Gaelic games in Western Canada

Gaelic games in Western Canada

The Irish have a long and rich history in Canada dating back centuries. The first recorded Irish presence in the area of present day Canada dates from 1536, when Irish fishermen from Cork travelled to Newfoundland.

Hurling has been played in North America ever since Irish immigrants began landing on North American shores. The earliest games of hurling in North America were played in St. John's, Newfoundland in 1788. Many argue, with some conviction & no small amount of fact to support their case, that Canada's current favorite sport, Ice Hockey, has its origins in Hurling.Fact|date=March 2008 The word puck may be derived from the Irish word 'poc' [ [ "puck." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian.] (accessed: March 24, 2008).] which is the action of striking the ball with a hurley.Fact|date=March 2008

Gaelic football became very popular in the provinces of Ontario & Quebec in the 30's & 40's. The Toronto Gaelic Athletic Association representing the Gaelic Athletic Association, was founded in 1947, and organizes the sport of Gaelic football in Canada, in the Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal areas. It currently oversees eight Men's and six Ladies' teams.

Hurling has been eclipsed in popularity by the larger ball. Gaelic Football was the Gaelic Sport that crossed the prairies and began to blossom in the West. British Columbia and Alberta are featured here, but there have been and continue to be attempts to get the games played in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

=Gaelic Games - Western Canada=

British Columbia

Gaelic Sports have been played in Western Canada since the early 1920s. In Vancouver, the arrival, from Ireland in 1922 of four religious brothers – Lannon, Keane, Reid and Murtagh of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, who came to open and direct a Catholic school for boys (Vancouver College), hold the distinction of being the first to introduce, organize and promote the game of Hurling amongst their students.

Gaelic Football had been played occasionally between the Irish communities of Vancouver, British Columbia and Seattle, Washington in the late 1950’s. Vancouver and Seattle, along with Portland, participated in the North American County Board Northwest Division play downs in 1962. At this time, the team was known as the Sons of Erin, and they drew with Seattle in their first match and then went down in history by being the first Northwest Champions of the NACB when they beat Seattle on July 27, 1962 15-9 at Brockton Oval. This Division played on for a number of years. The Vancouver Sons of Erin Gaelic Football Club eventually gave way to being a soccer and social club.

The Vancouver Irish who gathered on December 1, 1974 decided that the name of a new club was to be selected. The choice of “The Irish Athletic Association” was considered but after Pat Donohue proposed “The Vancouver Irish Sporting and Social Club” (or the Vancouver ISSC), it was unanimously accepted by all present that night.

The ISSC men first competed against teams from San Francisco (away 1975 & home 1976 – Swanguard Stadium). A donation of a stack of “back-up” hurling sticks used by the Carroll’s All-Stars touring team in San Francisco (1975) were given to the ISSC by GAA Secretary General Sean O’ Siochan which allowed a local 9 a side-hurling league to develop for a few summers. The ISSC traveled to Victoria at this time where an exhibition match occurred with the media in attendance and Bill Milne provided a running commentary.

In the 80's, the Vancouver ISSC men played in a number of NACB play-off Junior semi-finals against an invincible Philadelphia Tyrone side. In the 90's, the Baileys Cup tournament was hosted by Vancouver's ISSC (Harps) with Calgary, Edmonton, & Seattle teams competing annually.

In 1997, Michelle Boyle arrived in Vancouver and the Harps had their first Ladies Gaelic Football team.


Jack Bell played senior football for Louth and emigrated to Edmonton in 1956. Louth went on to win the All-Ireland in 1957 and Bell took on the role of Gaelic football missionary in Edmonton. Bell, who was named to the Irish Millennium Gaelic All-Star team, formed a team in Edmonton, which folded after a few years due to lack of competition. At that time, a team would have to travel several thousand miles to compete.

In 1975, Christy Whelehan from Westmeath was responsible for the second coming of Gaelic Football with the modern day Edmonton Wolfe Tones. Christy’s stewardship guided the team through the good and bad years and he still wears the team jersey with pride (2006).

1975 also saw the formation by Mick McKenna of Armagh of a team in the boom town of Fort McMurray, AB.

2004 saw a revival of the Northern Albertan outfit with Ronan Deane of Cork spending a number of years in the Oil town.

In 1977, Mike Quirke of Fylemore, Co. Kerry helped start the Calgary Chieftains. This was probably the strongest year ever for Gaelic Football in Alberta, with Edmonton hosting a nine a-side tournament. This was contested by no fewer than six Albertan teams, two from Edmonton, two from Fort McMurray, the Calgary Chieftains and a team from Red Deer called Éire Óg.

The beginnings of Ladies’ Gaelic Football in Edmonton, coincided with Leo Creedon from Cork coaching a team, consisting mainly of University of Alberta students with very few Irish players. Maggie Charlton was the Captain of this first Ladies' team, and she was an Edmonton native. This first year, 1997, saw the Wolfe Tones Women’s team ending their season with a remarkable win over their hosts in Vancouver.

In 2006, Edmonton hosted the Handball World Championships, featuring hundreds of competitors from all over the world.

2007 saw the Gaelic Games return to Red Deer, Alberta, with the re-emergence the Éire Óg. That year they competed in tournaments in both Calgary (twice) and Edmonton, and even hosted their own tournament.

Western Divisional Board - Canada

In the eighties & nineties, with mass-emigration from Ireland, these teams played some very competitive fixtures, with large numbers of Irish-born players dominating each of the teams. Today, only the Edmonton, Calgary & Vancouver clubs remain, with Fort McMurray's team and now Red Deers team threatening to compete. The focus today is development of Canadian born players, with the Ladies Game being a testament to how successful and popular the game can be amongst a 'foreign' population. Structure was required and it came by way of the Western Divisional Board.

The Western Divisional Board (WDB) of the Canadian County Board (CCB) of the Gaelic Athletic Association, represents Gaelic football & Hurling Clubs in the western provinces of Canada. It was founded in 2003.The WDB organises the Western Canadian Championships, which were first played in 2004


External links

* [ Official GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) website]
* [ GAA Information, Results, and Clubs]

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