Nationalist parties finally addressing the GAA’s long term deficit in Belfast…

Caral Ni Chuilin is clearly pleased the SDLP has given in to its demands that £100,000 be granted the building of changing facilities at the old Cliftonville Cricket Ground (the cricket club was burnt out of their buildings back in 1972), to accommodate a prosposed new Beann Mhadagaín primary school on the green field site (the option of using an adjacent brown field site to accommodate the school and help preserve the larger size pitch was rejected). In the North Belfast News last week, Pat Convery explained his party’s reasons for holding out before last night’s apparent reversal:

For decades there has been severe underprovision of GAA facilities citywide and in North Belfast in particular. This inequality is identified and recognised in Belfast City Council’s pitches strategy which is expected to come forward in June. Comprehensively tackling that shortfall systematically is where we want to go.”

Critics suggest the prioritisation of housing in nationalist areas over the development of green field facilities is what underlies the chronic shortfall in GAA facilities (there are around 10 pitches to serve the whole city, whilst there are several hundreds of soccer pitches. In that sense, historically neither the SDLP nor Sinn Fein have served their community particularly well.

Apparently this was behind Convery’s emphasis on the development of a city-wide strategy, as opposed to subjecting each situation on one by one piecemeal decision like this one.

As Ms Ni Cuilin noted her party’s plan “was backed by the local primary school, Bunscoil Beann Mhadagáin, a number of North Belfast GAA clubs and the local community”, although not initially by the Antrim GAA, who initially backed the idea of building a city wide strategy before committing substantial resources to junior pitches in this part of north Belfast.

Although the building of the school is subject to a province wide review of Catholic school provision and may not be progressed until those consultations arec

But as Tip O’Neill famously remarked, all politics is local. And Ms Ni Cuilin’s nicely conversational blog today is less about slapping the SDLP, and more about trying to squeeze their vote to try to enable Gerry Kelly take the Westminster seat off the DUP’s Nigel Dodds.

  • iluvni

    Maybe one day they’ll address why there is a ‘long term deficit’ of players from the majority community partaking in GAA sports.

  • british citizen

    Her blog calls for a Nationalist voting pact and/or tactical voting to oust the Unionist MP from Westminster.

    Is this not the same time of ‘sectarianism’ Sinn Fein and the SDLP were condemning from the Unionist parties a few short weeks back???

  • Billy Pilgrim


    Yes it is. It’s sectarian when unionists do it, and it’s sectarian when nationalists do it.

    Truth is, even OBE-coveting Castle Catholics who’d cross the street if they saw Gerry Kelly coming, would smile if that same Kelly unseated Dodds. Equally, even relaxed-and-groovy, Irish-rugby-shirt-wearing unionists would allow themselves a smile if one of Jim Allister’s Winged Monkeys unseated a Shinner.

    It’s also just politics as usual in an inherently sectarian polity like this one.

    As to the issue at hand: great to see progress being made on addressing the historic under-provision of GAA pitches in the second city. The GAA’s Belfast Rising strategy appears to be bearing some fruit already, years before any of us expected. Long may it continue. The GAA can play an important role in making Belfast a city more at peace with itself – rugby too has an important role, and the egg-chasers deserve great credit for their ongoing efforts. The GAA works quietly, diligently and meaningfully, at breaking down barriers every single day, and it’s important that it should do so.

    However, it would be wrong to assume that most, or even a majority of unionists hate the GAA, or know nothing about it. My uncles still talk about Armagh’s historic All Ireland final appearance in 1953. There were as many Protestants as Catholics on the jam-packed trains from Portadown that day. Some Orangemen even wore their sashes – orange being Armagh’s colour – and famously, there was an Orange Order banner, hastily reworked for the occasion, on the Canal End terrace that day.

    There has always been some unionist interest in the GAA, though it has often been unspoken. I remember, just a few years ago, listening to an impassioned debate between a septugenarian Orangeman and a Free-P former DUP councillor, over whether DJ Carey should have been on the Team of the Millennium.

