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Gaelic Games Take Center Stage in Western New York

Contrary to popular belief, Ireland’s national sport is not rugby or soccer. The national sport falls under the title of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Of the competitive sports played within this association, Gaelic football and hurling are the most played. While Buffalo boasts a dedicated hockey and football fan base, the city is also home to its own Gaelic Football Club, The Buffalo Fenians GFC. Gaelic games in Buffalo date back to 1901 during the Pan-American Exposition. The University at Buffalo’s online library reads, “The rich history has even deeper roots in the region dating back to 1866. A Fenian is defined as, “a member of a 19th-century revolutionary nationalist organization among the Irish in the US and Ireland.” The name comes from the ancient warriors of Irish mythology. Given the geographical location of Buffalo, several Fenian raids were conceived in our city, including the Niagara Raid, which involved battles in Ridgeway and Fort Erie, Ontario.

This July, the 2017 GAA Continental Youth Championships (CYC) will be held in Buffalo. This is the largest Youth Gaelic Games event outside of Ireland and will have a significant economic impact, drawing over 18,000 visitors from cities including Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Ottawa. The event will be hosted at the West Seneca Soccer Complex from July 26th through July 31st. Events included Gaelic games as well as other Irish running and jumping events, which were held in the stadium located on the Exposition grounds. These activities gave local Irish-Americans a chance to compete against individuals and teams from other areas and to showcase their national sports before an international audience.” Buffalo will add to this storied history this summer when the city plays host to the Continental Youth Championships (CYC).

Paul Mulcaire, a longtime member of the Buffalo Fenians GFC, has been instrumental in securing Buffalo as the CYC’s host city this summer. Paul has contributed years of service to the GAA in the U.S. and Buffalo. Most recently, he has served as Chairman of the Buffalo Fenians Youth and as a Development Officer on the CYC Steering Committee. Paul was born in Kilrush Town of County Clare, Ireland. Paul reminisced that, “Gaelic games in Ireland are all amateur. You play for the passion of your town and hopefully someday for your county. People in Ireland make connections through sport because these guys all work jobs.” Paul indicated that, “You come to a new country [from Ireland] and the first thing you do is source out a GAA club.” Paul has been involved with the Buffalo Fenians youth program since its inception and credits the kids and parents of the program for helping to bring the CYC to Buffalo. “Building the reputation of a strong club was the first step and we have built a very good club and also a growing club”, Mulcaire continued, “I knew we could host this, especially given how great Buffalo is becoming. Starting the youth program seven years ago has been the most rewarding experience of my many years of involvement with Gaelic games.”

Another influential member of the Buffalo Fenians GFC is Padraic Walsh, a native of Kiltimagh Town in Mayo County, Ireland. Walsh has been involved with the club in various leadership roles for eight years since he moved to Buffalo including his most recent membership as a CYC Host Committee Member. He noted that, “Gaelic Games in Ireland would be the first team sport introduced to school-aged kids – they are part of the heritage of the Irish people.” For Irish-born members of any GAA club in the United States, the sport takes on a new meaning, “Having it here is a common thread for new Irish to any area. These Irish people brought their sports with them and to have it here in Buffalo for me was a great starting point when I moved to a new town and didn’t know anyone in it. Locating a Gaelic games club was huge for me, a great common thread”, Walsh continued. In regards to the CYC, Walsh noted that, “It took a village.” From the conception of the idea, Walsh stressed the collaborative nature of the process of bringing the CYC to Buffalo. He credited his fellow Buffalo Fenians, the Buffalo-Niagara Sports Commission, and the University at Buffalo for their contributions in winning the bid to host the 2017 CYC.

For those involved with the Buffalo Fenians, the preservation and proliferation of Gaelic games in the United States are a high priority. Members also pride themselves in the values of tradition, community, and inclusion. William Coyle is the current chairman of the Buffalo Fenians GFC. Bill commented that, “Football in Ireland is a way of life. You have your hometown or county team that you support through thick and thin much like the following of the Bills here in Buffalo.” Bill is a Buffalo native who married an Irish born woman. Bill noted, “I fell in love with a woman from Ireland and I fell in love with Ireland.” This explains Bill’s dedication to the club, as he has been involved with the organization since 2001 in various roles including as a player on the men’s amateur team that competes every year from around March through September and welcomes new members on a rolling basis – no experience required.

Take a walk through West Seneca Soccer Complex in late July or Cazenovia Park on a Saturday this summer, where the men’s team competes, and you just might hear, “Fenians Abu!”

Written by Nick Sperrazza

Nick Sperrazza

Nick Sperrazza is a local high school teacher and coach. Nick is a Buffalo native and a proud alumnus of Canisius High School, Canisius College, and most recently, the University at Buffalo where he earned his Master's in Education. Nick lives in the Elmwood Village with his orange tabbies, Luke and Leia, and considers himself to be an ambassador for the City of Good Neighbors that he calls home.

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