TG4 documentary charts history of GAA in the USA

Dara Ó Cinnéide interviewing Carna native Colie Lydon from Boston club, Connemara Gaels for the new TG4 documentary, GAA USA.
Dara Ó Cinnéide interviewing Carna native Colie Lydon from Boston club, Connemara Gaels for the new TG4 documentary, GAA USA.

Talking Sport with Stephen Glennon

Asuperb new four-part documentary exploring the history of the GAA in the United States between the 1800s and the present day, which has begun to air to rave reviews on TG4 on Wednesday evenings, has been produced and directed by two Galway brothers.

The fascinating series, entitled GAA USA, is the brainchild of producer Éamonn and director Sean Ó Cualáin and, in addition to chronicling the unknown history of Gaelic Games in the United States, it also charts how GAA members struggled to come to terms with such major events as two World Wars and the Great Depression.

Chatting to the two Carna men, it becomes obvious this was a labour of love, not only for them but for the presenter of the documentary, former All-Ireland winning Kerry captain and award-winning broadcaster Dara Ó Cinnéide. Together, the three men have really got to the heart of their subject matter.

It was Éamonn who first broached doing such a documentary with his brother Sean. Having spent a Summer in Boston in 2003, he was blown away by the spirit of the GAA community. “I never knew there was such a big interest in Gaelic games over there until that point,” says Éamonn, who is Chairman of the Carna Caiseal club.

By the time Éamonn and Sean, who produce TG4’s Seó Spóirt, discussed doing a documentary on the GAA in the USA, they were already putting the finishing touches on another body of work, ‘Men At Lunch’, which told the story behind the iconic image of 11 unharnessed men having lunch high up on a girder on the 69th floor of the Rockefeller Building.

At any rate, they began to develop the GAA USA idea around the same time and, after a number of applications, they were finally granted funding by TG4 and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to pursue the venture in 2011.

The end product is what is currently airing on TG4 and Éamonn highlights that central to the success of the series has been presenter Ó Cinnéide. “We couldn’t have picked a better man to present it for us,” he says.

“Everything is done to the minute detail. He himself went over to Chicago in 1996 and 1999 so he could understand people going over from Ireland and playing on J1s – and players being enticed over, or whatever, be it financially or otherwise.

“He also saw the disappointment of players living over there, who year in, year out have to sit on the bench for the Summer for the likes of Dara and other top players going over. So, he understood the story on every level.”

That is one thing the documentary is not short on. There are so many levels, strands and angles, it’s a credit to the brothers and Ó Cinnéide that they have managed to package it in such a concise and precise manner.

There are tales of isolation, splits, in-fighting, bribes, back-handers and gunrunning; of competing with baseball “for the hearts and minds of the Irish Americans” – as Sean puts it – and of the xenophobic portrayal of hurling and football by Americans as a brutal ‘thug sport’ to dissuade parents from allowing their children to play Gaelic games.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.