceili.  On the day, an Irish dance troop called Tap Pung will perform.  The thing is that the members of Tap Pung are all Korean! I’m super excited to be going along to this and can’t wait to do some ceili dancing.

For anyone interested in getting involved with either of the two Irish organisations in Korea you can find them at;

Irish Association of Korea; www.iak.co.kr or www.facebook.com/irishassociationofkorea 

Seoul Gaels; www.facebook.com/seoul.gaels   seoulgaels@gmail.com