The news has filtered through that our former chairperson Stephen O’Rourke is moving to Berlin and leaving our fair Domstadt on the Rhein. Stephen has been essential to the growth and development of the Cologne Celtics, and in this post, several of our club members came together to write about him.
Please note this is not an obituary – moving to Berlin is not quite that bad – and we expect Stephen to remain involved with the club whenever he finds himself back in Cologne. The Celtics will always be there for him. However, as he sets off for his next adventure, we know he won’t have the time to dedicate to driving on the club as he once did. Our club members decided to honour and respect his enormous contribution to our club.
Our unenviable task is to write a post about your contribution to the club over the years… Where to even commence with describing Stephen’s work? How can you summarise it? This message was meant to be a social media post, but we quickly realised that a short Instagram note would not suffice or even scratch the surface of what Stephen has been for the Celtics.
Simply put, without Stephen and his hours of dedication, the Cologne Celtics GAA Club would not be where it is today. He came to Cologne in April 2017 and got stuck into the club with the aim of bringing it forward to achieve its full potential. With his vision, enthusiasm, and boundless energy, he brought the club to a new level of organisation and over time, our horizons expanded.
My first interaction with Stephen was on Facebook. I knew I would be moving to Bonn soon and, at some stage, found the Cologne Celtics GAA’s very active FB page. As I was finishing my drawn-out master’s program, I’d often see pictures of the craic and joy emanating from the photos they had started posting online of the training sessions etc., and I wanted to get involved.
Upon moving to Bonn, I eventually got in contact, and Stephen wrote back. I was considering calling down in a few weeks’ time, but his response was – „We’d be delighted to see you at training – all welcome regardless of experience! Hop on the train and drop up tonight, sure – UniSport Köln Zülpicher Wall 1 @7pm. We have all the equipment 🙂 . Here’s my number…“. The warm and welcoming message was such that I said, yes, I’ll just do it. If the response had been less prompt and enthusiastic, it might have been a few more weeks before I jumped into it. After that first session, I was welcomed with open arms and immediately felt part of the team and club; the rest is history.
A couple of months after attending my first session, I joined the club committee (at Stephen’s suggestion) as the club’s first Irish Language and Cultural Officer, and there I could get a closer look at his work for the club. His fingerprints were everywhere. A recommendation here, an idea there, a brainwave about something else… there was always something… a new way to promote the club, bring in new members, and just have some fun – new projects to get involved with.
He was always welcoming of suggestions, and there were never bad ideas, just ones that needed more flesh on them so that we could debate them. We worked together to deliver a couple of Pop-Up Gaeltachts and then put in the skeleton of what eventually became our first club trip to Cork/Ireland… In fact, we were gung-ho for what looked like it would be our biggest year ever (and for that Cork trip) and then Covid came…
Covid was, of course, a difficult time for all of us, and it also made all of us slow down and re-evaluate our lives and priorities. Stephen had stretched himself quite a lot in his commitment to the club and could also see that focusing on getting more sponsors and companies involved would be crucial to our future and further growth, especially following the challenges of Covid. He decided to step back from the role of club chairperson and approached me about succeeding him. He became the club’s first (and, so far, only) Commercial & Partnership Director so that he could focus his energies on bringing in sponsors.
I was a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of succeeding Stephen, having witnessed everything he had put into that position… how could I live up to that? However, he was always encouraging, there to listen and fully supportive. In his new role, he brought two new partners on board (Irishify and O’Reillys) and approached countless other companies and bodies, promoting the Celtics whenever he could.
Due to work commitments and family life – Stephen is a relatively recently married man – his involvement with the Celtics has understandably decreased in recent months and years. After a couple of years as club secretary, chairperson and Commercial & Partnership Director, he stepped back from the club committee at the end of 2021.
The almost tragedy of it is that as his own involvement with the Celtics has decreased, his hours of committed and often unseen work are now really paying off, and the club has grown significantly. It is further on the road to reaching the potential that he saw it could. We, on the committee and in the club generally, have stood on his shoulders, built on his work and learned from his example to grow the club to even greater heights.
There is something quintessentially „GAA“ about the fact that as we have now benefited from a flood of new members in the last 18 months or thereabouts, there are many who may not have ever met Stephen or know how much he has influenced the club.
When I joined the Celtics in 2018, the club was in its very early development stages. This was a time before there was any differentiation of roles and positions, and Stephen was essentially every position in the club! In 2018, we had a „big“ club equipment order, and we ordered about 8 hurleys!! Different times…Frank O’Connor – Cologne Celtics Hurling Officer
The best thing about Stephen in those days was his pure refusal to recognise any limitations, and he treated the Celtics like it was a serious club, and not just a few lads pucking around in a park. His refusal to see limits essentially willed the Cologne Celtics into existence.