    There’s every reason to hope this sort of thing can be built upon.

    What we need now, most of all, is the thing that would break down the barriers fastest of all – a successful Antrim team. If trainloads of Portadown Orangemen travelled to Croker in 1953, we can certainly hope for the day when buses will leave the Shankill bedecked in Saffron.

    People like Iluvni, and that Celtic-top-wearing eejit with the “No Foreign Games” sign will never make peace with the “enemy”, but the decent majority can leave these people behind.

  • The most telling comment in the story above is the chronic failure of nationalist representatives in City Hall to adequately support the GAA. Ten council provided pitches for one of the most popular sports in the city is pathetic. The same council provides and maintains 400 soccer pitches. 400 compared to 10 GAA pitches. It has been a long standing disgrace.

  • Michaelhenry

    it was g.a.a clubs who went out of there way to help stranded people during the storms this week,i seen on todays news that civic centers are going to open now, two days late for the people,but it was the g.a,a who was there when people needed help,full marks to the g.a.a.

  • british citizen

    “The most telling comment in the story above is the chronic failure of nationalist representatives in City Hall to adequately support the GAA. Ten council provided pitches for one of the most popular sports in the city is pathetic. The same council provides and maintains 400 soccer pitches. 400 compared to 10 GAA pitches. It has been a long standing disgrace.”

    Posted by snowstorm on Apr 02, 2010 @ 01:13 PM

    Both communities play ‘soccer’ – only one side of the community plays gaelic. Politicians are there to appease the masses.

    “it was g.a.a clubs who went out of there way to help stranded people during the storms this week,i seen on todays news that civic centers are going to open now, two days late for the people,but it was the g.a,a who was there when people needed help,full marks to the g.a.a.”

    Posted by Michaelhenry on Apr 02, 2010 @ 01:58 PM

    Helping stranded citizens, allowing suspected murderers to land their private helicopters on their property – is there anything the GAA can’t do???

  • Michaelhenry

    i did not see any soccer clubs opening there grounds,to help the people,british citizen with no british passport.

  • british citizen

    I don’t know of any soccer clubs with air traffic controllers on call 24/7. Most usually only open their facilities to either train or at the weekend for a game. They can’t compete with the staffing levels at Casement Heliport and the like…

  • iluvni

    Jackanory is presented today by Billy Pilgrim.

  • Michaelhenry

    soccer clubs did not open there doors to people who were stranded this week,unlike g.a.a clubs who could not do enough british citizen with no british passport.

  • british citizen

    A double post with 38 minutes in between. That’s a first!

  • Michaelhenry

    there is a first time for everthing british citizen with no british passport.

  • The Original Sam Maguire

    Just to pull you on one thing Billy because I agree with everything else you’ve said – It is throughout the island of Ireland, not just the second city, where there is a serious dearth in the number of GAA pitches provided by the local authorities as compared to soccer pitches. I’m sure there’s a dissertation on why this remains to be the case in this day and age but anyway….

  • Coll Ciotach

    iluvni – surely the majority population is represented adequately

  • Chris Donnelly

    Several points to be made on Mick’s intro.

    1. Given that the proposed primary school is an Irish language school and not catholic maintained, there is no relationship between any six-county wide review of catholic schooling provision and this school.

    2. Blaming Sinn Fein and the SDLP for the failure of a council to provide GAA facilities is a bit much, given that said council was controlled by unionists for all but the last dozen or so years.

    3. Inferring that the Antrim Board did not support this development because they backed a city wide strategy is highly questionable. The two could- and will now- go hand in hand, thanks to the perseverance of Sinn Fein representatives in the area.

    4. Sad to see that none of the unionist politicians thought it reasonable to provide an interim arrangement to ensure kids looking to play games could get changed in a safe and secure environment. All the talk of UCUNF seeking to attract catholic support, and they can’t even bring themselves to break sectarian ranks on a simple matter like this.

    But, hey, sure aren’t a quarter of them catholics queueing up to vote unionist anyway????

    btw excellent post, Billy P

  • Peter Fyfe


    Maybe thats why they planted Aodhan Gallagher in Methody. Getting them ready for the MacRory cup each st. pats day would be a new challenge.

