URBAN isn’t the word that springs to my mind in Somerton. Mature trees surround the 23-acre home of Castleknock GAA Club which sits astride the verdant Liffey Valley while the Wicklow Mountains provide a stunning backdrop to every kick and puck in a ground that is tucked away down a quiet country lane.
The club’s city roots become more apparent in winter when the leaves fall and roofs of houses in nearby Carpenterstown peek through the exposed branches. Strain an ear and if the wind is right you may even hear some of the thousands of cars that pass over the nearby M50 overpass every day. This is a club perched on the tip of the spear that is the ever-expanding capital city as it swallows countryside in an incessant march towards the Meath border and the national games have had to adapt to keep pace with that breakneck urbanisation. Doing so has already yielded a rich harvest for the Dubs. Three of Castleknock’s minor hurlers featured for the county in the All-Ireland final defeat to Galway. Five will be part of Dessie Farrell’s football squad this Sunday against Tipperary. Ciaran Kilkenny features in both. When Farrell won his senior All-Ireland medal in 1995, Castleknock GAA Club didn’t even exist but St Brigid’s did. Already one of the behemoth clubs on the scene in Dublin, even they couldn’t cater for the changing demographics of the last 20 or so years.
A recent profile of the Dublin 15 area revealed that the number of people living there jumped by over 25% in just four years during the noughties. With almost 100,000 inhabitants, it is the fastest growing area in the country and boasts a population larger than that of Galway and Limerick cities as well as the counties of Laois, Longford, Carlow or Kilkenny.
The registered growth rate in that same period was over three times that of the national average and the percentage of the youth population is the highest in the entire country. That last point represented a challenge and an opportunity at the same time. “It was a situation where the area was exploding and there just wasn’t the resources to accommodate all the kids and give them games and outlets so the club was formed and it has been a resounding success,” says Castleknock’s Dave O’Brien. “It’s a great club to be involved in because there is a great community ethos. We would be very close with the local churches, schools and charities. You need people of talent and vision and we are lucky enough to have that.”
The size and scope of the undertaking is staggering. Though just 13 years old, Castleknock may already be the biggest club in the city. It’s members number well over a thousand, which equates roughly to the entire population of the Loughmore-Castleiney in Tipperary, and no sector is ignored. Hurling and football, underage and adult, male and female: they are all catered for under the one gigantic umbrella. At the last count, they had 64 juvenile teams and the plan is to put out three men’s football and hurling outfits next season. Four years ago, their U14 hurlers claimed the Feile na nGael Division 1 title against the nation’s best and all boats have continued to rise with numerous underage sides competing at the top tier, the adult A footballers moving up to Intermediate and the hurlers poised to follow suit. But success hasn’t been confined to the narrow measurements of goals and points. The club has kept its eyes open to wider social issues in the immediate area and far beyond. A concert has been organised next month in aid of the Dublin 15 Hospice and cross-border initiatives have been established.
Limestone United, a soccer club from an interface area in Belfast, was invited to Dublin for the All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal and U12s from Carrickfergus Rangers FC, a club based in a predominantly unionist area of Antrim, played hurling against counterparts from Castleknock during half-time of the International Rules test at Croke Park last October.
Other relationships have been fostered with GAA clubs all over the island and visits to and from are commonplace now that the first phase of the build at Somerton has been completed with a state-of-the-art hurling pitch a particular draw for club and county sides.
Anthony Daly’s hurlers made frequent use of a surface this year that is almost equal in size and quality to Croke Park itself. So too, have the county’s U21s and minors and the hope is that construction will start on a clubhouse early next year.
Like the area itself, the speed with which the club continues to grow has been astounding and chairman Mick Lynch admits that he had no idea of what he and a handful of others were kickstarting when they launched the new venture back in 1998. “We came up in the boom, which is not the best time to start anything because people don’t have as much time to lend a hand and that probably makes the success a bit more remarkable. The simple things in life, like the GAA, kind of go down the list of priorities.”
The extent to which they bucked that trend is noticeable every day through the kids and adults who wear the club colours in the shops and streets. Blue with a yellow band, they may be left in the wardrobe this Sunday. For one day only.