New Munster Council Chairman : ‘It’s no harm to understand where we came from’

By John Fogarty
GAA Correspondent

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New Munster Council chairman Liam Lenihan aims to get the lowdown on the decline of rural clubs as a means of “keeping the dream alive in country areas”.

The former Limerick chair, who took over from Jerry O’Sullivan last month, will soon establish a taskforce to gather data on the penetration rural clubs are making in their environments.

Speaking in front of the Seanad last week, GAA president John Horan pointed out that rural decline is not a problem made by the organisation but one they are helping to fight.

In his address to delegates at convention, Lenihan stressed the significance of the GAA in forging people’s identities in the country. “Many small rural clubs are struggling with declining populations,” he said.

“Clubs have been forced to amalgamate at underage level to field teams. But clubs must strive to maintain their identity at adult level. Your club is your badge of identity.

“With the decline in population in rural Ireland, the GAA club is the focal point for many communities. It is uplifting to see young boys and girls training or playing in the local GAA field with many parents and grandparents present. It’s also an opportunity for people to interact. The social aspect is more important than ever before.

“Ireland without the GAA is unimaginable. It has created for itself a unique place at the heart of Irish life at home and abroad. The GAA brings us all together. It makes us proud of our club, county, and country. The GAA is a remarkable organisation with a footprint in every townland, village, and parish.

“To keep the dream alive in country areas, I intend to set up a committee to get the facts on rural clubs to look at issues such as adult members, underage members, catchment areas, local school numbers, etc. Having gathered the data we will be in a position to make recommendations.”

Lenihan wants to establish an outreach programme whereby current prominent GAA figures connect with the elderly. It’s a scheme he believes would be of benefit to both parties.

“At parish level, the GAA played a huge part in breaking down class barriers and uniting societies. Between the white lines of the pitch, the farmer took his place with the servant boy, the banker beside the borrower, and the priest beside the penitent with one focus: The pride of the parish.

“It was where every man was equal relying only on his God-given talents and skills. It was where the underdog often has his day.

“In the local clubrooms, the farmer and the labourer, combined with the priest, the teacher, and the garda to build up the association and provide playing facilities. Everywhere they became leading lights in their own communities.

“Change has taken place for the better. Today, our players, mentors, and administrators are highly educated people. They are very articulate and portray a positive image of the association. However, it’s no harm to understand where we came from.

“As an organisation, I would like to see us help our former players and members and indeed the elderly in the wider community, by providing a room in our fine clubhouses where we can bring these people together for a cup of tea and a chat. The social interaction is very important.

“There are many people who feel isolated and alone. They long for company. With the closures of shops, post offices and local creameries, and the post box at the end of the passage, people living alone can go for days without talking to another human being.”

Lenihan is just as determined to ascertain how the GAA can make more of an impact in populated areas. “I am not forgetting cities or towns. These urban areas and many of our large towns have significant numbers of children. Unfortunately, many of these do not play our games. Why? Is it lack of organisation at club level or lack of volunteers? These clubs need help and we as a council have to empower them to help themselves. It has to be a two-way street, with both parties working closely together.”

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