Hurling, emigration and ice hockey – The history of the GAA in Canada

John O’Flynn is the current secretary of the Canadian GAA County Board, and has literally wrote the book on the history of the GAA in Canada.

John kindly took to the time to chat to World Irish about his own story, the history of Gaelic Games in Canada, its connection with ice hockey, and his thoughts on the new wave of Irish emigrants arriving in Vancouver.

His father, Thomas O’Flynn (Kilmeedy, Co Limerick), first came to Toronto in 1953, and my late mother, Elizabeth (nee O’Keeffe) (Duagh, Co Kerry), arrived together as a married couple in 1962 to British Columbia. I was born in 1964, the oldest of four in the family.

His parents introduced him to Ireland’s national games of Gaelic football and hurling with the members of the Vancouver Irish Sporting and Social Club (1974). He had the opportunity to represent the club and play Gaelic football in two North American County Board Championships: 1984 Boston and 1985 Chicago.

I attended the founding meeting in Toronto of the Canadian County Board of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1987 and currently serve as its secretary. I have presented workshops on Gaelic football to teachers and summer camps that introduce the games to youth. I have served as a referee in both minor and adult games in the United States and Canada.

The history of the GAA in Canada – The inspiration behind ice hockey?

The history of Gaelic games in Canada, before the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland in 1884 and in the years since, prove a determination by Irish immigrants who have arrived in numerous provinces of Canada.

Many argue with some conviction, and with no small amount of fact to support their case, that Canada’s national sport, ice hockey, has its origins in hurling. The word puck is derived from the Irish word ‘poc’, which is the action of striking the ball with a hurley.

In 1845, the civic fathers of Quebec City banned the playing of hurling in their narrow streets, while in St. John’s, Newfoundland, hurling was being played as early as 1788 at the “Barrens” of the city.


Joseph Patrick Ryan

An 1884 founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland, Joseph Patrick Ryan, is remembered as a brilliant solicitor and barrister who was interested in everything and everyone and could never refuse to help a needy case, even though, as was so often in those impoverished times, his clients could only pay him through barter.

It would appear that this trait resulted in him having to emigrate to Canada to make ends meet, but having reached British Columbia, his zest for life knew no bounds. It is only recently that the details of his extraordinary life there have been revealed and we have been amazed to discover his diverse career as a journalist, geologist and politician as well as barrister, judge and a leading citizen of his new town of Cranbrook.

His attendance at the first meeting of the GAA and his membership of the first committee set up to foster Gaelic athletics, football and hurling is typical of Joseph Ryan, that he was active in the campaign. Throughout his life he supported causes that tried to improve life for the communities in which he found himself and this would have been his interest in the GAA movement.