“On his way to the Gaelic Ground”: The use of the GAA to commemorate members killed in the NI Conflict

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The sports performed under the umbrella of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) can boast a sizable following. There are over 2,200 clubs on the island of Ireland (GAA, 2022) and 400 clubs worldwide (DoFA, 2017), with membership being in the hundreds of thousands as well as the organisation’s premier competition, The All-Ireland Championship, inspiring approximately 1.5 million fans to annually pass through the turnstiles (GAA, 2022). The function of the GAA within Irish society extends beyond its sporting activities. It has been used to invoke collective expression of an Irish ‘imagined community’ (Anderson, 1991), by the Irish diaspora to retain a sense of ‘Irishness’ (Harkin, 2018), and as a platform for the Nationalist community within Northern Ireland/North of Ireland (NI) to publicly articulate experiences of mistreatment by British security forces (Hassan, 2005). It is the GAA within NI which this paper wishes to explore. More precisely, it will examine the use of the GAA in the collective remembrance of members killed in the conflict. The conflict in NI resulted in over 3,500 deaths in nearly 30 years of political violence. The GAA was not exempt from being impacted. On one level, it had members who were harassed, imprisoned, and killed. On another, political violence was perpetrated either at GAA clubs, or within close proximity. The cessation of political violence and progression into a transitional phase sparked a ‘memory-boom’ (Huyssen, 2003) in NI. Again, the GAA was not exempt as memory-makers utilised the organisation to perform collective remembrance. Mirroring wider societal divergences in collective remembrance of the conflict (Graham & Whelan, 2007), the GAA has been used in various ways to commemorate. This paper will detail three distinct ways: to commemorate a combatant actor as a civilian (Kevin Lynch); to memorialise a State victim marginalised within the official narrative (Aidan McAnespie); in the ‘rehumanisation’ (Robinson, 2017) of a civilian casualty (Terry Enright).
Period4 Jul 2023
Event titleMemory Studies Association Conference: Communities and Change
Event typeConference
Conference number7
LocationNewcastle-upon-Tyne, United KingdomShow on map


  • Memorialisation
  • Commemoration
  • Memory
  • Northern Ireland
  • Gaelic football
  • Identity