London’s Irish Exiles Turn Failing Economy Into Sporting Success

London’s Irish Exiles Turn Failing Economy Into Sporting Success

Ireland’s troubles are London’s opportunity, at least when it comes to Gaelic football.

The U.K. capital’s team will play Leitrim in the semifinal of the Connacht Championship next month after winning its first game in the competition since 1977. The tournament is a gateway into the All-Ireland Championship, which will climax in September with a final in front of 80,000 people in Dublin. Most of the 15-man group arrived in London during the last four years, many as a result of Ireland’s near financial collapse, said Declan Flanagan, a spokesman for the club.

“We have definitely seen an upsurge,” said Flanagan, originally from Monaghan in the northeast of Ireland. “The economic downturn has had a significant impact. We’ve seen a lot more professional, better-educated guys arrive.”

The exodus follows the implosion of Ireland’s real-estate bubble, which plunged the country into its worst recession on record. In all, about 300,000 people left the country of 4.6 million in the four years through April 2012, according to the country’s statistical office. Many are devotees of Gaelic football, which is a cross between soccer, rugby and basketball.Leitrim, from the northwest of Ireland, represents the other side of the coin, losing as many as half its squad to emigration last year, said Diarmuid Sweeney, who chairs the board that runs Leitrim’s Gaelic games.

“It was a problem for us, like for every parish in Ireland,” Sweeney said.

Glasgow Celtic

Much of Ireland’s history has been marked by emigration, and that’s left an impression on the sporting landscape across the Irish Sea. In 1888, Brother Walfrid, a Marist catholic, founded Celtic Football Club in Glasgow, while migrants formed London Irish rugby club a decade later.

After a respite during the nation’s Celtic Tiger economy, the outflow of people has resumed as unemployment rose to 15 percent. While many head to the U.S., Australia and Canada, about 67,000 people have moved to the U.K. from Ireland over the last four years, according to the statistics office.

The influx is benefiting the Gaelic clubs in the U.K. capital, which number about 30. In all, they have about 3,000 members, and the best players from each club make up the London side, which plays at Ruislip in the northwest of the city.

“Before the crash, we would have 18 or 19 people out training,” said Flanagan. “Now it’s 26 to 30 people.”

Founded in 1884, the Gaelic Athletic Association’s aim is to strengthen the country’s national identity by promoting Gaelic football and hurling, another 15-a-side game and similar to a combination of field hockey and lacrosse.


The games have spread across the world, from the skyscrapers in Hong Kong to the beaches of the Cayman Islands. Some 80 clubs have mushroomed in the U.S., while the Cayman outfit has about 170 members, the GAA’s website shows.

Renewed off-the-field strength is now translating into success on the field. London beat Sligo by a single point at the ground in Ruislip. London, along with New York, plays in the Connacht championship in addition to the four Ireland-based sides. The next assignment comes on June 23, as the club travels to the town of Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim, a district struggling with the effects of the exodus.

Leitrim lost 14 players last year, manager Barney Breen said in a January interview with state broadcaster RTE, adding the squad had been “absolutely obliterated.”

Breen pleaded for employers to find jobs for six other players contemplating departing. Some had banking qualifications, while others had finance and engineering degrees. The plea worked, and jobs were found.

“There is a danger the wave of emigration could happen again,” said Sweeney. “But it looks like it’s petering out. There are still guys going, but not as many.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Dara Doyle in Dublin at

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Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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