Sports promotion and the construction of ‘Irish’ identity: Nationalism, social exclusion and the Gaelic Athletic Association

Thursday 18 May 2023

Somerville, Ian, David Mitchell, and Owen Hargie. In Public relations, society and the generative power of history, pp. 173-189. Routledge, 2019.


This article examines the role that the popular Irish sporting organization, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), played in the construction of an Irish identity and promotion of ‘Irishness’ during the Gaelic Revival and early years of the Free State. Somerville, Mitchell and Hargie engage with the effects of the GAA’s ideology and message on both sides of the North-South divide, examining the links between the organization and the Catholic Church, and by extension, its status as a symbol of Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland. They also consider the GAA’s use of history to create national myths of ‘Irishness’ in the Republic. As Ireland’s largest sporting body with over 2,200 clubs nationwide, the GAA is a staple of everyday life for millions of Irish people and plays an important part in the sense of Irish national identity. However, as this paper shows, the GAA’s ideology and message can be exclusionary, deepening divides in communities affected by sectarianism in Northern Ireland, thus highlighting the influence which cultural practices in the Republic exert on tensions in the North. 

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