Brussels are crowned John West Féile Peile na nÓg European champions.
Brussels are crowned John West Féile Peile na nÓg European champions. 

History made with first ever European Féile Final


By John Harrington

More new ground was broken by Gaelic Games Europe on Saturday May 28th when the inaugural John West Féile Peile na nÓg European Finals were held in Vannes, France.

Five teams in total took part, representing Galicia, Belgium, and Brittany, with over 50 children involved in what was a fantastic festival of football.

Vannes was a fitting venue for the first ever European Féile because the local GAA club, Vannes Football Gaélique, have a rich tradition of youth Gaelic Football.

Dublin native, Pearse Bell, has been one of the main drivers of the sport in the French town for the best part of 10 years now and it was his idea to hold the first ever Féile tournament outside of Ireland.

“I actually saw an article on GAA.ie last year with Una Shorthall who is the Youth Development Officer for Gaelic Games Europe,” says Bell of how the inaugural European Féile Final came about.

“I remember reading in that article that she had the same problem as us, not enough matches to keep teenagers interested in playing.

“We were considering sending a team to compete in Féile back home in Ireland, but we then decided that wouldn't really help us develop our game here in Europe.

“So, instead, I got in touch with Una and suggested that instead of bringing kids over to Ireland perhaps we could develop our own Féile here in Europe. And it just kind of went from there.

“In France we don't have the rich pickings they'd have at home. We're a sport that nobody knows of really, so it's just about getting it highlighted and trying to tell parents and kids that they're not dropping out after two years.

“We want to be able to give these kids meaningful matches if they give us the commitment. Kids love the game, there's no denying that, the only thing we're missing is the game time.

“Just getting two or three games in France against other French teams isn't good enough, so it makes sense to play teams from other parts of Europe.”

Pearse Bell pictured with the Vannes Gaelic Football team. 
Pearse Bell pictured with the Vannes Gaelic Football team. 

Bell’s three sons range from the age of 5 to 13 and it’s important to him that they play Gaelic Games because it gives them a sense of identity with their Irish culture.

In a way, that’s almost a bonus, because they love playing Gaelic Football for the pure fun of it, in the same way their all of the 30 plus kids who are part of the Vannes youth programme do.

And what everyone who took part in the inaugural European Féile found out is that playing teams from other countries in championship action adds a whole new level of excitement and satisfaction to the experience.

“It took place all day on the Saturday and was played in a League format with the two top teams going into a final and third and fourth playing in a third and fourth place play-off,” says Bell.

“It went really well and hopefully will go from strength to strength in the coming years because it can be tricky to keep teenagers involved.

“Experiencing this Feile will definitely fuel those who took part to keep playing it until next year. Our kids are rightly into it certainly. It was a great weekend and the kids loved it. Kids at that age just need game-time and you can't train games.

“The kids really bought into the fact too that they weren't just representing their club, they were representing their country.

“The Galcians were very proud, so were the Belgians, and so were our kids. They were all wearing their colours and the parents were all wearing the colours too. It was a close to the GAA experience at home as you could get, to be honest.”

Action from the John West Féile Peile na nÓg European Final between Brussels and Vannes. 
Action from the John West Féile Peile na nÓg European Final between Brussels and Vannes. 

After a great day of football it was Brussels who triumphed in the final over Vannes and will now go on to represent Europe at the John West Féile na nÓg National Finals next month.

“That will be a great experience for them,” says Bell. “It gives them an extra incentive to keep at it and keep developing.

“They'll be wearing the colours of Europe and we'll be all supporting them. It's going to be brilliant.

“I only see this growing in the coming years, it's the only way that we're going to develop the game among that age-group. The first one is always the hardest to do, but now that we're up and running there's no reason we can't grow it.

“There are an awful lot more youth teams in Europe and we'd like to have a day where you have the Féile for the teenagers and then some games for younger kids too alongside that.

“It's up to other clubs and countries now to get involved. The GGE definitely want to develop it further. There's a possibility of it taking place in Belgium or Holland next year and Vannes will certainly be travelling.”

GGE Chairperson, John Murphy, has no doubts that the inaugural John West Féile Peile na nÓg European Final was just the start of something really special and hopes the competition will go from strength to strength in the coming years.

"Building on the success of the youth tournaments in the county last year this is a magnificent competition to add to the GGE calendar," Murphy told GAA.ie

"Well done to all those that partook and looking forward to seeing how this competition will grow in the coming years especially with the opportunity to represent Europe at the Feile in Ireland on offer for the winners, a big thank you to the GAA for that opportunity.

"Having taken inspiration from some of the other International Counties great work such as New York and US, it is magnificent to facilitate games at this level for our youth in Europe too. I have to say a special thank you to those behind the scenes who hosted and supported this inaugural event in particular Pearse and the Vannes club and our tireless Youth Officer Una Shortall, well done all."