Trevor Carolan is the international editor of the Pacific Rim Review of Books (Issue Eleven Spring 2009)
Sport and the Gaels go hand in hand. When the Olympic Games were still but a sparkle in the eye of Zeus, at Ireland's Hill of Tara the Ras Tailetann Games were held in honour of Queen Tailte from 1829 BC to AD 1180. That's a rippin' 3,000 year run, so as Vancouver writer John O'Flynn explains, the Irish got good at organizing these things- normally around a grand fair in which heroic drink had no small part. Unsurprisingly, throughout the Irish Diaspora in particular, the current world-wide Celtic renaissance has brought renewed interest in the unique Irish traditions of Hurling and Gaelic Football.
With this impressively researched work, John O'Flynn brings to fruition his archival digging within the Irish-Canadian sporting community. Charting the development of Irish sporting associations from Newfoundland to the west coast, from 1796 to the present, en route O'Flynn does more than simply talk sports. Historical migration patterns, relations between the Irish, French and English, ecclesiastical affiliations, sites of famine monuments, and short profiles of scores of local sporting figures make this volume of cultural history worth leaving on the parlour table for guest browsers.
Much of the actual reporting is of a more recent nature, but the Toronto and Montreal Gaelic athletic scenes are well-covered historically. In an aside to hockey enthusiasts, O'Flynn tracks the various recorded Irish, English and Scots development links to ice-hockey - all had 'hurling', 'bandy', or 'shinty', field sports that involved the use of curved sticks, as did the native Mic Macs. Oddly, he reports that as late as 1875, ice hockey in Montreal was still played mostly by Irish Catholics from McGill University and two bilingual colleges where the Irish taught the game to the French. The rest, as they say, is history.
O'Flynn's anecdotal style is founded on plenty of oral history. Leading up to a tale about the founding of Vancouver's Sons of Erin Gaelic Football Club, he recounts a clash between Vancouver and Seattle Irish clubs in which the Americans had salted hard-boiled priests among their sides. Old warriors remember the incognito priests playing "tough as nails", "the dirtiest ones" on the field. It's all in good fun and is well worth a look.