This paper examines the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Gaelic games and their media representation in Ireland. Unique to Ireland and the Irish diaspora globally, Gaelic games dominate the Irish team game landscape, both in terms of participation and mass spectatorship. The paper highlights a tension in media representations that endured and manifested in various ways in the period covered: from March 12th (when the Irish government announced the lockdown confirming the suspension of Gaelic games fixtures) and December 19th 2020, the date of the All-Ireland Gaelic football final, the conclusion of major elite level inter-county competitions in Gaelic Games. On the one hand there was an emphasis on the exceptional contribution of the Association and its members to Irish society. Unusually, by international standards, the GAA maintains an amateur ethos, such that even its elite level players are employed across, and thus represent, every sphere of Irish society. In the early phase of the lockdown the GAA featured strongly in a rhetorical discourse of national overcoming, through collective will, of the challenges posed by the virus to everyday life and sociality in Ireland. There was a strong emphasis on the members involvement in voluntary charitable activities in assisting isolated elderly people, or in specific causes. These were depicted as both ends in themselves and indicative of a native sense of community and mutuality. When a further lockdown was imposed in early winter as virus incidence grew, the staging of the inter-county GAA championships was justified on the basis of their contribution to national morale and their coincidence with the centenary commemorations of key events in the Irish War of Independence, with which the GAA is closely linked.
On the other hand, media coverage of Gaelic games connected with how the pandemic served as an exposing force (Mullally 2020) that highlighted hitherto neglected weaknesses and inequalities in other areas of Irish society (crucially, for example, a seriously under-resourced public health system after decades of neoliberal government, and virus super-spreading events in private care homes, in industries dependent on inadequately protected migrant workers, and in cramped direct provision centres for asylum seekers). Much as with national politics, the pandemic has also been an exposing force for both the uniqueness and strength of Gaelic games in Ireland, and their (perhaps related) vulnerabilities. Drawing on methods in critical discourse analysis this paper identifies seven thematic strands and patterns of dialogical engagement within clusters of selected national and local print, broadcast and related social media threads at key moments in the unfolding crisis for the GAA and its participants. These themes include
The rhetoric of collective overcoming.
An emphasis on GAA members' contribution, as workers, in frontline services, and community voluntarism.
A tension between this optimistic, future orientated rhetoric, and evidence of the horrendous financial impact on the GAA.
Tensions between the GAAs so-called 'runaway train' elite, quasi-professional inter-county level (despite its official amateur status) and the local club level
Concerns regarding undisciplined post-match celebrations when club competitions resumed.
Recuperation of cultural status in Winter 2020 through (a) the centenary commemoration of Bloody Sunday in November and (b) the rescheduled elite inter-county championships
However, the foregrounding of the men's inter-county championships in the Autumn television schedules implicitly reproduced a gendered hierarchy within Gaelic games