Postponed island football festival vows to rise again

Notice of postponement wasn’t exclusive to the inter-county championships on Wednesday last.
Postponed island football festival vows to rise again
Bere Island also hosted the 2018 tournament.

Notice of postponement wasn’t exclusive to the inter-county championships on Wednesday last.

A couple of hours before the GAA released their statement confirming July as the earliest possible start to championship action, the decision was taken to put back, by 12 months, the annual All-Island Gaelic football tournament.

First staged in 1998, the 23rd edition of the All-Island competition was scheduled for Bere Island on the weekend of May of 23/24.

Of course, the ongoing nationwide lockdown means there’ll be no mass gathering on the island off West Cork at the end of next month.

But unlike those holding out hope of GAA activity returning at some point later on this year, tournament organisers feel the safest move is to sit tight until May 2021 when, hopefully, they can once again congregate and celebrate island life.

“We were really looking forward to going to Bere Island this year,” says tournament founding member and Inishbofin native Simon Murray.

“Bere Island has hosted it before and has done it brilliantly each time. There was a big crew travelling this year, we were expecting big numbers from the nine islands competing.”

Those nine islands consist of hosts Bere Island, nearby Whiddy, Inis Mór, Inish Meáin, Inis Oírr, Inishbofin, Inishturk, Clare Island, and Arranmore.

Run off on one day, the men’s blitz-style tournament is an 11-a-side competition, while there is also a ladies competition. Such a tournament, though, is about so much more than football and the silverware up for grabs.

“From the social and cultural side of things, the initial idea came from the fact that, while the islands have an awful lot in common, there used to be no network between them, there used to be very little contact between them,” explains Beara GAA chairman Jim Hanley, a first-generation islander.

“Islands in West Cork, the Aran Islands, and islands further up the coast would have a fierce amount in common, but they didn’t actually have a natural way of meeting, gathering, and sharing their ideas and thoughts on island life.

“Islanders, irrespective of which island they come from, deal with the same kinds of difficulties such as access to the mainland and access to social services.

“There is huge commonality there. The football competition grew out of that, and great rivalries have developed.

“Financially, too, there is a boost to the host island. You could have 400 people come to Bere Island on one weekend in May. That’s a big influx of people. It is a bit of business for the pubs, restaurants, and especially the accommodation providers.”

Hanley lives and works in Cork city, but is informed by his father on a near-daily basis how quieter-than-usual life has become on Bere Island.

“When we chat on the phone, he has no news for me because he is not seeing anyone. It is very, very quiet down there. The islands do have the advantage that they have plenty of space and can move around, whereas we are all confined to our own houses.”

Up in Inishbofin, there hasn’t been a single person land onto the pier since two weeks before Leo ordered the country into lockdown.

“Ourselves and the Aran islands restricted access before anybody else,” says Murray.

“There was a realisation that if this virus got onto the islands, it would be devastating. Our fear was that if we didn’t come out of the blocks first, you would have people come out of God knows where to settle into holiday homes or rented cottages. The ferry operator agreed, and travel to and from the island has been absolutely restricted since around 10 days before the lockdown. In fairness to those who have holiday homes here, they haven’t tried to get across.

“With regard to the tournament being postponed, I wouldn’t even use the word disappointment. I am a complete realist. As you and I are speaking, there are people dying. There are families being bereaved every single day. Trying to fight a pandemic virus takes precedence over a sporting and cultural occasion.

“The tournament will be back next year. We’ll rise again.”

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