GAA President welcomes Queen to Croke Park

GAA President Christy Cooney welcomed Queen Elizabeth to Croke Park today in what was another history-making leg of the British monarch's trip to Ireland.

Christy Cooney and GAA Director General Paraic Duffy greeted the Queen and Prince Philip, along with President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin at the Jones's Road entrance to Croke Park shortly after 3pm.

"Your Majesty, on behalf of the members of the Gaelic Athletic Association throughout Ireland and across the world, I am delighted to welcome you to our headquarters at Croke Park," stated Cooney.

Inter-county footballers Kevin Nolan (Dublin), Joe Sheridan (Meath) and Tipperary hurlers Lar Corbett and Padraic Maher were among those who met with the Queen in the dressing room area of the Hogan Stand, with Cooney explaining to the Queen that the players were representatives of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA).

The Queen expressed great interest in particular in hurling, asking Corbett when he started playing the sport. She also enquired about the comparisons between hurling and the Scottish sport of shinty.

Prince Philip was presented with a hurley and sliotar, while both the Queen and the Prince were shown each of the county jerseys which hung in the dressing room representing the 32 counties, as well as London and New York.

As the party emerged onto the world famous pitch, a video demonstration was shown on the big screen explaining the history of the association and the skills of hurling and football.

Later in his address, Cooney outlined the history of the GAA. "On November 1, 1884, a small group of visionary Irishmen, profoundly imbued with a spirit of national regeneration, formed our Association.

"The Gaelic Athletic Association was soon to become the largest organisation in Ireland, sporting or otherwise, and one moreover that, as its founding fathers envisaged, has consistently embodied the mood of the nation, culturally, socially and politically."

Cooney also outlined the voluntary ethos of the GAA, stating: "The Gaelic Athletic Association is deeply rooted in communities in every corner of Ireland, north and south, and throughout the world - above all in Britain - wherever Irish people have made their homes.

"Our ethos is proudly voluntary and amateur, but at the pinnacle our teams and players thrill huge crowds with their skill, courage and commitment.

"The Gaelic Athletic Association offers unrivalled social and sporting opportunities to boys and girls at all levels of talent. We are proud of this vast modern stadium, built mainly through the efforts of our members, and our newly upgraded Museum conveys an exciting sense of our history but also of our present.

"One of those present at the foundation of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884 was a man named J.K. Bracken whose son Brendan went on to be a significant presence in the life of the United Kingdom - as founder of the Financial Times newspaper, one of Winston Churchill’s closest friends, and as Minister for Information during the Second World War.

"This is just one example of the interlinked personal relationships between these islands which have individually and collectively enriched us all in both directions over so many years, and continue to do so today.

"We also know that in our shared history there have been many tragic events which have inflicted hurt on us all. While acknowledging the significance of the past and honouring all those that have lost their lives, including those that died in this place, the Gaelic Athletic Association has consistently supported and helped advance the peace process in Northern Ireland.

"In particular, we have encouraged the reconciliation and mutual understanding which have so successfully flowed from the Good Friday Agreement and its endorsement in referenda by the people of Ireland, north and south.

"Your Majesty's state visit, at the invitation of President McAleese, will result in a further important underpinning and advancement of this process, which I firmly believe is now irreversible.

"I was of course deeply saddened to attend last month, on behalf of the Gaelic Athletic Association, the tragic funeral of our murdered young member from County Tyrone, PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr.

"I was also very heartened by the utter and united determination of people and political leaders across the island, and across the whole community, to stand together against violence and hatred.

"The Gaelic Athletic Association for its part will continue to try and build new relationships and to reach out in particular to members of the Unionist community."

Cooney concluded: "Today above all, it is in a positive spirit that we welcome your Majesty and your Royal Highness to Croke Park. Your presence does honour to our Association, to its special place in Irish life, and to its hundreds of thousands of members. Today will go down in the history of the Gaelic Athletic Association."

The Queen, who was treated to performances by the Artane Band and an Irish dancing troup, was also presented with a copy of a limited edition version of 'The GAA - A People's History' book, which was specially commissioned to celebrate the 125th anniversary in 2009.

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