Cork native Paul Allen helping to spread the GAA word in Orlando, Florida

Cork native Paul Allen helping to spread the GAA word in Orlando, Florida

Orlando GAA Club, who wear red and white in honour of Cork. Ballyvolane native Paul Allen is club chairman.

It’s just short of exactly 30 years ago – April 1, 1991 – since Paul Allen departed Cork for Tampa in Florida.

A native of Ballyvolane, his parents had owned a shop of Thomas Davis St in Blackpool, but three years earlier they had made the transatlantic move that pave the way for his.

“I was a little bit of a black sheep,” he says, “and I stayed around for a while before deciding to join in 1991, when I was 21.

“I’ve been in America for longer than I lived in Cork but it’s still home and I still keep in touch with old friends. It’s definitely a different life over here!”

For those who depart their native shores, getting involved in GAA is a good way to retain a sense of Irish identity. Paul, who initially played with Delanys, is one of approximately 30 members of Orlando GAA Club – a club with Cork roots who play in red and white – currently holding the role of chairman. And, while it might be located near Disneyworld, it’s no Mickey Mouse operation.

“The club was already established about six or eight months before I became aware of it,” says Paul, who now lives in Winter Springs and works as a teacher.

“That would have been in around 2009 going into 2010. I went up and got talking and joined in with them.

“The founder member was an American guy but he had Cork family connections, which is why they wore red and white, though there were a couple of Tipperary men involved when I joined.

“It was just big enough to keep going at that point, moving up through the divisions and winning a few games here and there.

“We have the USGAA, which is split into divisions, and we’re part of the south-east division down here.

“In Florida, there are three affiliated clubs but there are another few that have not officially joined yet, they are getting out there and getting their stuff together.”

Paul Allen, chairman of Orlando GAA Club, with former Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Michael Finn, on a visit to Fort Pierce, Florida.
Paul Allen, chairman of Orlando GAA Club, with former Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Michael Finn, on a visit to Fort Pierce, Florida.

The south-east division comprises 16 clubs across an area encompassing seven states – Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee – while also including Cayman Islands GFC in the Caribbean. Travel is obviously a necessity for the various competitions that take place.

“We have tournaments around the place,” Paul says.

“Augusta will be hosting one in June, so will Charleston, and then the teams will be coming down to Orlando in November. It’s long, so when you’re travelling you have to consider staying overnight!

“There’s a real mix of ages, fairly evenly spread out. When we do our meet-ups and friendlies with each other, we have the female players in too. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough for a camogie team at the moment but we’re trying to get up there.

“Essentially, we’re trying to make it as lively and eventful as we can.”

Initially, the club was called Orlando Hurling Club but, as it has grown, football has also become part of the operation. There is a smattering of natives with the expatriates, while Paul outlines how there is a constant effort to grow the membership.

“We have American players who might never have even heard of it before but they’ve come in and liked it,” he says.

“There’s not much on the advertising side of things so we try to spread the word in the places where the Irish hang out, getting our name out there as much as we can.

“Orlando is a tourist area, with a lot of Irish and English coming over, so we try to give them something – ‘Hey, come down and watch and have some fun.’

“When people come here, we try to give them something to go towards. Obviously, over the last year with Covid and no travel, everybody was staying in so it was hard to get them out.”

Covid also denied Paul a trip home last year – his daughter Danielle had won the Florida state championship for Irish dancing and was due to compete in the world event. He is keen to make the journey back to Leeside and will do that as soon as it is safe to do so but, for now, the focus is on keeping Orlando GAA Club strong and continuing the growth.

“We have a new PRO, Jimmy Darby, he has been out there pushing things very strongly,” he says.

“People have been coming out and getting into it a bit more, I can’t give him enough credit for getting that going.

“We’re hoping to get the youth going in the next month or so. We have a sponsor that’s going to buy some hurleys, because we can always do with new equipment!”

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