Pitching Up – the important role of rural Irish sports clubs

Pitching Up, a new documentary from The Guardian, offers a hitherto unseen view into rural Ireland’s long-standing culture of diversity.

Focusing on the town of Ballyhaunis, which is located in Co.Mayo, north of Galway, the film showcases the vital role which the local sports club plays within the community.

Immigrants first began coming to the town in the 1970s and it has become a multicultural hub ever since. The challenges of integration, which are faced by any individual or family moving to a new country, can often stem from an inability to find common ground, upon which to form a bond.

In Pitching Up, several locals examine how the sports team in Ballyhaunis has played a pivotal role in building bridges and cementing friendships. Winner of the Guardian Sheffield Doc/Fest pitch 2016, the film was directed by Maurice O’Brien and commissioned by The Guardian.

“How Ireland’s ancient sports are helping to integrate children in the country’s most ethnically diverse town.
Ballyhaunis in the west of Ireland is at first glance a traditional farming town, a place that in the past has been deeply affected by the emigration of its young.

But today Ballyhaunis is unique in an Irish context. The majority of children in the local community school speak neither English nor Gaelic at home due to waves of inward migration from Pakistani, eastern European and African communities.

The local policeman Darran Conlon has a mission. He is trying to teach the younger generation of these immigrants how to play traditional Gaelic games, not only to help welcome them to the community but also to simply ensure that the local club – the lifeblood of the town – can actually field a team. It’s not an easy task when so many diverse communities exist alongside each other.

Hannan Iqbal is part of the local Pakistani community that founded Ireland’s first purpose-built mosque. He also happens to be a hugely talented hurling player who has become a poster boy for the local community. Desmond’s mum Francesca came to Ireland from Ivory Coast, yet he is very much a ‘Ballyhaunis boy’ and a talented Gaelic footballer.

But integration can be especially difficult for children whose parents are in direct provision – Ireland’s system for dealing with asylum seekers, which has been the subject of much criticism in recent years. It does not allow applicants to work, even when some have waited up to 10 years for a decision on their case.

Gaelic games give a unique window into Irish society – but can they help offer these kids a sense of identity and belonging?”

Colin J McCracken
Colin J McCracken

Director and Executive Editor

Colin J McCracken is an Irish editor and writer of both fiction and journalism. Coming from a background in education and film, his passions are split between the environmental and the entertaining. Constantly striving for a more sustainable existence and trying to balance it while simultaneously buying too many books.