He strongly advocated attending tournaments, even if it was just two or three of us going, he promoted us constantly with businesses, potential sponsors and on social media, and he was always on the look out for new players. Anyone could be a potential future hurler or footballer. Stephen is a one-of-a-kind person, and we were lucky to have him in our club. Best of luck, Stephen!
After being the driving force of the original plan to have a club trip to Cork, he was unable to go on it when we went in October 2022, and despite putting so much effort into player recruitment and retention, he was not there when we won our first German Hurling and Camogie Cups in March 2022. When he spoke about going to Cork to play against Cork GAA royalty in the shape of St. Finbarr’s, I will admit I thought he was way ahead of himself, but sometimes seeing something bigger can bring about unexpected results.
The Celtics have gone from a handful of hardy bucks playing on a field in Nippes to regularly sending teams around Europe, competing and winning against more established clubs, and even having enough players for two male teams and a camogie team at home tournaments. The German Cup 2022 saw almost 30 male players and a full camogie team take to the field representing Cologne. This year we plan to launch our youth section, cementing our place as a sports club in Cologne. All of these steps bring us closer to achieving what Stephen saw when he started with the club.
Again, typical of the GAA, Stephen wouldn’t want or ask for the credit for his work; I’m sure he never did it looking for glory, but now we have this opportunity to honour his impact. From everyone at the Celtics, “go raibh mile maith agat, a Stiofán” for your enormous contribution and “go n-éirí leat” with the new Berlin adventure! Seeing where our club is today, and how even as it has developed, it has retained that original welcoming and open approach to new members… these aspects and so much more are part of your legacy.
Stephen, whenever you find yourself in the Domstadt, the Cologne Celtics will always welcome you with open arms to train, play and contribute in any other means you like.
Go n-éirí leat, mate!
Oisín O’Mahony, PRO
I also came to the club because of him. It all started with a message from him on Facebook: „Hi, Lea! I hope you don’t mind my reaching out – I’ve seen you interacting with our posts on the Cologne Celtics GAA Club Facebook page, and I wanted to see if you’re interested in coming along and trying out the sports? We’d be delighted to see you! 🙂Cheers, Stephen“ Simple and very effective, one has to say.
I didn’t have much experience with team sports from childhood or school times, let alone field sports, so I was a bit reluctant to join in. However, I had spent time in Ireland, really loved it there, and genuinely wanted to know what Camogie was like.
One of the first things I did for the club was get involved with an interview for the University of Cologne’s Universitätsmagazin. Stephen was always trying to bring the club to the attention of news and media platforms, and it resulted in this interview with that magazine:
Stephen just brought me along for it, despite the fact that I hadn’t been involved with the Celtics for very long, and it integrated me immediately. He gave me the feeling of belonging to the club right from the first day, which was amazing. His engaging and welcoming nature is one of a kind.
I remember the times, when the Celts training involved four people playing in the park, and there were 19 members in the Whatsapp group. However, thanks to Stephen, we got a massive increase in numbers and visibility. When everyone wanted to leave the pitch after training, Stephen called them back – not for a warm-down – for the social media picture! He was always thinking ahead.
We joined the Uni-Sport, engaged with the Cork-Cologne-twinning-association and attracted more and more players! We also started Gaelic Football training and competed in our first games against our rival from Dusseldorf.
I was only involved for 9 months in 2019 with the club, but when I left, Stephen gave me (as a business student that time) one of his books as a present – GAAconomics! It’s still sitting in my shelf and reminds me of my great time with the Celts!Florian Kreitz
Another idea of his that comes to mind is the „#SpreadKölschNotCorona“ campaign that he launched in the opening weeks of the Covid pandemic.
Thinking back to those times in March/April 2020 when it appeared like the world was in a really difficult place and our own social structures were collapsing, that campaign was a brilliant way to keep us all together. We could easily have lost contact as there were no training sessions or in-person social events, but that campaign was something that kept us connected.
The Cologne Celtics are thriving today, going from strength to strength. However, none of this would be possible without the contribution Stephen made in the early days.
I remember going to training to practice with about 4 members… now we have over 60 members, and more structure in the club, including a Healthy Club Officer role which I proudly held. So, thanks for everything, Steo and good luck in Berlin!Tom Lacey
Thank you for everything that you’ve accomplished so far for the Celtics, Stephen. We really appreciate it.
Best of luck in Berlin,
Lea Janßen, Cologne Celtics Club Secretary
Stephen O’Rourke is a true legend of German GAA, and his impact cannot be underestimated.
He has played a crucial role in setting up Dresden GAA and Hamburg GAA, and has been a catalyst for the development of the Cologne Celtics. We would not be surprised to hear about him establishing a third Berlin club to rival Setanta Berlin and Berlin GAA if he gets some time to do it. He has shown that really anything is possible if you have the time, energy, imagination and the right people around you.
Stephen is an example all of us can follow – a true GAA-person in every meaning of the word.
Top Image: Stephen being interviewed for Ireland’s Newstalk Radio station in 2019.