    Are local politicians missing a trick here though? The city has the opportunity to use some of these guys as role models. They can use them to encourage youngsters. Gallagher, Kelly, or Cunningham as well as being gifted footballers, spend their weeks teaching children. These are people that the city of Belfast should be proud of and encourage kids to follow their examples. Thats why more GAA pitches are needed. People may have their political problems with the GAA but crying on about a helicopter shows the bitterness that their objections come from.

    In relation to the initial post, this is only a short term fix. More needs to be done to develop a city wide stategy. Though I am optimistic with Antrim, providing Wexford dont really suprise us, playing division 2 next year that this push can be helped. People in the City will get the opportunity to see a good standard of football come to casement. It doesn’t look like we will see Shefflin or Canning return anytime soon but there always has been more of a market for the big ball in these parts. So maybe playing Derry, Donegal or Kildare wil help that push.

    The one thing I would say is this push needs to happen now, this spring, this summer. Antrim GAA has an amazing feel good factor at the minute. All Ireland Club champions and back to back promotions have got people feeling optimistic. Now is the time for those to do the proper thing and invest in the City’s future. Belfast needs more Niblocks, Kellys and Bradys and we currently have the perfect role models to provide for this push.

  • iluvni

    I was looking at the Antrim GAA website there. What strategy, plans or programmes are in place to develop the GAA outside its ‘traditional’ base…outreach programmes, I suppose, would be a suitable term?
    Perhaps I missed them on the site.

  • Cynic2

    This would be the pavilion freed up by the ethnic cleansing of Protestants from this part of North Belfast

  • Michaelhenry

    when was this ethnic cleansing on the news cynic2 i must have missed it.

  • Chris Donnelly

    This would be the pavilion freed up by the ethnic cleansing of Protestants from this part of North Belfast


    That’s strange as the records show that the field at Oldpark Avenue has been there for at least 123 years- that figure comes from the date of Ireland’s first international soccer victory in 1887 (against Wales -sorry Dewi!) which was played at the venue.

    Maybe those protestants were ethnically cleansed before then…..

  • Cynic2

    Michael / Chris

    The area to the East of that was called the Ballybone. It was a mixed area with about 60% protestants until just after internment when all the Protestant families were forced out by the IRA often at gunpoint. The houses were then destroyed and a new estate built by the Housing Executive and occupied by CAtholics.

    Protestants in the Oldpark Ave arae left about the same time while those in the Torrens estate to the north suffered a similar fate over many years. The Protestants occupying houses on the the Cliftonville Road were more gentilely eliminated as the area was seen as so hostile to Protestants only Catholics would buy houses there as the Prods moved out.

    The cricket club struggled on until as the post admits it was burnt out by the brave freedom fighters. Cant have those foreign games here.

    So now the entire surrounding area is largely catholic.

  • Cynic2

    Sorry, for ‘east’ in my last post read ‘west’

  • Chris Donnelly

    Your avoidance of the question suggests you realise the error of your ways…before you return to type by indulging in sensational and sweeping claims.

    Were ‘all’ such families forced out by the IRA? Were the houses really destroyed?
    Did the Housing Executive even exist at the time to build new houses there for catholics?
    How were others ‘gentilely’ (sic) eliminated? By Jews?
    Isn’t there a rather large predominantly protestant grammar school nearby, not to mention state school (recently changed status to integrated) with predominantly protestant pupils?

    The problem with a rather ignorant and sweeping post like yours is that it invites a futile whataboutery discussion, shifting the focus away from the thread title.

    I’ve no doubt many protestants- like catholics- suffered dreadfully during the conflict in that area. Many lost lives, others relatives, and many more their homes, jobs and other possessions.

    But why do you feel the need to throw that up in a discussion over why some councillors can’t see the benefits in providing temporary changing rooms for kids looking to play games?

  • Cynic2


    What avoidance?

