New York, New York, GAA’s Slice of the Big Apple

The New York GAA jersey is well known back in Ireland primarily through the county team’s participation in the Connacht football championship and previously the hurlers’ participation in the Ulster senior hurling championship. A star studded list of players have pulled on the famous blue, white and red shirt over the years. The New York County board is responsible for all games in the state as well as the inter-county teams. In the last couple of seasons the New York team has performed creditably against Sligo and Roscommon and it is widely considered only a matter of time before the county records a breakthrough championship success in Connacht.

In the 2006 Ulster Senior Hurling Championship New York scored a famous 1-18 to 1-12 win over Derry GAA. This entitled them to take part in the Ulster final, which had to be delayed because the New York players had trouble travelling due to some visa concerns. The final eventually was played in Boston in  October of that year as a curtain-raiser to the Interprovincial Championship football final. New York lost 2-20 – 1-14 to Antrim GAA. New York did not play in the following year’s Ulster Senior Hurling Championship.

New York’s History of Gaelic Games

Although Gaelic sports were played in New York since the late 1700s, the New York Gaelic Athletic Association emerged in late 1914 at a time when the games were thriving in the city. The influx of emigrants from Ireland and the close knit community in the City meant that Gaelic games were a natural draw in bringing the Irish together.

After the first championship was played in 1915, the association grew steadily despite two world wars and a depression that gripped the US at the end of the 1920s up until the mid 1930s. 

The strength of the GAA in New York has always been linked with the economic situation  back home. When emigration has grown, players legal and illegal flooded into New York seeking work in construction, by the multiple attractions of sport, a few dollars more and a summer of fun and football or hurling. With most of the GAA clubs in New York based either in the Bronx or in Queens players were able to easily integrate and assimilate into the close knit Irish community and hook up with family and friends. When the economy at home has been strong, the number of players rocking up to teams in New York has decreased as has been the case in other centres for immigration. Still the core of the GAA in New York is strong at heart and the club scene remains healthy and competitive.

Almost all of the games within the New York County Board  are played at Gaelic Park in the Bronx which is accessible by subway from Manhattan and is a short drive from Woodlawn in the Bronx. Gaelic Park is a mecca for all things GAA in the city. Since 1926 it has been indelibly associated with Gaelic games in the city. While hurling and football has been played in many different parts of New York and its surrounds, the current home of Gaelic Park first opened as Innisfail Park in the Bronx, paving the way for local Gaels to witness some of the greatest players in all codes. The grounds were purchased in 1926 by the Gaelic Athletic Association of Greater New York

New York GAA has also had teams compete at famous old stadiums like Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan where the 1947 All-Ireland football final featuring Kerry and Cavan GAA was played. To this day that is perhaps the most famous day in Northern American GAA history.

The history of Gaelic Park could be the subject of a mini series all of its own. In 1941 the grounds passed into the ownership of John Kerry O’Donnell who had emigrated from Kerry as a young man. His brother Tim was a three-time All Ireland winner with the Kingdom in the late twenties and early thirties. John Kerry O’Donnell’s legend grew as he became known as the man who saved Gaelic Park from the developers. When the city took over the land after the GAA ran into financial worries, John Kerry O’Donnell ran the grounds right through until his death and although there were at times strained relationships with the GAA over issues such as players coming out for the summer, the famous old venue located at West 240th Street and Broadway in Riverdale in the Bronx never lost its legendary appeal.

The grounds are now operated by Manhattan College who also use the venue for a range of other sports and concerts.

With teams from New York playing in Féile in recent times and the combined New York Colleges team appearing at the 2018 Sigerson weekend featuring a number of homegrown players, the future looks bright for New York GAA moving on through its second 100 years  of operation.