CHAMPIONS The Taiwan Celts team pictured being presented with the 2018 Mens Junior Cup at the 2018 Asian GAA Games in Bangkok. Pic: Seán Carless Photography
Two Mayo men are centrally involved in the only GAA club in Taiwan
While they reckon they are the only Mayo people in Taiwan, Shane Kelly from Brickens and Chris Walshe from Crossmolina can tell you a fair bit about the reach of the Irish.
Before Walshe was in Taiwan, he was based in Shanghai in China and was struggling to learn Chinese because there were too many Irish there.
He takes up the story: “When I was living in Shanghai in 2011 I was in an Irish bar with friends telling lads how I had to get out of there because there were too many Irish in Shanghai and I would never learn any proper Chinese if I stayed there.
“An English girl I knew had moved up to Dalian in the north east to study and she told me even though it was a very old school Chinese communist city right next to North Korea, and the temperatures go as low as -40 in winter, it’s a great place to learn Chinese because the accent there is not strong and there was very little English spoken.
“I decided to go for it and found a school and place to stay to go up and study for six months. I was up there three days when I bumped into a lad from Limerick in a shop. He told me that when the Intel plant shut down in Limerick loads of their Irish workers relocated to Dalian and there were 120 of them living in the city and they had three GAA teams, training was at 10am on Saturday and don’t be late. Not much Chinese was learnt that year,” recalls Walshe.
It was no surprise that both men were drawn to the island’s only GAA club, Taiwan Celts, based in the capital Taipei. Established in 1995, it is the oldest GAA club in Asia and plans to mark the 25th anniversary are at a crossroads and a tournament due to take place last month had to be postponed.
Kelly – a proud Eastern Gaels clubman – and Walshe are both on the club’s board while Walshe took over as the club’s chairperson this year.
Both are still playing too and reckon they made up the oldest full-forward line at last year’s Asian Games with Seán ‘The Bomber’ Costello from Kerry.
There’s in the region of 70 Irish people in Taiwan with a real cosmopolitan mix to the GAA club’s membership. It provides, says Kelly, a ‘great landing point into Taiwan’.
“For smaller clubs playing at the lower levels in Asia like us you can often see situations like a former county player from Clare lining out in midfield with a lad from Canada who took up the sport three months previously – this was the case in our club last year.
“It’s crazy, but amazing to see that. Other nationalities are always baffled that the GAA has grown so well here … It doesn’t just grow the sport but also gives a very positive image of Ireland abroad,” adds Kelly.
The pride both men have in seeing their GAA club prosper so far from home is clear.
“I think the sense of community that GAA gives you when living far from home is amazing. We might only see each other twice a week for two hours, but when you’re having a hard week or missing home it can make all the difference,” said Walshe.
“Watching foreigners fall in love with the sport is also a highlight for me as it does give you a feeling of pride. I think it’s a sport that people love to play as it has the right amount of skill, fitness and physicality.
“There was a moment at the Asian Games last year where we lost to a team made up of completely Chinese players … Obviously losing is not a highlight but watching a group of lads who didn’t even speak English, or had never been to Ireland, learn about the sport and keep coming back every year getting better and better was class to see.”
Life in Taiwan
Walshe, a graduate in Chinese and International Business is in Taiwan for over four years and is Operations Director with a company called Skyrock, a chain of creative learning schools teaching kids creative learning in subjects includng robotics, coding and invention.
Kelly, a quantity surveyor with a masters in environmental economics, relocated to Taiwan 18 months ago with his wife to take up a role with an investment bank building an offshore wind project in the Formosan Strait between Taiwan and China.
They love life in Taiwan.
“Taipei is a very easy city to settle into and the people are very friendly and welcoming. It’s strange to say but there are many similarities to Ireland here. Taiwan is a small island nation and it rains a lot!
“The people are very proud and patriotic, and love to talk about politics and history. They enjoy a drink and to have a good time, and the streets are lined with restaurants where people sit outside and eat and drink into the night,” said Kelly.
“The island itself is really beautiful – Isla Formosa is the old name of Taiwan given by the Portuguese during their colonisation and means ‘beautiful island’. It’s sub-tropical with sprawling green mountains across the island.
“Beaches are accessible 20 minutes from Taipei and hundreds of islands make it a hikers paradise. Most people escape the city on weekends and travel south. The cost of living is relatively cheap, with great public transport around Taipei and it has undoubtedly the best healthcare system on the planet. You can see a doctor in minutes for between €5-10 and all procedures regardless of price are covered in the national health insurance plan,” said Walshe.
It sounds like a good place to be based right now.
Chris Walshe’s company Skyrock are launching a reduced price DIY kit for kids to do at home during lockdown.
“It’s essentially a five day STEAM Summer Camp that gets posted to you, and has all the tools and materials needed to build some really cool projects. It teaches kids all about electronics and mechanics whilst having fun building the projects and it takes about 25 hours to complete all the projects,” he said. There are multiple programmes suitable for kids aged four to 14 years.
Simply search for Skyrock STEAM Box on kickstarter.com