    To protect the interests and image of Republicans you attempted to spin my post by referring only to the cricket pitch area itself. Of course I was referring to the surrounding area of houses where people actually live. Doh!

    Members of my extended family lived in the Bally streets and were forced out at gunpoint by the IRA – and at that time as I recall it would probably have been the Stickies although they and the Provos were still vying for supremacy in the Oldpark and had just been shooting each other in the first feud.

    Were they ‘all’ forced out? My, what a little bit of sophistry. Well, they all moved out over about a 5 day period after repeated bursts of gunfire down their streets from the Bone area on the other side of the Oldpark road, being beaten up at the bus stops on the Old Park Road, asked by local shops not to come back as they had been threatened for serving Prods, rioters smashing their windows and, if that didn’t work, one to one ‘consultations’ with hooded men with guns.

    When they managed to get back a few days later, their houses had been totally destroyed. Smashed up, stripped of anything of value. They lay vacant for a year or so then were later compulsorily purchased for a pittance by Belfast City Council and the new houses there constructed by the NIHE which you will recall was formed in 1971. I believe the new houses were built in the site around 1974 or 76 but I might be a year or two out on that.

    Incidentally, what then happened was that the damage to the streets was so great that the Catholic neighbours were also gradually forced to move out as the area became so dangerous, derelict and overrun with rats that it was uninhabitable. The local Primary School, Finiston, had to be protected with a large Army sangar on the front wall and the children were ferried into school every day by bus and via the back gates. Eventually it closed as families left the area and pupil numbers collapsed.

    Indeed, the clue to the truth of this may lie in the the original post which states that the cricket club was burnt out of its buildings in 1971. All part of the same process of IRA led, racist, ethinic cleansing.

    Now is that good enough for you? Perhaps you think they should have been served with formal written notices by the local IRA commander? Do you want statements from them? Pictures of the houses? Eye witness accounts signed in blood? TV footage?

    I have no doubt at all that Catholics suffered the same fate in other areas but that’s what happened in this area.

    The predominately protestant grammar school you mention is now, I understand, around 40% to 50% Catholic and attracts pupils from as far away as Glengormely and Ballyclare. And I am delighted to see that it is so integrated and doing so well. Good luck too to another new integrated school in the area. If I had my way I would integrate them all.

    I don’t object to the development. I agree that there is a shortage of GAA facilities in North Belfast – and isn’t it surprising that SF have done little about if for so long but perhaps they have been too busy.

    As for the whataboutery, well, just reminding you of what really happened in this area. I know you don’t like that as your have supported SF for so many years but just re-read your own post again and look at the accidentally revealed venom that anyone should as much as mention the dark, murky past and what happened to people in this area.

  • Chris Donnelly


    “just reminding you of what really happened in this area”

    Erm…that would be the whataboutery charge taken care of, then.

    I think it’s quite evident to observers of this thread where the ‘accidentally revealed venom’ is coming from, though I do understand your family’s pain.

    Gald to hear you don’t object to the development- that, at least, separates you from Belfast’s unionist councillors.

    I note that you obviously have a personal attachment to the area, with a regrettably tragic story to tell- though, again, I note your belief that the Official IRA were to blame for the sectarian assaults at the time (not that it mattered to those affected, but important nonetheless if your making a charge against Sinn Fein.)

    The problem with your posting on this thread is that it illustrates what happens when Slugger goes wrong- i.e. when commenters veer a thread off down the whataboutery lane, using any spurious means to so do.

    In this instance, you used the fact that this playing pitch was in an area near to where sectarian incidents occurred forty years ago to achieve that purpose- and I note you have now conceded that the playing pitch was not the site in which ethnically cleansed protestants once lived upon.

    Now, I would have grown up in East Antrim, with stories from family and friends abounding about sectarian incidents which led to the decimation of the catholic population in that region.

    Does that mean I should hijack any and every thread about issues affecting people residing today in Carrick, Greenisland and Larne with similar anecdotes?

    Give it some thought…and Happy Easter btw

  • Cynic2


    Now you are being disengenous.

