The GAA, as an institution, is more than a simple sporting endeavour. While the association and its affiliated clubs provide a sporting outlet for young Gaels, its units are embedded in cultural empowerment, youth outreach, community development, social cohesion and tackling inequalities. The individual clubs promote positive mental health, physical health, building relationships and strengthening a sense of community both within a short-term and long-term framework.
Outer North Belfast and Newtownabbey, that includes Greencastle and its surrounds, has had socioeconomic deprivation inflicted upon it as a result of decades of underinvestment in people and place. This has created many generations in the area with little sporting opportunities, community facilities and youth provision – despite the area having astute, talented and hardworking community and youth workers and sports people. That underlines a statutory failure to deliver the investment needed to empower community projects.
Over the past 18 months Wolfe Tones GAC has tapped into a latent potential for Gaelic games in the area. Hundreds of adults and children, both male and female, are engaging in Gaelic games on a weekly basis now. Beyond just togging out a few times a week, Gaelic games in Greencastle are now being used as a vehicle to improve physical and mental health, physical infrastructure, intra-community relations and a wider understanding of Irish culture. As the club continues to grow it will naturally have a bigger impact on health profile of the surrounding area.
Going forward, Wolfe Tones GAC hopes to position itself as a lead partner, with other community stakeholders, in a sports and cultural-led regeneration process that improves outcomes across various fields in the outer north Belfast and Newtownabbey area. The potential to change the face of the area over the next decade is not lost on the current membership and those invested in the Wolfe Tones project will use the GAA as a vehicle to make major change.
Sports-led regeneration does not have to be confined to mega stadium projects in London, but can be used as a tool for small, local communities attempting to improve their place and benefitting the people within it. As a voluntary unit, Wolfe Tones GAC over the next few years will be positioned as an anchor institution to attract the investment that is so easily redirected from Greencastle and use it to catalyse regeneration. That will be the mark of success.
The medium-term aim is to design and build a sporting and cultural hub that can become a centre-point for the constantly growing group of Gaels within the area. This will then be used to for Gaelic games provision, cultural empowerment, community development and youth engagement for generations to come. In the period ahead we hope statutory bodies, politicians and other stakeholders will engage earnestly in the conversation to move this forward. That will be a shot in the arm for the entire community.
CLG Bhulf Tón