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Rennes G4MO event to celebrate all that is great about Gaelic games

Réalt na nGleannta will be one of five Gaelic4Mothers&Others teams to take part in a special event in Rennes next month. 

Réalt na nGleannta will be one of five Gaelic4Mothers&Others teams to take part in a special event in Rennes next month. 

By John Harrington

If you want to experience an event that ticks all the boxes of what Gaelic games should be about – sport, fun, community, culture, family, and friendship – then Rennes, France will be the place to be on April 6.

That's because Rennes Ar Gwazi Gouez GAA club are hosting five Irish Gaelic4Mothers&Others (G4MO) teams for an event that will be a celebration of the ‘Where We All Belong’ ethos.

Gaelic Games Europe’s Coaching Officer, Anna Marie O’Rourke, is the driving force behind it, and how it came about is a nice illustration of how most of us develop our love of Gaelic games through family and friendship.

O’Rourke has been living in Rennes for the past 20 years but grew up in Coolkenno, Wicklow where her family is steeped in Gaelic games.

The club was founded in 1980 and when her mother Ann passed away last year it brought an end to 43 years of unbroken volunteerism that saw her wash the club’s jersies on a weekly basis.

When Anna was home last month for the year anniversary of her mum’s passing a Coolkenno club-member, PJ Tompkins, floated the idea of bringing the club’s G4MO team over to Rennes as a way to honour Anna’s mother.

Around the same time a good friend of O’Rourke’s, Sinead Riordan, who had played with her on the first ever Rennes LGFA team but is now living at home in Glenbeigh in Kerry where she has established the Realt na Gleannta G4MO, also got in touch to suggest something similar.

A seed had been planted and it didn’t need much watering before it quickly sprouted and blossomed.

O’Rourke suggested an event that would see a few more G4MO teams travel to Rennes, and when Riordan posted a message inviting expression of interest on the G4MO Facebook page she was quickly inundated with over 60 applications in the space of a couple of days.

Rennes have dominated the Ladies Gaelic football championship in France in recent years. 

Rennes have dominated the Ladies Gaelic football championship in France in recent years. 

In the end she picked three from a hat, and so St. Patrick’s, Camolin from Wexford, Kickhams Creggan from Antrim, and Killarney Legion from Kerry will join Coolkenno and Realt na nGleannta in Rennes on the first weekend in April.

“We'll have 68 Irish ladies and we're also inviting all former Rennes players to come back and participate in a hybrid skills event,” says O’Rourke.

“The event is a Gaelic for Mothers and Others event but there's also a bigger picture in terms of sharing our culture and sharing the ethos of ‘Where We All Belong’ in terms of being an open event.

“We'll do children's coaching in the morning and we're going to invite the other youth teams around Rennes to participate as well.

“We’ll also be playing native Breton games to show the Irish a bit about the Breton culture and there will be music and dancing and a meal in the evening time.

“There will also be a Gala match in Association with the Rennes City Council for ladies sports that would be lesser known. So, ladies that play rugby or handball or sports that wouldn't be that well known over here.

“We'll be opening up the world of Gaelic football to them and also honouring our volunteers in the club.

“It's an event for the ladies but the men's senior team will be running the event. So it’s very much an ethos of inclusion and the one club model really coming into play.”

O’Rourke and Riordan first met when Riordan was a UL college student on Erasmus in Rennes in 2004.

O’Rourke invited her and two her friends to come and play some football with Rennes, and they enjoyed it so much that they moved in to O’Rourke’s apartment and what was meant to be a six-month stay in France was extended when UL gave them permission to finish their year of University abroad.

Anna Marie O'Rourke, left, and Sinead Riordan have been firm friends for the past 20 years. 

Anna Marie O'Rourke, left, and Sinead Riordan have been firm friends for the past 20 years. 

When she completed her degree Riordan returned to France to take up a teaching position in Angers where she lived for 13 years and also set up the Anjou Gaels club with her friend Kate O’Sullivan.

She moved back home to Glenbeigh in 2019 and is currently PRO of Glenbeigh-Glencar GAA club and trains the Cromane LGFA U-14 team. Las year she founded the Réalt na nGleannta G4MO team which has quickly become a huge sporting and social success.

“It has really breathed some life into the village,” says Riordan.

“I'm born and bred here but when I came back in 2019 I didn't know many people all that very well because a lot of my friends would have moved away. It's been great because I'm after making loads of new connections with people.

“There's women who have married into the village and they might have only been meeting people at the school gates so they love the Gaelic For Mothers and Others because they're able to text into the group and ask is anyone going for a walk and when they meet people outside the school or the shop they know them now and there's a social connection that didn't exist previously and it's a bit of a lifeline for a lot of people in such a small village.

“So even for just making connections it's brilliant. And it's obviously fun to play and you're getting fit and you're doing something for yourself.

“They're not just moms, they did have a life before they had children! So sometimes just to take an hour for themselves in the week, it's good for their head. Obviously the bonus is that they get to go away for matches and have the craic.

Another positive that Riordan has noticed to come out of the G4MO initiative is that the experience has empowered many of their players to get involved in other aspects of Gaelic games, be that helping out with coaching underage teams or volunteering in some other capacity.

Some of the Coolkenno Gaelic4Mothers&Others players. 

Some of the Coolkenno Gaelic4Mothers&Others players. 

That dynamic has been replicated up and down the country and so in a very organic way the G4MO initiative has strengthened the community aspect of Gaelic games as well as been a great sporting success in its own right.

O’Rourke hopes that it will do something similar in France and across Europe in time, and that this event in Rennes will really get the ball rolling.

“We're on the cusp of something that could very much help our overseas clubs in terms of sharing the 'Where we all Belong' ethos that we live,” she says. “It's not just about the games, it's everything else that we're celebrating.

“Our club goes into schools coaching children and since last year we have a proper youth section within the Rennes club. We have children from 5 up to15 or 16. It's been a slow process but we have the same kids coming back every week now and we also have the parents coming and staying for the sessions.

“It's those parents I would like to get involved in the club in the long-term as volunteers. We want them to know that being a volunteer is equally as important as being a player on the pitch.

“We want both the children and parents to keep wanting to come back and be part of the future of our club.

“We don't have the same philosophy that we do back home where the local community automatically follows the club. You have to create that community and the only way you can do that is with these types of events.

"We're going to have lots of fun games, music, Irish dancing, and Breton dancing and we just want to make the people here in Rennes want to come back to all our events because they feel part of the club after something like this.

"So they buy into that ethos of ‘Where We All Belong’, basically.”