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Topics - Betsy Gray

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Down / What to do about Belfast
« on: December 28, 2020, 11:46:00 AM »
There has been a lot of talk in GAA circles recently about the dominance of Dublin and how a large reason for their success is simply a numbers game. Huge population leads to increased participation which leads to greater chances of success at elite level. There was clearly a huge emphasis placed on securing increased participation in the capital. A solution was proposed to solve that issue. While successful it has created a monster. A very successful monster.

Down currently has a massive participation problem on the County Down side of the River Lagan. Iím not just sure anyone realises it.

It is no secret that at present South Belfast has a rapidly growing nationalist population. For the sake of this thread I am talking only about the County Down side. The area from the Ormeau bridge to Carryduff and stretching eastwards towards Holywood.

For the past 10-15 years the streets around the ormeau road, Ravenhill Road, Rosetta, Four Winds has saw a huge increase in Nationalist population as people from across Ireland ( but mainly Tyrone, Derry, Fermanagh) have made the area their home. It is well publicised that the local primary schools are now struggling to cope with the numbers. Bredagh has clearly benefited greatly from this increase in population given the sheer size of their current enrolled membership.

Of greater concern to those of us concerned with the fortunes of Down GAA is the number of people not currently participating in Gaelic games at any level having made the area their home.

The main outlook of the County Board, and the GAA generally, should be to maximise participation is Gaelic games. As we have seen with Dublin, if you have the numbers participating the excellence should naturally follow on. At present the lack of participation by a large portion of the population in South Belfast is the elephant sitting in the corner of the Down County Office.

In doing some very basic research around this point I came across a 2015 document published by the Down & Connor diocese. It gave the number of enrolled Catholics in each parish. Now I know this is a very crude way to measure The GAA supporting population but it was the only rough reference tool I could find.

Broadly speaking there is a club for every 1500-1800 registered population. For example,

Loughinisland - 1416
Lower Mourne (Glasdrumman and Ballymartin) - 2874
Kilcoo - 1066

The one that sticks out from the group is Downpatrick with a population of 8768 and only one club.

Looking then at Belfast the scale of the issue becomes clear.

Holy Rosary & St Bernadettes which is essentially Bredagh territory has a combined population of 11557. Drumbo and Carryduff has a population of 9690. The parishes which are now more or less serviced by the East Belfast GAA Club are St Matthews, St Colmcilles and St Anthonyís. THe combined registered population there is 13,709. Until this year there was no club to provide an outlet for participation in Gaelic games in the latter 3 parishes.

The above numbers would have an added warning in that those living in the more rural communities are much more likely to formally register with the parish than those moving to live in the city. From what I have garnered so far most of those usually donít register with the parish until children come along.

I would estimate that there are currently hundreds of young adults living in the south Belfast area who are currently not participating in Gaelic games at any level. A snapshot of the problem can be seen by the sheer number of people who transferred to the newly formed East Belfast club. I would be fairly certain that those outside Belfast would have laughed at the prospect of forming an East Belfast club until it was done.

It is correct that there are clubs in the area but the reality is that those clubs are now under subscribed. With the populations involved it is surely not acceptable that only 30 men take to the field each Friday night to play adult senior football with the same number of ladies taking to the field on a Saturday for the ladies senior league. Before someone says it, yes there are 2nds and 3rds but we all know itís just not the same.

This is the greatest problem currently facing the GAA in County Down. The question is, does anyone have any idea about how to go about starting to fix it.

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