THE touring Vodafone All Stars got their first glimpse of the venue for today’s exhibition clash when they paid a leisurely visit yesterday to the Hurling Club in the aptly named district of Hurlingham on the outskirts of Buenos Aries.
A shamrock on the gate, a sign over the main entrance door reading Céad Mile Fáilte gives an indication of the origins of one of Argentina’s most famous sporting clubs.
Founded in the early 1900s, its huge magnificently-appointed complex houses a museum in which are kept a glittering collection of old trophies and medals, plus an impressive array of hurleys and sliotars of various sizes and manufacture, all relics of a long-gone era.
On a wall mount sits an original copy of the Standard newspaper, Buenos Aires, dated May 26, 1948, carrying the headline and photograph, ‘Hurling Club Inaugurates New Premises’.
In the bar, two walls are covered in mini stained-glass panes on which are emblazoned the crests and mottos of a variety of Irish family names. There’s a photo of a hurling championship-winning team from 1932, and – a sign of how quickly things changed – a rugby champion team from 1942 with several surnames common to both.
It’s a long way from Croke Park, but even as the GAA celebrates its 125th anniversary, this place just oozes history.
Hernan Scally is a former president of the club, was one of those who, along with a small army of excited kids, greeted the All Stars yesterday.
He gave us a brief rundown: “The Hurling Club was founded in 1922 in Buenos Aries and we moved out here in 1946. Our forefathers had played hurling in Argentina since the late 1880s – it was brought here by Irish immigrants and Irish priests, who taught it to the students in the monasteries.
“There were several teams in Buenos Aries at that time, several more in the Pampas, and they had regular games. My grandfather played, as did his father, and his father before him, but my father didn’t, nor did I. When the Second World War came, they couldn’t import the ash any more, and the local ash wasn’t suitable for hurleys, so the game died out here. The hurlers then turned to hockey, and soon, because of the hurling background, we had a very successful hockey team. That is still the case – hockey and rugby are now the two biggest games played in The Hurling Club. There is still a strong family tradition, still a strong Irish connection, and most of the kids here today are grandchildren of those who were members of the last hurling team to play for the club.”
With Hernan was Eduardo Cabrera Crowley, another whose grandfather was on one of the last teams to represent the club and Eduardo looked to the future. “We would like to reintroduce hurling to the club, starting with the kids.” To that end, those kids got an early talk from the two All Star managers, Liam Sheedy ending his pep-talk with a little lesson in English – “Now repeat after me: Up Tipp!” !
The kids, however, were all a little shy on the uptake, but did respond to the whispered promptings of locally-based Dunamaggin native Michael Connery, and soon broke into a chant: “Up the Cats! Up the Cats!!”
That brought smiles, laughs, not least from Brian Cody, but there is a serious side to all of this. It’s a renewal of cultural bonds, a reaching out by the home-based GAA community, a reaching back by those like Hernan and Eduardo, people who never really let go.
While the rest of the players then engaged in an informal puckaround, Galway star Ollie Canning took one group of kids for a little coaching session. Afterwards, the visitors were treated to a full-on Argentinean barbecue and the cultural exchange continued. And that’s what makes all of so valuable. They may not make headlines anymore in Argentina (time was when the reports of the regular games were carried even in the Spanish-language national papers), but trips such as these give new impetus to far-flung expatriate Irish communities such as this still commune at the Hurling Club. Long may those bonds remain.
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