Meet the Celtics: Gareth Houston

Gareth Houston

In our interview series we take the time to get to know our players and members and get a little insight into their lives. We find out about their experiences of Gaelic football and hurling, how they came to the sports, their experience with the Celtics, life in Germany and in particular about life in our „Domstadt“. As well as that we look to discover any cultural misunderstandings or differences they have felt and the vital questions such as the best place to get a cold Guinness.

Meet Gareth from Antrim, a dear team member and since November 2020 committee member and „Cultural Officer“ of the Cologne Celtics.

What brought you to Germany?

I came here in 2018 to continue studying music with the flute professor at the music Hochschule. For us orchestral musicians, Germany is our Mecca. There are so many professional orchestras and operas here, and the flute professor in Cologne, Robert Winn, is one of the most sought after in Europe. I was studying in Paris before, and traveled here for some lessons with him about once a month before he offered me a spot in his class, so that was it, I moved straight over!

How would you describe your life in Germany?

So far it’s been great! It took me a little while to feel settled here, it’s a world apart from where I’ve lived before, especially Paris. Everything works here, and everyone is on time, and that took a bit time to get used to. For the first few months I was spending almost all my time either studying music or going to watch orchestras, so I didn’t get much time for anything else. However, after joining the GAA club, I started to get more of a social life again, and I haven’t looked back since.

My rent is very affordable, and my general standard of living here is quite high. Everything feels very settled and organized, and it’s given me a great sense of stability, which is hard to find as a freelance musician!

What differences exist between Germany and Ireland? What has stood out most?

The biggest difference I’ve noticed is the attitude towards the arts, particularly as a profession. In Ireland, the general consensus feels to me that the lines between doing art as a hobby and being a professional artist are quite blurred. When I told someone I was an orchestral musician back home, I’d get one of two reactions. Either they’d ask what my “real” job was aside from that, or they’d view me as some kind of eccentric, crazy artist type.

Here in Germany, working in the arts is viewed as a job, just like any other, especially in music. There are currently 221 full-time orchestras in Germany, compared to Ireland’s 3, so it’s a pretty common profession comparatively speaking. There’s a great sense of comfort knowing I never have to justify my career to anyone here, which I’ve really enjoyed.

Aside from that, public transport is light years ahead of Ireland in Germany.

What does the Cologne Celtics GAA club mean to you?

The Celtics have been a pretty huge part of my life since I came to Cologne. I’d never played GAA before in my life, and I knew almost nothing about it in general, so the club has given me a passion for it. Spending time every week with some lads and ladies who really know their GAA folklore has been loads of fun for me, and now I’m watching games myself and keeping my finger on the pulse in that world.

But more significantly than that, the Celtics have given me a social life, which I initially struggled to find here. Classical musicians are a fickle bunch, with a lot of ego (yours truly excluded) and finding the club gave me a whole new group of friends that I have much more in common with. I’ve made some very close friendships in my short time with them, so that’s what the Cologne Celtics ultimately mean to me.

How would you describe the GAA scene in Germany? And in Europe?

Again I’m quite new to the GAA, so I’m not in a place to make comparisons with the GAA in Ireland, but the thing that struck me most here was that the primary goal of the European GAA is to promote the sport and the values, even ahead of winning. So the craic with the other teams that we’ve played has been immense, as everyone has this desire to make friendships and bonds with each other. Don’t get me wrong, the games are highly competitive, but being able to hang out with the other teams afterwards and explore the other cities we play in with them has been something I’ve found fantastic.

Which is your preferred sport – Hurling or Gaelic Football? Why?

It has to be hurling for me. Granted, for a beginner it takes longer to get the hang of, but watching it is exhilarating. I’ve never seen such a fast and skillful sport before, it’s really something special. Even watching it on TV, there’s never a dull moment.

(Also my County, Antrim, have a pretty decent hurling side right now, and a dire football one.)

Did you play GAA back in Ireland?

I’m from a town called Lisburn, just outside of Belfast in the North of Ireland, which is almost uniquely Protestant. In the North, Protestant schools ban GAA on their grounds, and there’s not a single GAA club in Lisburn. So I never even got to see a GAA match until I left Ireland, it was a world apart from us there. The only sports I ever played were soccer and rugby (with the odd bit of cricket in the summer), as protestant culture in the North will only allow “British” sports.

What are your hopes for the Cologne Celtics club going into the future?

In the short time I’ve been at the club (just over a year) I’ve seen the numbers at training and social events probably treble! The growth in that time has been staggering, the club is almost unrecognizable from where it was a year ago. So my priority would be to see this continue, with more numbers and more creative events off the field.

However, I’d love to see us start to win some more matches and become a more competitive side too, especially in hurling where there really seems to be some momentum now at the club.

How’s your German?

It’s very slowly but surely getting there. My professor here is English, so I’ve been studying in English, and all my teaching work has either been in English or in French, so I haven’t had the urgency I had before to learn the language. Also, the lingua franca in orchestral playing is either English, French or Italian (even often in Germany.)

 But since the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve had a bit more time on my hands and I’m using it to really push my German on. I really believe that a country’s language is the key to really grasping their culture and psyche, so I’m using this as my motivation to develop it further.

Any funny stories / observations about Germany you can share?

I have a mountain of them, but I couldn’t get away with sharing them publicly. Take me out for a pint and I’ll spill the beans. 

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