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Ballyhaunis goes viral with integration video


Ger Flanagan

THE town of Ballyhaunis is well known for being one of the most ethnically diverse in the county, and now their GAA club has gone viral for their unique integration policy that exposes children of all nationalities and backgrounds to the joys of football and hurling.
In a short documentary posted by The Guardian titled ‘Pitching Up’, which follows local man Darran Conlon, among others, as he works to teach young immigrants in the town how to play gaelic games in order to help them feel part of the community. It has surpassed over 420,000 views as of yesterday [Monday].
An incredible 70 percent of the views were from outside Ireland, with comments being left on The Guardian’s recent Facebook post from all corners of the globe.
The documentary was shot by Maurice O’Brien, a Documentary Filmmaker that pitched the Ballyhaunis idea into an international film competition after reading a piece in The Irish Times written by journalist Eoin Butler in 2015.
It gives a brilliant and honest reflection of what life is like within a GAA community as ethnically diverse as Ballyhaunis GAA Club and one that puts special emphasis on integrating immigrant children  into their teams.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Darran Conlon revealed to having a deep sense of pride after watching the documentary and said that it really provided an honest reflection of how the club operates on a daily basis.
‘Real-life Ballyhaunis’
“I think personally, it really captures the flavour of what a GAA club is all about,” the Westport based garda said. “As I said to people, that is real life Ballyhaunis, none of it was staged just for the documentary purposes. I don’t want to downplay this or anything, but there is no big deal in Ballyhaunis. This is real life and on-going and that is what I really feel he [Maurice O’Brien] captured. It is amazing to see what people have been saying online about it.  “People that have no connection with the GAA or never even heard of Ballyhaunis are saying that it’s amazing. There is huge pride for the town and the club in that.”
As well as Ballyhaunis GAA Club, the local national school, Scoil Íosa, is heavily involved due to its diverse number of students – two thirds of which do not speak English as a native language when they go home.
Featured in the documentary is Hassan Iqbal, a 23 year-old Pakistan national that came to Ireland aged seven and took up hurling aged 11. Iqbal is the walking embodiment of the club’s integration policy. He has represented Mayo hurling at underage level and speaks in a manner that causes people to say: ‘Jesus, where’d you get that accent, it’s gas like’, as he pointed out himself.
Wider community
Darran Conlon was quick to push any praise off himself on to the wider community in Ballyhaunis, who he says give a fairer representation of the huge communal effort being put in by everyone.
He revealed that although the documentary gives a beautiful reflection of what the community is like, there is still barriers making the integration policy difficult.
“I don’t want people to think that it is Nirvana here and that it is all very fairytale, because it is not, we are a real life working club” he laughed.
“But what is going to happen now, is that film is going to be shown to the new residents that arrive and hopefully it will show them that this is only up the road here, and the gate is always open.”

The documentary, which is 15 minutes long, can be viewed on www.theguardian.com/documentaries.