Havin’ the Craic: Memphians Take Up Irish Sports
Ed. Note: I’m happy to bring you this post from contributor Aisling Maki about Memphis’ Gaelic Athletic Association. If you want to learn a new sport, or are just curious about one aspect of Memphis’ Irish culture, read on!
Recently, while enjoying pints at Celtic Crossing on a bright Sunday afternoon with Brass Door owner Seamus Loftus (a native of Ballina, County Mayo) and FedEx manager Dermot Murray (a native of Mullingar, County Westmeath) I learned they’d counted roughly 60 Irish-born citizens now living in Memphis.
That’s not counting the unknown number of local first-generation Americans who hold or are eligible for Irish citizenship, which would include me. I’m a dual citizen born in the New York area to an Irish immigrant family, but I’ve also lived several periods of my life in my family homestead of West Donegal, a remote, rural, Irish-speaking community.
Just as American Southern culture is different from West Coast culture, etc., Irish culture has plenty of regional differences. One thing that does unite and excite us in our Irishness, though, is Gaelic football.
It’s kind of a combination of soccer, rugby, and basketball that’s been around since the 1300s, and now has 400 GAA clubs spread around the world, now including Memphis. It’s wild, crazy fun, and super physical. Check out this clip that explains the rules.
Several Memphians with Irish ties are involved in the current club. Jesse Gammons, graduate research assistant at UTHSC, was a part of the first GAA club in the state in Nashville in 2013, then moved to Memphis and founded ours in 2015.
He’s no longer in town, but the aforementioned Dermot Murray is the current club president, and Liam Coyle (originally from Connecticut, where he grew up playing Gaelic football with his Irish father) is the club’s coach. Liam has a mighty athletic prowess, but he’s also a nice, unassuming guy who’s on a mission to teach Memphians to play the sport he loves.
Want To Play?
The Memphis GAA’s spring league is open to anyone — all genders, ages (18 and over) and skill levels — who wants to learn. Matches are already in progress, and even you’ve never heard of Gaelic football until now, you’re still welcome to join the co-ed spring league. No Irish DNA required. They play matches on Sundays at the Fairgrounds Youth Athletic Fields, just north of Tiger Lane off of Central.
The league has Scottish, English, Canadian, Mexican and Turkish players, as well as Americans of all ethnic backgrounds. Almost 50 players, who range between ages and 20 and 50, are currently registered, but there are only six women on the league and they’d like to recruit more.
One of those women, Emily Todd, 25, showed up to a practice with no knowledge of the sport, after our mutual friend, Memphis Daily News reporter Patrick Lantrip (whose family hails from County Clare) invited her out to give Gaelic football a try. After one practice, she was hooked on the sport and, despite being one of the few women on the field, felt immediately comfortable.
Emily said, “ I feel like I have [the other players’] respect. They all encourage me and push me to be my best. It is a very welcoming group of people. We’re all just learning together for the most part, so it is a pretty level playing field.” She also says that Gaelic football has given her confidence to push herself and her body to the limits.
Not only can you learn a new sport, the Memphis GAA league is an awesome opportunity to make new friends. The four teams in the Memphis spring league are sponsored by Celtic Crossing, Majestic Grille, Murphy’s Pub, and The Brass Door. After practice on weekends, athletes, sponsors and spectators meet up for pints and the craic (pronounced “crack,”) — an Irish Gaelic term for meeting up with friends, having a laugh and enjoying good company.
In the fall, the Memphis GAA will launch a league for hurling, an Irish sport that’s one of the oldest in the world, dating back at least 2,000 years. It’s a high-speed version of hockey, lacrosse and baseball, all rolled into. Hey, Irish sports are complicated, but once you learn the rules, you’ll be hooked.
Spectators are very much encouraged to come out and join the fun, including the after-party pints and the craic that’s sure to follow.
About The Author
Aisling Maki is a freelance writer, editor, and public and media relations specialist with awards from The Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and Public Relations Society of America, as well as several awards for fiction writing. Her work has appeared in publications in more than 20 countries. You can usually find her cheering on the Grizzlies, doing outdoorsy things, or traveling with her daughter, Brídín. They live in Cooper-Young with a dog, a guinea pig and a pair of pet mice.