Recently appointed National Hurling Development Officer Martin Fogarty made some interesting comments in recent weeks regarding his view that the GAA should take a larger role in the education system.
In an interview with GAA.ie, he explained his view that hurling should be part of the school curriculum in secondary schools around the country. According to Fogarty, hurling and the GAA is unique to Irish culture and deserves its place at the forefront of Irish education.
While this view did not receive a lot of media attention at the time, it is definitely worth a conversation.
Young people today are growing up in a society where television, movies, and social media dominate and the globe is becoming a much smaller place. While it is important that our young people receive a quality education that will allow them to reach their full potential be it in Ireland or abroad, are we undervaluing our culture when it comes to education?
Ask any teacher of Irish and they will tell you of the struggle to encourage students to devote time to learning to speak and communicate in their native language. Many do not see the Irish language as a crucial part of their lives because they are not given the opportunity to see it as part of their lives. We blame teachers and the system rather than looking at the environment that we have created for learning a language.
A tokenistic approach by successive governments and much of the media means that Irish teachers and Irish speakers almost have to justify themselves when speaking the language. Culture and attitude is not something that can be taught in a 40-minute class a few times a week. National culture is by the very nature of the name, national. We all have a role to play, be it on the ground as teachers or coaches or in our attitudes.
While the GAA is engrained in the fabric of almost every town and village across the country, we shouldn’t be complacent. How many young people can tell you when the GAA was founded, why it was founded and what its significance was in the emergence of nationalist movements at the close of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries? How many can even tell you about the history of their club?
You’d be forgiven for thinking why any of that is important; sure as long as the young people keep playing the game, that’s the most important thing. But the GAA is not just about getting Mary and John out into the yard for a run around to keep them physically fit. It’s about more than just exercise.
If it was simply just another game, then why did the couple of hundred Tipperary football supporters race across the Davin Stand to applaud their players, to congratulate them, to hug them and to bask in the glory of their day. That was about more a team winning a game.
This was about heart, pride, loyalty. A sense of place, of belonging, of history.
It’s why there is so much resistance to a change in championship structures, especially where certain counties would be made compete in a lower grade competition. It’s why people get so frustrated at inequity in terms of funding and sponsorship. We don’t want your pity or your claps on the back and your ‘in fairness to __________, they won’t give up’. Of course we won’t give up. Giving up goes against the very fibre of the GAA, but a bit of help wouldn’t go astray either.
However, what about the young people of today’s GAA? Are they being told that it’s too difficult, that it’s not worth it, that it’s only a game?
Because it’s not. What goes on between the white lines might look like a game, it might sound like a game, it’ll probably even be advertised and spoken about as a game. But it’s not. It’s who we are and we’ve no say in it at all. It’s the help in the hard times, the guards of honour, the always having somewhere to be and something to talk about when you can’t talk about something else.
It’s the Nicky Rackards, the Christy Rings, the Matty Fordes, the Gary Brennans, the Declan Brownes.
It’s knowing that while you’d love to be winning All-Irelands every year like Kilkenny and Kerry, that you’d never swap because ‘ok, we might be in Division 4 now, but there’s a lot of good young lads coming through and we’ll be a force to be reckoned with yet’.
As much as we want to win and we know how important winning is, we also know that it isn’t the most important thing. That’s because this isn’t just a game or a sport, it’s a way of life like no other. Where else would you sit in a stand on a freezing January night with the sleet and rain blowing into your face at an O’Byrne Cup match… and look forward to it?
As a nation, we tend to be apologetic. Someone bumps into you on the footpath and you apologise to them. But we shouldn’t apologise for our culture, for our language, for our sport. We have a tendency to believe that all we can offer is the craic and the Book of Kells, but we’re more than a tourist ad. We’re about more than that and we shouldn’t sideline what makes us unique.
While some secondary schools put significant emphasis on GAA, unfortunately, in a large number of secondary schools, while teams are entered into competitions and pictures are put on walls of corridors, the importance of GAA is undervalued.
While Martin Fogarty said that he’d like to see hurling becoming a Leaving Certificate subject, I don’t believe that it needs to be tied to the points race; there doesn’t need to an incentive. GAA isn’t something that can be taught but it is something that can be encouraged and that can be used to encourage young people.
A cross curricular approach where teachers use GAA in their teaching and are given the space to do so would be the best option. A history of the local club, of the county, writing match reports/previews/opinion pieces as Gaeilge, in English/French/Spanish etc. PE for all students where they can choose a GAA elective where they can play and coach throughout their school career.
The GAA is not a hierarchical sport. There’s room for everyone of all abilities. The GAA allows people something to belong to and in this day and age when our young people are part of a world that is changing so much. And so often, where it can hard to belong to anything, the GAA is a constant and we need to show our young people that.
An rud is annamh is iontach and we certainly have that with the GAA.
Ciara O’Toole, Pundit Arena