Ardglass GAC extend hand of friendship to Ghanaian fishermen
By John Harrington
Ardglass GAC in Down are a shining example of what it means to be a truly inclusive GAA club.
Last Saturday they extended the hand of friendship to a large group of Ghanaian fisherman who have been living and working in the town for the past year by inviting them down to the club and showing them how to play Gaelic Football.
It’s not the first time the club have gone out of their way to make their new neighbours feel more welcome.
“I was contacted by the local social work team to say that the boys had been working on the boats and they live on the boats and they haven't got access to very good facilities,” Ardglass GAC secretary, Ruth Curran, told GAA.ie.
“There's was just one shower and washing machine between 30 or 40 of them.
“We thought the club might be able to help out so we've been trying to arrange for them to use our changing rooms to shower and things like that.
“It grew from there and during Covid we were helping them out with food and things. Saturday was our first time having them officially at the club and so we decided we would introduce them to the GAA.”
What better way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon, introducing our friends to the GAA 💚💛— ArdglassGAC (@ArdglassGAC) August 8, 2020
20 Ghanaian Fisherman learning some basic Gaelic Football Skills
💚💛 Followed by some West African food #MoreThanAJersey@OfficialDownGAA @EastDownGAA @AnDunCandG @UlsterGAA pic.twitter.com/5I9gh3CObY
Ghana is a soccer-mad nation so kicking a football came naturally to Ardglass GAC’s newest recruits, though mastering the skills of high-fielding and hand-passing proved a little more testing!
“They loved it,” says Curran. “I think they found it quite funny, holding the ball in their hand and having to kick from their hands and hand-pass the ball. I think they thought the whole idea of it was quite hilarious.
“But they really enjoyed it and enjoyed getting out and feeling part of the community.”
A group of men from Syria have since contacted Ruth to express their own interest in playing Gaelic Football having read about the positive experience of the Ghanaian fisherman, and she has put them in touch with a GAA club nearer to where they are based in Belfast.
The training session that Ardglass put on for the Ghanaians wasn’t a once-off. There are further plans in the pipeline to strengthen their connection with the club.
“They will be using our facilities on an ongoing basis and we will be running a sports programme with them,” says Curran.
“We've gotten a bit of funding from and organisation called Beyond Skin. What we're hoping to do is to introduce them to all aspects of the GAA, so a bit of hurling and a bit of handball and things like that, and hopefully they can learn a bit more about the GAA and how it works.”
Ardglass GAC Secretary, Curran, has also been the club’s very proactive Health and Wellbeing Officer for the past five years.
Reaching out to the Ghanaian fisherman is just the latest in a long line of initiatives to make Ardglass GAC a more inclusive GAA club, an effort she believes has been mutually beneficial for both the club and their community.
“We’ve had a lot different initiatives in the club. Mental health initiatives, exercise, some work with the schools, dance classes. Initiatives for older members of the community.
“We've joined up with an organisation in Belfast to support ethnic minorities in Belfast so they're helping us with cultural access to learn more about their culture as well and bridge that gap.
“We’re definitely a more inclusive club now. We've people who support the club and are getting in the club who maybe previously wouldn't have because they felt they maybe had no interest in the football side of things. It's been really good.
“We had a very strong community response to Covid. We brought baked goods to all of the older people in the community and delivered food parcels. We've got a lot of positivity from the community and a lot of good feedback.
“The support for the club within the community seems to have increased and the entire community really got behind our latest initiative with the fishermen from Ghana.
“They've been really supportive. It's been great to add that dimension to the club, and to know you have a facility that can really bring people together.”