    Forst mots of the STickies who were involved went on to join PIRA. I note your desire to keep them clean of the crage of sectarianism but 25000 body bags show otehrwise

    Second, stop trying to distance the pitch from the ethnic cleansing. It was part of it. Cricket is seen as a Pro game and the club was biorned out becasue theose who had ‘captured’ the arae didnt want a Prod near them,

    I am delighted to see that you are concerned about Slugger ‘going wrong’. By that I assume you mean where the discussion veers off the line you wish it to follow. I am afraid you have spent too many years supporting SF and it has distorted your judgement. That, in part, is what blogging is about – but I know its messy and awful when you want to tell one story and those pesky others tell a different one.

    I agree with you on South Antrim – and its still an issue in Antrim itself and Stoneyford for example. Just as there are regular attacks on Protestant properties (particularly OO halls ) in mid Antrim too. O)n both sides the bigots still thrive.

  • Cynic2


    PS If it helps, thank you, I regard being seen as in opposition to the views of most Unionist Councillors in Belfast as a sign of sanity

    PPS Happy Easter to you too. Even though we differ we do so in a reasonably civilised fashion – which is how it should be

  • Chris Donnelly


    Glad to hear a more rational tone being adopted.

    However the unfounded allegations have to go challenged. How do you know the Stickies all joined the Provisional IRA? That would seem a rather dubious suggestion given the bitter relationship between the two groups.

    Similarly, the ethnic cleansing narrative ignores the inconvenient truth that several state schools remained in the area to present day, not to mention a sizeable protestant population along the Cliftonville Road beyond the ceasefires.

    Truth is, there was appalling sectarian violence visited upon people of both religious and political backgrounds. But demographic patterns can not be simply attributed to ethnic cleansing as doing so ignores other factors.

    Why, for example, did catholics not flee in greater numbers from north Belfast, given that statistics confirm that they suffered the greatest number of casualties in the area?

    The answers, of course, are complex, and not all simply specific to our culture. The middle-classes, with the means and inclination, wasted little time in seeking a better life. The fact that protestants formed a much larger segment of that social class from early on in the conflict meant that they moved in much greater numbers- note, however, that by the time of the early 90s onwards, the upwardly mobile generation of middle class catholics weren’t long in following them in seeking a better life. Hence the growth of ‘catholic’ Glengormley (and the sectarian reaction that awaited them.)

    Regarding the working-classes, protestant north Belfast hollowed out due to the availability of housing in loyalist communities on the fringes of their one-time inner city north Belfast home- hence the expansion of Rathcoole, Monkstown and growth of ‘Shankill’ exile populations in Greenisland and Carrick (which natives can sometimes still be heard to grumble about in both areas.)

    The catholic working class did not have a similar outlet in that side of town, and so we’ve been left with the scenario of declining protestant communities in north Belfast living teeth by jowl with expanding catholic working class populations.

    But, again, the fact that we are having this conversation in a thread about kids looking a safe and secure environment to get changed before playing games indicates the potency of the ‘whataboutery’ urge in our society- not just on dear beloved Slugger.

  • Chris Donnelly

    ‘cheek’ by jowl…..doh…

  • Cynic2

    Dont disagree with you argument on a lot of that…..but the fact was it started with pogroms on both sides. There’s been a lot of publicly about things like Bombay Street, but nothing at all about what happened to he sizeable protestant population on the Oldpark Road.

    I don’t agree re the middle classes. In the Cliftonville Road are perhaps – and as I said, when they moved out, noone but Catholics would then buy the houses. But there were precious few middle class people living on the Oldpark Road below Clftonville Circus. As ever, it was a working class war and working class forcing working class from their home on both sides.

    I also didn’t say that all of the stickies joined PIRA – I said that most did. I stand by that. After the feud the Stickies died a slow death. They stayed in existence in some areas (most notably the Markets and Divis) but in others they quietly defected and joined their former comrades in PIRA which by then was the only show in town

  • RobertEmmett

    could Antrim GAA raise a few quid by charging fees for Gerry’s heli landings?