Abood Abdullah Aljumaili traveled to Dublin with his family in 2008 to escape the war in his native country of Iraq. He was a nine-year-old boy who could not speak a word of English and was placed in a very foreign environment.
Today, Aljumaili, or Bonnar O’Loingsigh as he is more commonly known, is a proud Irish man who has integrated himself into every part of Irish culture.
What helped him to make the transition and settle in Ireland was GAA, as he told the gathering of 200 Muslims and dignitaries for the Eid al-Adha celebrations in Croke Park on Friday.
“One day, I was walking around my primary school at lunchtime when I heard some students talking about hurling. I hadn’t a clue what it was. At half two, it was home time. I was leaving my class and I saw some boys going off to train and it caught my eye. I didn’t really take too much notice of it.
“A couple of weeks later, two teachers came and asked me if I would like to try out for the school’s hurling team. So I started training and I couldn’t even hold the hurl properly. Woke up the next day, picked up the hurl, and started trying to at least lift the ball.
“I kept at it and kept at it until I eventually lifted the ball, realising that I had fallen in love with, in my view, and as many would agree, the best game on earth.
GAA became such a major part of O’Loingsigh’s life that the Ballinteer St John’s club man spent everyday training, no matter what the weather. However, it was not an easy transition for him given the cultural and language barriers.
“It was tough starting off hurling as a Muslim here, I didn’t really speak the language, didn’t understand the people nor did I even know the system. But now Ireland is my home. And although I had some daydreams of living in a Muslim society, I could not see myself leaving my homeland.
In yesterdays historic event, I made a speech on how I fell in love with hurling and encourged the attendees and all the…
“Not only do I feel comfortable and truly at home here, where I understand the people, the culture and the system, but I also feel a care and a responsibility towards my Irish people.
O’Loingsigh finished his speech by thanking the GAA and the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council for coming together to hold the Eid celebrations. He also urged the public to try GAA, as it is a place where everyone belongs.
“To everyone out there, no matter where you are in the country, no matter where you’re from, try GAA. GAA is where we all belong.”