All-Ireland Final day and the Irish language
By Michael Devlin
When the All-Ireland winning captain’s victory speech grows beyond the usual ‘Tá an-áthas orm an corn seo a ghlacadh’, they often go on to become some of the most memorable GAA moments of our time.
Galway hurling captain Joe Connolly’s speech from 1980 is still revered as one of the most famous Hogan Stand orations of them all. A proud Gaeilgeoir from Castlegar whose parents hailed from Connemara, Connolly hadn’t so much as a sentence pre-rehearsed, but was adamant he had to speak it as Gaeilge as he stood at the rostrum with the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
In his speech evoked the essence of rural Ireland and the people of the West, touching on themes of the Irish diaspora and emigration, all in his native tongue.
“Ach freisin caithfimid cuimhneamh ar dhaoine i Sasana, i Meiriceá, ar fuaid na tíre. Agus tá siad, b’fhéidir, ag caoineadh anois faoi láthair.”
The idea of absent family members coming back to Éire for the match was something Connolly later said resonated with him as Galway ended a 57-year barren spell without an All-Ireland hurling title.
Four years later, in the GAA’s Centenary Year of 1984, Cork’s John Fenton also delivered his speech wholly in Irish, while Páidí Ó Sé gave a rousing address dripping with fervour and pride a year later when he captained the Ciarraí to the big prize. Ó Sé’s An Ghaeltacht club mate Dara Ó Cinnéide did similar 19 years on when Kerry won Sam in 2004.
Seán Óg Ó hAilpín’s stirring speech joined the pantheon of great All-Ireland speeches as Gaeilge a year later in 2005.
“Is fada an turas é ó Fiji go Corcaigh agus ó Chorcaigh go Páirc an Chrócaigh,” remarked the ever passionate Ó hAilpín. Born on the island of Rotuma, off Fiji, the famous line was in reference to his family’s move from the Southern Hemisphere to Cork in 1988. His love for the Irish culture he threw himself into when he arrived at Gaelcholáiste Mhuire - the Irish language section of North Monastery secondary school - shone through in his inspiring address to Cork’s jubilant supporters.
In more recent times, Lester Ryan’s delivery of his speech in 2014 is another example of memorable All-Ireland winning speeches in Irish. It originated when Ryan was just 10 years old, as video footage resurfaced showing the young Ryan hoisting silverware aloft in his kitchen and reciting his lines as a proud would-be Kilkenny All-Ireland winning captain.
Dreams later became a reality as Ryan skippered the Cats to victory four years ago. He later revealed his All-Ireland speech was learned off phonetically not long after his side’s semi-final win over Limerick.
“I have a teacher friend in Callan, Brother Damien Rinn, and he helped me out with the Irish words, so I just learned it,” he told RTÉ Sport at the time. “I wouldn’t be ‘Irish man’ at all.”
Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael, Seán Ó hÓráin, spoke about the importance of Irish on All-Ireland final day: “The GAA has a duty to promote the Irish language, and what better platform to give it than on All-Ireland Final day, one of the Ireland’s most prestigious sporting occasions.
“Personally, I use Irish as much as possible in my role as Uachtarán, but especially when presenting the Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy Cups, as it is a tradition that is symbolic of our great Association, and something which has been shared with many great captains down through the years. It is a sense of great pride to me to have the opportunity to speak Irish on these occasions.”
Of course, the Hogan Stand steps are not the only place where Irish language is keenly felt on All-Ireland Final day in Croke Park, and indeed any match day.
During any matchday experience, supporters in Croke Park will hear Gaeilge from the familiar tones of long-time stadium announcer, ‘The Voice of Croke Park’, Jerry Grogan. They will see Gaelige on signage throughout the stadium and on the big screen.
Gaeilge can also be read in the match day programme, which regularly features specially commissioned articles written by Mac Dara Mac Donncha and Mártan Ó Ciardha, as well as the traditional feature of na hImreoirí, Cúinne na nÓg and other examples of written Irish across its 100-plus pages. For this Sunday’s publication, the GAA’s Club Manifesto, Tá Áit Dúinn Uilig Ann, will be printed in Irish on the back page for the first time.
The GAA recently launched an initiative encouraging Gaeilgeoirí to wear their Fáinne to games and bring Irish speakers together on match days. The Association’s strategy on Irish language was also published recently, outlining the future steps for the promotion of Gaeilge across our games.
This Sunday as Kerry take on Dublin in another showpiece GAA finale, you can be sure to see and hear the Irish language throughout the day all around Croke Park.