GAA Museum tour guides bring the games to life
By John Harrington
The GAA Museum is currently seeking to recruit a senior tour guide, so no better time than now to find out what the role entails and the sort of person it might attract.
When I drop by to chat to two of the museum’s resident tour guides, the first take-away is that age is unlikely to be a consideration for would-be applicants.
Tom Ryan is a couple of days away from his 70th birthday, whereas Sean O’Sullivan is 22. They might be decades apart, but coincidentally both of them hail from the same club, Na Fianna, on the northside of Dublin.
It quickly becomes apparent that they also have something else in common – a passion for their job.
Tom has been in the role since 2009 when he decided a quiet retirement after 35 years of teaching wasn’t for him and so answered the call when the museum were looking for someone who could do tours in Irish.
For him it’s almost as much a vocation as a job because he’s been steeped in Gaelic games all his life from the still well-remembered day when his father brought him his first sliotar.
He spent a good chunk of his life playing hurling and football, has coached and managed teams at every age-group up to senior in Na Fianna, worked with Dublin inter-county teams including the U-21 side that reached the U-21 All-Ireland Final in 2007, and is currently Chairperson of the M Donnelly All-Ireland Poc Fada committee.
“As long as I'm coming in here, I still get a buzz when I turn around the corner on Clonliffe road and see the roof of the stadium,” says Ryan.
“To be able to showcase this to people is just fabulous and it’s something we’re all really proud of.
“It's the dream job, in the sense that you talk about the GAA, you talk about Croke Park, life doesn't just get better.”
It’s easy to imagine a Museum Tour in the company of Ryan would be a very enlightening one.
He’s a font of knowledge on all things Gaelic games, and such has been his involvement in a variety of areas over so many years he’s built up a store of stories and connections that add to the experience for those who visit.
“Every single tour is different,” says Ryan. “Every tour is geared towards your audience. It's a fabulous opportunity to meet people and I love to know where people are from. As I say, I like to know who I'm insulting when I talking about Gaelic games!
“People really appreciate you trying to connect with their club because every GAA person is immersed in their own club. Once you can acknowledge that or if you happen to know somebody from that club or a player who is representing that club, people will appreciate it.
“The stadium sells itself in terms of being such an impressive place, even for people who know little about what happens here. The tour guide's job is to make it interesting.
“So, you'll come up with a few little anecdotes just to bring to life what happens in the stadium, what happens in the dressing-rooms before the game. It's a human touch, it's bringing the people alive for the visitors, that's what makes it interesting.
“You trying to connect the visitors with the people who have played in the stadium over the years, rather than it just being a building.
“People see what they want to see. When some children walk into the dressing-room all they can see is the Coca-Cola fridge. A friend of mind some years ago who came on the tour was into shop-fitting and carpentry and all he could see was all the yellow fire-doors around the stadium and he was working out in his head what that contract would have cost.
“I had another fella who was in to pre-cast concrete and he spent the whole tour looking up at the construction of the stadium. Everybody is different and every tour is different.
“I did a tour here one time with one man on his own and all he wanted was to get in to see the dressing-room and we did that.
“I had a tour with a family of over 20 people which was organised to celebrate a man's 80th birthday. All he wanted to do was have his photograph taken behind the goals of Hill 16. That particular man was from county Antrim and I knew somebody from his club, Sarsfields, and his daughter was married to a fella from Loughiel and I knew someone in the club there too, and you can see people growing when you make those connections. I love that aspect of the job.”
Sean O’Sullivan might have a few decades less involvement in the GAA than his fellow Na Fianna club-man, but he’s rarely stuck for a story either when it comes to forming a connection with his tour groups.
Author of the book ‘The Players’ Advice – Tips and Tactics From GAA Stars’, O’Sullivan’s breadth of Gaelic games knowledge is formidable for someone so relatively young.
“I spoke to over 100 players for ‘The Players’ Advice’, most of them during lockdown, and there was a great uptake because all the players were at home as well and were happy to chat,” says O’Sullivan.
“So, on a wet November evening, I could be on the phone with someone like Diarmuid O'Sullivan or John Mullane. It was a great experience and something I still draw on.
“I'll have a nugget on each county. So if someone on the tour is from Armagh you'll talk about how Joe Kernan was in a dressing-room, or if it's someone is from Kerry you'll talk about Paul Galvin would read his little notebook of criticisms before a match
“Two thirds of the tour for most people is about seeing things they wouldn't normally see if they came to the stadium on match-day or wouldn't even have thought about. Apart from when they're sitting up in the stand, everything else on the tour is new, from museum exhibits, to the the players lounge, to the dressing-rooms.
“Every tour stars with a short film and it's always fun to watch people seeing hurling for the first time or Gaelic football for a first time.
“For example, on Tuesday, I had a young lad and his father on a tour. The young lad had yet to play football or hurling, he was due to go to his very first training session the following evening.
“So, he came here first to see what would be ahead of him, in theory, which I thought was really nice.”
Both Ryan and O’Sullivan clearly love their jobs and carry it out with great enthusiasm and skill. What do they think are the attributes anyone considering putting their name forward to joining the team should bring to the role?
“There was a great documentary done a few years ago on Glasnevin (cemetery) and I think it was Shane Mac Thomáis who said to be a tour guide you have to be able to do four things,” says O’Sullivan.
“You have to be able to tell people something they know, something they don't know, something that will make them laugh, and something that will make them cry. If you're able to do that over the course of a tour, then you're doing well.”
Those interested in applying for the role of GAA Museum Senior Tour Guide can go HERE for more information.