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GAA Goes Global: A look at the GAA club Oryx na hÉireann based in Qatar

In a new series, Littlewoods Ireland will be looking at GAA around the world, and how our national games have expanded internationally. Today, we look at Oryx na hÉireann, a club based in Qatar in the Middle East.

In a new series, Littlewoods Ireland will be looking at GAA around the world, and how our national games have expanded internationally.

The Irish diaspora has gone all over the world and brought their identity and culture with them. This has seen a massive growth with new GAA clubs sprouting up around the globe. It is no longer solely in Ireland that clubs and tournaments exist.

Qatar is a nation that is thriving in regards to the GAA. A tiny country that is wedged between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has seen an influx of Irish coming to live and work.

Skyscrapers and scorching hot heat may seem like the opposite to the rain and wind of Ireland, but the Irish community here have made it their own.

Oryx na hÉireann – Qatar GAA

Oryx na hÉireann, the GAA club in Qatar was founded in 2004, and has been floruishing ever since, as more Irish nationals adopt Qatar as their home. It is now one of the most successful GAA clubs across Asia and the Middle East.

The club’s aim is to maintain a sense of community that comes with being a member of the GAA in Ireland while producing teams that are capable of competing with the best in the region.

Last week, the 6 teams from Oryx na hÉireann travelled from Qatar to Abu Dubai to compete in the Middle Eastern Championship.

Oryx na hÉireann Senior Football Teams in Abu Dhabi last week

From Silverbridge to the Middle East

Armagh native Gary Reel plays for Qatar and was there for the Championship. So far, he has taken to Qatari life like a duck to water after moving out at the beginning of 2018.

Graduating as a teacher from St Mary’s University College in Belfast last summer, Gary has found his feet working in Newton International School based in Doha, Qatar’s capital. Before this, he had been working in London, but he has settled much more in the Middle East.

The Irish community is massive out here, it genuinely is like a home from home! I spent three months in London and I don’t think I ever came across as many Irish as I have over here!

It’s nice to see so many Irish over here.  Personally speaking, it is a massive help for homesickness that there is such a strong Irish community here in Qatar.

Reel was raised in an avid GAA family, in the small village of Silverbridge, close to the Monaghan border. He played for his local club Silverbridge Harps since he was a young boy before moving out to Qatar.

Gary pictured with his father Fergal, playing for his home club Silverbridge Harps, County Armagh

I was brought up with GAA since I could walk. Like so many other families in Ireland, we live, eat, sleep and breathe the GAA in our house.

One of my earliest memories is when Armagh played Down in the Ulster Football Final in 1999. I got sun cream in my eyes and my dad had to leave the game and carry me the whole way down the hill at Clones, for me to say when we got to the car that I was ok. He never lets me forget that one!

Middle Eastern Championship

Winning various titles last week at the Middle Eastern Championship in Abu Dhabi adds onto the many other accolades that Qatar GAA have secured themselves.

The Middle Eastern Championship runs across all Gaelic sports, Hurling, Football, Ladies Football and Camogie. Clubs from all over the Middle East such as Abu Dhabi Na Fianna, Dubai Celts and Sharjah Gaels.

Qatar GAA has won League and Championship titles. This is something that isn’t much of a shock to Gary.

I was genuinely shocked at the high standard when I came out here, there are so many extremely talented GAA players in Qatar. I have been playing alongside players who have been involved in county setups as recent as last year. This has shone through in our most recent tournament in Abu Dhabi.

They are talented but they are also dedicated too. A blockade that is currently in place in Qatar, prevented the teams from flying directly to Abu Dhabi.

Qatar GAA
Oryx na hÉireann Men’s winning Intermediate Team

We had to fly from Qatar to Oman then from Oman to Dubai. Then we had to get a bus from Dubai to eventually reach Abu Dhabi. As most of our team are teachers, we had to get a flight at 4pm after school and we didn’t arrive at the hotel in Abu Dhabi until 2am. We were up for 7am for the start of the tournament at 8am.

That didn’t seem to have an effect at all, as the 6 Qatari teams – 3 male, 3 female – that travelled got to the finals of their respective competitions, with 4 teams taking home silverware! An achievement the club is undoubtedly proud of.

Qatar GAA Ladies team at a training session.

Local Attraction

As GAA continues to flourish in the Middle East, the locals are starting to take an interest too. Recently, Oryx na hÉireann had a Qatari native visit the club for the first time.

Yasmian Alsharshani is a professional female golfer and is well known in Qatar, She is the first female golfer to play on the Qatari national golf team,’ Gary explains. ‘She came to the club and was very interested in the game and how it is played. It was a great time for the club to do.’


A home away from home

As a fluent Irish speaker, Gary has found ways to bring his culture in the classroom to the young children that he teaches every day.

‘If I feel my class are being too noisy, I will say, ‘lamha filte, beal druidte,’ which means ‘arms folded, mouths closed’ as Gaeilge. They respond excellently to it and I think they kind of like the fact that they can show me that they can understand Irish.

As for GAA, we have watched some YouTube clips of different matches, even some of the Silverbridge matches and the kids love it! They were fascinated by the game and they were really interested in how it is played.’

A hurling skills training session taking place in Qatar

Oryx na hÉireann are continuing to grow each year, with more and more members signing up. There a few differences compared to home, for Gary, it’s most notably the heat but this isn’t something that seems to bother him.

‘It can be challenging to play in the heat but I would take that any day over playing in the pouring rain and sliding through muddy fields!’

If you would like to find out more about Oryx na hÉireann, Qatar GAA, then simply click here!

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Ellen McConville

Typically found on the sidelines or in Croke Park, Ellen is the Sports Content Editor for Littlewoods Ireland and your go-to gal for all things GAA. A big lover of all things Christy Moore, fashion and some wine and cheese as well.

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