Gaelic Football on the East End

Shane O Keeffe and Peter Lynch race to block a kick during a recent Gaelic football match. (Photo by Rosemarie Byrne via The Sag Harbor Express)

A decade after Peter Feeney arrived on the East End of Long Island and found an Irish community but no Gaelic football, the project manager is seeing his efforts to bring the sport to the region come to fruition. This past winter, the Suffolk County Hibernians formed and to date have played three games.

Reporter Emma Betuel of The Sag Harbor Express writes:

Gaelic football looks like a mixture of soccer and rugby. It’s played on a field twice the size of an American football field. It’s technically non-contact, but Feeney admits you can get away with throwing a well-timed shoulder. An all-amateur sport run by the Gaelic Athletic Organization, Gaelic football has had a presence in New York Since 1867, but had never found a foothold east of the Pine Barrens.

“It’s our native sport, but we never really got to play when we came here,” said Feeney, a team captain. “For a lot of guys it was their number-one sport growing up. We talked a lot over the past couple of years, and this year we decided to call up the county board and we just went for it.”

Mike Byrne, the sports chairman of the New York State Ancient Order of the Hibernians – the oldest Irish Catholic fraternal organization in the U.S. – joined Feeney in founding the Hiberians, which has grown from 12 players (there are 15 positions) to more than 30.

Byrne has seen the sport flourish in the New York area, with nearly 40 clubs that compete at Gaelic Park on 240th Street in the Bronx. He is particularly proud of the Irish-American teams that are beginning to form, indicating that the sport has potential to succeed at the grassroots level.

For more on how the Suffolk County Hibernians have fared, particularly in their first “championship” contest in early July, and the response they’ve seen from the community, go to The Sag Harbor Express.

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