Northern Ireland

GAA games 'may stop flag and anthem'

GAA President Aogan O Fearghail Image copyright ©INPHO/Gary Carr
Image caption GAA President Aogan O Fearghail said he accepted the anthem and tricolour caused "more difficulty... at home"

The president of the GAA has suggested the association may stop playing the national anthem and flying the Irish tricolour at matches.

Aogán Ó Fearghaíl, said he accepted the anthem and tricolour caused "difficulty at home".

He added that any changes would only come in an "agreed Ireland".

The Irish News first reported his comments that were made in Dubai on the GAA/GPA Football Allstars tour.

The GAA is the only sporting organisation to play the anthem and fly the national flag at domestic games.

"There is a massively changing world at home," Mr Ó Fearghaíl told reporters. "Brexit is going to affect the GAA the same as it's going to affect everyone else and it does cause concerns.

"There might well be political realignments on the island of Ireland and, if there are, then the GAA, just as it did when Nickey Brennan was president at the time and before him Sean McCague, they welcomed the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

"Every successive president has done that. I've done that.

"In the future if there are new agreements and new arrangements, we'd be open-minded about things like flags and anthems but not in advance of agreements."

What is Gaelic football?

Gaelic Football is Ireland's most popular sport - being played more in schools than rugby or soccer.

Teams have 15 players. A point is scored when the ball is kicked or punched over the crossbar of H-shaped goalpost - with three points for a goal scored under the crossbar, on a pitch somewhat larger than a soccer or rugby field.

Its popularity derives from a parish-based structure organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association, Ireland's biggest sporting organisation, which was founded in 1884 as part of national cultural and political movement in the drive for independence from the UK.

The club is an integral part of many communities in Ireland - and a focal point for other social and community activities.

GAA historian and author Eoghan Corry said Mr Ó Fearghaíl's remarks were "significant".

He said the anthem and tricolour had been adopted by the GAA during a turbulence period in Irish history.

"It actually came out of a particular debate when all the different sporting bodies came under serious stress in the early 1930s," he said.

'Constitutional crisis'

"Questions were being raised why the Rugby Union still played God Save the King and the Dublin Horse Show still played it too and the GAA introduced this in 1933.

"It was a time when there was a small constitutional crisis in London and there had been a change of government in Dublin.

"The GAA move was probably a defensive one but it meant that since then it has become sort of entrenched that the anthem and the flag be flown.

"It's not a big deal obviously in 26 of the counties but it was almost a stand under the Stormont regime where obviously the Catholic community felt quite excluded.

Image caption Mr Corry said in recent years Gaelic sports had "exploded" internationally

"There was an order from Stormont, for instance, that GAA results would not be read out on the BBC, so all of that was a very 1930s debate and it's quite interesting the context and the forum which the debate about it has been has been kick started because it's a pretty significant move."

Mr Corry said in recent years Gaelic sports had "exploded" internationally.

"There was a long tradition where it was the Irish community that played GAA in north American, Australia," he said.

"We've seen an explosion of the games in Asia among people who have no connection with Ireland.

"Women's Gaelic football is being played almost exclusively by non-Irish people so there is a whole cultural context and culture baggage being carried by the official guide of the GAA.

"They include references to the Irish language to it being a statement of culture which wouldn't be unusual in the 19th century but it's something that is less relevant to the community outside of Ireland."

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