almost a home county

We have this picture on our wall, properly framed, like grown ups. We bought it when Grandad’s unknown Glamorous Great Aunt died and the heirhunters found people to give 1/ 32 of her small estate to. I thought that only happened in fiction.

The picture, from Gareth McCormack, is of Errigal mountain in Co Donegal. To me, it means Gweedore, Donegal proper, home of my grandmother, Herself’s cousins, and the base for childhood holidays.

We’ve spent holidays all over Donegal, and now have our very own crumbly caravan base. I love where we are, and the fact that somedays we can see north across the county to Errigal. I’ve never lived in Donegal, but it’s part of me.

So when Donegal were in the All Ireland gaelic football final yesterday, they were the only team to support. I was wondering how I might talk about it; although Spurs Fan and the girls are involved in the local GAA club, I don’t follow the sport- yet often watch the final in September. Some half thoughts about their victory were floating about my brain, and then I discovered that Liam had already written them down…

I really want the boys to win for the journey that they’ve been on and to end the journey on a positive. And once they have it, if they get it, nobody could ever take it away from them and that would be something for them. For them, for their kids, for their family. Everybody. – Jim McGuinness [mananger] (pre all-Ireland final press conference)

As Donegal’s celebrations erupted on the final whistle on Sunday, there was only one thing that Martin McHugh [tv co-commentator] wanted – and that was to hug and congratulate his son Mark.

The clip of that emotional embrace will become one of the iconic images of the 2012 final and in many respects sums up what all-Ireland day really means.

There is no doubt that to win the Sam Maguire [trophy] is the pinnacle in the sporting sense for GAA footballers – but for their county it is also something bigger than that, something that transcends sport.

Donegal’s win over Mayo was, to use the words of Jim McGuinness, part of ‘a journey’. While he brought his players on a particular journey to achieve the pinnacle in sporting terms, they brought the rest of the county with them, re-affirming pride, passion and a real sense of belonging.

In essence it sums up the very best of the GAA. That sense of community pride, joy, energy and enthusiasm that permeates the organisation to the grass roots and is replicated week in and week out in club games across the country.

To those involved in clubs, those who stand on a cold wet January evening watching a McKenna Cup game, it is something natural. It is part of their DNA.

And because of that, they don’t always grasp the phenomenon that sweeps a county into a frenzy – but it happens anyway.

It happens because, whether we like it or not, our lives are more often than not shaped to a large degree by lines drawn on a map.

Where we’re born, where we grew up, where we live, have a huge bearing in our sense of identity.

We can travel – but we always measure travel, where we go and what we do – to home.

It is where we start out, and it is where we know we will always to some degree belong.

That’s what brought people from all over the world to Croke Park on Sunday to cheer on the team and it was that sense of home, that sense of family and community that made Sunday’s win such a memorable one.

It was highlighted not only by that wonderful McHugh embrace, or by the players’ children on the field at the end, but also by the hugs and sheer delight of family members and friends from all over Donegal meeting, often for the first time in ages, in such exciting and thrilling circumstances.

Family and friends were reunited on the most delightful of days and everyone with a drop of Donegal blood beamed and almost burst with pride.

This was more than just a football game. The people of Donegal had new pride and honour and we have a new family member.

Sam Maguire, we’re delighted to have you in Donegal. We’ll make you more than welcome.


14 thoughts on “almost a home county

  1. Glad they won – we used to huddle around the wireless as kids listening to a scratchy RTE transmission (Gloucestershire did not offer the best reception) willing Kerry onto glory which thankfully happened very often. My Dad was a nervous wreck during the games!

  2. ‘It is where we start out, and it is where we know we will always to some degree belong’, someone has stepped out into the beyond . Shhhhweeet!

    1. The photo and video clip are just fabulous- the father was on the last winning Donegal team and so it’s extra emotional. Across the country people were a little sniffly 🙂

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