At the start of February, the Cologne Celtics Gaelic Sports Club received a formal invitation from the organisers of the Monheimer Frühlingsfest to attend the event and present Gaelic Sports to the people of Monheim.
On Sunday, 27th March, the event took place in delightful sunshine on a surprisingly warm day. Tom, Malte, Santiago, Ute and Oisín went to Monheim to represent the Cologne Celtics. They had a successful day chatting to the locals and provided hurling and Gaelic football demonstrations to those who indicated interest.
Many people there were fascinated by the unusual-shaped hurleys and came over to chat with us and play some hurling and Gaelic football. Some of the children who joined in, and practised roll-lifts and jab lifts, found it difficult to leave the hurleys and sliotars behind them! We handed out many flyers with our contact details, and many people left with more knowledge of Gaelic sports than before talking to us.
Monheim am Rhein
Monheim am Rhein is a small city situated on the Rhein between Cologne and Düsseldorf. In fact, it presents itself as a neutral territory between the two major Rheinland rivals – a city where its residents can drink either Altbier or Kölsch! Its history goes back to Roman times, and the official mention of Monheim was first documented over 800 years ago. The city of Monheim has grown significantly in recent decades and now has a population of around 43,000.
The city prides itself as „the Children’s Capital“, a place where young families can raise their children with „the best possible opportunities for the future“. This idea has clearly worked as there were children everywhere during the Frühlingsfest and with many sports clubs present at the event – including rock climbing, table tennis, tennis, football, chess and boxing – the children of Monheim clearly have a multitude of sporting options!
The Monheimer Frühlingsfest takes place each year (although the Coronavirus Pandemic has prevented that these last two years – 2020 and 2021), and each year they have one country as the festival’s focus. Luckily for us, this year’s focus was Ireland! The Cologne Celtics were not the only „Irish-focused“ group at the festival, as the Irlandfreunde Leverkusen e.V. and an Irish dancing group from Hennef were also present.
Meeting the Irish Ambassador
Our day began just after 10a.m. in Monheim as we set up our stall. We had a couple of hurleys, sliotars, footballs, a helmet and books about Gaelic games ready on our table, alongside an Irish flag, some posters of the team and some flyers with our information. We were ready for our visitors!
One of our first visitors was the Irish Ambassador, Dr. Nicholas O’Brien, who came to chat with us. He was the guest of honour at the festival, so we were delighted and honoured to have him seek us out and discuss all sorts of topics with us. We chatted about the growth of GAA in Germany, his experience as ambassador and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Berlin and Munich, among other topics. We had the opportunity to take some photos with him and wish him luck with the rest of the festivities in Monheim.
This experience put Santiago’s Cologne adventures into context. He arrived in Cologne at the start of March and joined up with us during his first week here. Since then, he has played in the German Hurling Cup, joined us for our St. Patrick’s Day night out, is going to the German Football Cup in Augsburg and the first round of the European Gaelic Football tournament in Maastricht and has met the Irish Ambassador to Germany. That is not bad for his first month of living in Germany!
The Sights and Sounds of the Monheimer Frühlingsfest
The Frühlingsfest was a special occasion! It was a great way to spend a Sunday with food stalls and sporting clubs out in strength! The crowd was a mix of local Monheimers and „Ireland-fans“ in the surrounding area.
The Ireland theme of the festival was clearly on display with an Irish dancing bonanza provided by a local Irish dancing crew. The sounds of the reel were a reminder of Céilís back home, and the dancers were undoubtedly well-prepared. They received a tremendous reception from the watching audience! As well as Irish-related clubs and groups, Irish burgers and pulled pork were available from some of the stalls, and the Europa-Union Deutschland e.V. had a stall with information all about Ireland. There were plenty of green, white and orange flags and banners all over the main street; it almost felt like a Saint Patrick’s Day market!
The Irlandfreunde Leverkusen e.V. provided one of the festival’s highlights as they staged a musical march down through the centre of the festival. With the bagpipes ringing and the drums beating, their members (dressed in kilts) looked like a troop ready to join Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden! This comparison was helped by the remarkable resemblance of one of their members to the character of Murtagh Fraser from the television series „Outlander“… We were half-tempted to question him regarding the location of time-travel standing stones in the Rheinland…
However, it was not all about Ireland as the festival also had a stall that sold kilts, Scotch whisky, Scotland-themed caps and anything and everything else related to Scotland, and a fudge stall with Union flags flying high. Our neighbours wouldn’t want to be left out of the festivities!
Meeting the Monheimer Locals
For our first Frühlingsfest, demonstrating our little-known sports (in Germany), we chatted to many people – and people of all ages! Some people were „Ireland fans“ who had been in Ireland a couple of times, so they had some experience or knowledge of the sports, whereas others had no idea about them. Some of the „Ireland fans“ had stories about seeing enormous crowds in Dublin for GAA matches and then discussing the phenomenon with local taxi drivers. They were fascinated to see a Gaelic Sports Club in the Rheinland.
Generally, our audience consisted of families with young children and older locals. Unfortunately, neither of them are exactly our target group at this moment. However, we had a great time interacting with everyone who wanted to talk to us. Some of the children who came over did not want to leave, and they had to be dragged away from the hurley, sliotar and Gaelic footballs! Everyone who demonstrated interest received a flyer with our contact details and more information about our club.
We have a couple of steps to take as a club before we can start a youth section, but this Monheimer experience was a good example of how there is potential to get people interested in our games. It won’t be too long before the underage Celts are playing our traditional games on the fields of the Rheinland and further afield.
A Positive Experience for the Celts
We learned a lot from this experience, and we are grateful to the organisers for inviting us to the event. Hopefully, the Monheimer Frühlingsfest will not be the only opportunity we get to showcase our sports to a broader audience in such a public setting.
The day opened our eyes to potential marketing strategies we can use to get more people in the local area interested in our sports and club. Other clubs also showed ways to get people to interact with their sports at a stall, and we can learn from them and improve that for whenever we get to host a stall in the future. Overall, this was a very positive experience for the Cologne Celtics Gaelic Sports Club.
If you would like to join the Cologne Celtics Gaelic Sports Club or come to a training session and try out either Gaelic football or hurling, please contact us. We are always looking for new members – with or without experience – and we have male and female teams. The social aspect of the club is just as important as what happens on the pitch.
If you are involved with organising events, such as Frühlingsfeste, in the Rheinland and would like to know more about our Gaelic Sports, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We always welcome the opportunity to introduce more people to GAA and the world of Gaelic Sports.