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Year After Being Founded, Ulster's First LGBTQ+ GAA Club Is Thriving

Aeracha Uladh GAC at the Belfast Pride Parade. Picture credit: Twitter.com/AerachaUladh
By PJ Browne Updated
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It's well over a year now since the ball was thrown in at Aeracha Uladh GAC in Belfast, Ulster's first GAA club for the LGBTQ+ community.

We got the perspectives of three club members on the impact the club has had on their lives and their community.

Patrick, an artist and researcher, and Nuala, a scientific officer with the environmental agency, are both from Belfast, while Francis, who is originally from Tyrone, is an IT technician.

They came to the club from varying Gaelic games backgrounds, but have all arrived at the same place, one where Aeracha Uladh is a vital part of their lives.

When did you join the club?

Patrick: I joined at the end of January. I’d been following the Instagram page, and then they started training in Falls Park in West Belfast. Even that still didn’t push me. One day my friend was like, ‘I’m gonna join, you wanna come with me?’ And I was like, right, okay. And I haven't looked back.

I went to an all-boys school in the middle of west Belfast that is known for its Gaelic, and I couldn’t... I hated every minute of it. But over the years, as I got older, I kinda got more of an appreciation for it.

I work in a school as well. We have a lot of staff that play Gaelic. It was always one of those things that I was always aware of, but it never felt like it was for me, you know, growing up gay and queer, especially in West Belfast... GAA can be a very manly, hetero sport, and I just didn’t feel like it was for me.


Nuala: I joined last October. I didn’t really have that many friends in the LGBTQ community. I literally just messaged them on Instagram, and immediately they told me when the times and dates were.

I’m from West Belfast too, so Falls Park was perfect. I went to my first session thinking I would go, give it a try. I mean, I’m 35 now, I was 34 when I started. So, it was like trying to lower your life expectancy, taking on all these new sports when you’re not fit.

I literally went, and as soon as I had my first session I went and bought my first pair of Gaelic boots. So, I was hooked. It was great.


I’m just the same as Patrick. I went to an all-girls school in West Belfast, and we just didn’t play Gaelic. We played hockey and netball. But my brother (Sean Finch) played for Antrim, and loads of my family play Gaelic, and he was very much into Gaelic his whole life. So, I would have kicked a ball with him back when I was a kid, but apart from that I never would have played Gaelic at all.

Francis: I’m actually originally from Tyrone. Me and my boyfriend moved up to Lisburn. We heard on Instagram when the team actually started, I was there since the very first training session. I just always loved it.

I’m 30 now. The last I played was probably around nine or 10. Just like what Patrick said, there was that hetero feeling of basically every football team. I guess everyone wanted just football, football, and it kinda sickened me at that time. At the same time, my family was big into football, and my sister loved it. Even though she had a lot of injuries, she still would get back onto the field as much as she can. You can say it was driven in me, but at the same time, I do enjoy it.


That's what I love about the team, that it’s for everyone. We’re trying to make it as inclusive as possible, the best way possible, for trans and all, and people with ADHD or autism, to make that inclusive as best we can, to fit around everyone.

What has kept you coming back?

Patrick: It’s really hard to put into words how much I’ve learned, but it’s an amazing feeling. It makes you want go to the training every time. We have training twice a week, and I feel like even if you miss one day of training, you feel like you miss so much, just the craic everyone has with each other.


It’s just that sense of community within a really, really small community. You get to know everybody, everyone learns from each other. And we’re all mixed abilities as well, which is great.


I had been ignoring stretching in the gym. I went to run and my legs kinda gave out. The coach taught me how to kick a ball. I was never even taught that at school, the odd time that I did PE.

Working as a team is a big thing. We were doing drills, and you have to be aware of what’s happening around you. You’re picking up all these skills that you thought you had, but you didn’t really.

Nuala: You don’t really have a chance to hang about with 20 of your friends and do something fun twice a week after you get to a certain age.


What were you doing if you haven't played sport all your life? Now that you’ve joined a team and you have that team spirit, every day at training, like they said, it’s like, you’d miss such craic, you miss new skills, you miss what everyone’s doing. I went away on holiday, and I couldn’t stop texting Patrick to see what I was missing. It’s a great community. We just all blend.

What's the future of the club?

Patrick: I would actually love to see us have our own grounds and our own pitch. We’re very much in our baby steps here, but I do think there is a long-term goal for us to stick around. And I think we have the ability to do that. We have some great players. Some of our players may be putting on the years, but I think even for younger people that are coming in and joining the team, it’s great to see, and you can just see the enthusiasm. They just seem galvanized. We all seem galvanized with the team, and we really do believe that it will be here for a long time. And that's exciting, it’s really exciting.

Nuala: We’ve been here a year, and we’re only getting bigger. The training sessions, more and more people are coming. We just started membership. We have at least 30 or 40 of each team at the minute, GAA and LGFA, signed up for membership. I mean, that's incredible. And like Patrick said, I would like us in the future to obviously have our own grounds. I mean, even within a year to have our own jerseys. And hopefully, in the future, we’ll be ratified, and join leagues, and be able to play other teams. That's great for people who never picked up Gaelic football before, and for a brand new team. It’s come a long, long way in a year, and it can only get bigger and better.

Francis: The grounds would be helpful, and just somewhere, like a community hub, just for people to come and support the LGBTQ+ community, just so they have a safe space and all for that. And then, of course, people who have never seen the sport, people from different countries coming here, and they want to come and watch. So, we want that inclusive, just to help people who’ve never seen the sport, to actually push that out, to come see and be part of it.

Has the LGBTQ+ community in Belfast benefited from the club being established?

Francis: It gives people another way of meeting other queer people or similar people that doesn’t involve a bar, doesn’t involve drink. I think that people need that. They need that sense of community.

Belfast has basically two gay bars, and that's it. And I think it’s great for people to be able just to say, ‘Well, I don’t really drink, and I don’t like that kind of nightlife lifestyle. I want do something more active.’

We’ve seen a lot of people that come and join us. Even the past couple of weeks. We’re having people from Portugal and Australia that are living in Belfast join our club. Just recently, with an Australian girl, her partner is from Belfast, and she has no friends or family here. She wanted to come and meet people. We’re all different ages, we’re all different paths in life, but we all came together here, and no one ever feels like an outsider, which I think is amazing.

24 June 2023; An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD and GPA president Dónal Óg Cusack speak with members of Na Gaeil Aeracha GAA Club during a Gaelic Games Pride Breakfast at Croke Park, celebrating inclusive Gaelic Games, hosted by the GPA, LGFA, Camogie & GAA. Over 100 inter-county and club players gathered together at Croke Park ahead of the Dublin Pride Parade. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Nuala: We were recently invited by The Rainbow Project, and a couple of the councillors there were saying that when people come to them for different reasons, be it for their mental health or different ongoing things in their life, they now have an entire range of things to suggest to them, that are LGBTQ+. So, they have a soccer team, a running team, they have our Gaelic team. They're always recommending us.

We do a lot of activities that are outside Gaelic. We would go for runs, and organise camping trips. We’re going to attend Belfast Pride and walk in the parades.

Patrick: I haven't really spoken about it. I'm from Belfast but it’s hard to feel like, well... I don’t know what it means to be Irish because this idea of Ireland, Irishness, is long before I was born.

I think now, I feel I have a sense of Irishness more so. I can play my own national sport. I might play it badly, but for me, that is an amazing thing, especially when we talk about inclusivity, and maybe how the GAA wasn’t as inclusive in the past. But to be able to have that and say that is just absolutely fantastic, and it means a lot to me, honestly.

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