By Jim Smith
CANTON, Mass. — Ending a nearly 10-year search for a site to call its own in the Boston area, the Northeast Division of the Gaelic Athletic Association signed an agreement on March 28 with the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton that will ensure that all GAA games will be played on the grounds of that facility for at least the next 30 years.
The GAA games have historically been played at Dilboy Field in Somerville, and will continue there until early this summer, when the Canton grounds will be ready for action.
"We’re very excited about having our games here," said Pat Bligh, vice chairman of the GAA’s Northeast board. "The field is bigger, and the facilities are great. We should have a huge crowd out here next year for the national championships."
The Irish Cultural Centre is the brainchild of Mike O’Connor, John Noel Connolly, and seven other Irish and Irish-Americans who gathered together on an autumn day in 1989 to begin a search for a site for the GAA games.
Their vision quickly expanded, and their quest ultimately became one of creating a center not just for Gaelic sports but for the preservation and promotion of Irish culture.
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The membership of the ICC has now grown to about 3,000. About 500 of them, an "all-volunteer army," recently erected the first building on the 46-acre site, a multi-purpose three-story edifice that serves as the administration and activity center.
The volunteers worked in their spare time over the last two years, generally on weekends, donating free labor and thus saving the ICC hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor costs.
The generosity of the members was matched by the good will and support of the people of Canton, a town with a population of 19,000, about half of whom are of Irish descent.
Connolly, who is now the ICC president, said that the people of Canton were instrumental in making the enterprise the success that it has become. "They not only supported us, they encouraged us along the way," he said.
During the planning stages, one town meeting vote was 400 in favor of the ICC proposals, with only 6 opposed.
John McGuire, secretary of the ICC, said that the center is designed to attract families and people of all ages. "We want people to feel at home here, and we’ll be offering a wide variety of programs."
Other buildings tentatively scheduled for construction include a center for the performing arts, a library, a museum, and additional facilities for educational programs such as Irish dance and language classes.
One of the areas adjoining the main GAA field will be used by youth groups such as Canton youth soccer. In addition, the Irish Sports Youth League of New England will be playing its games on the ICC grounds.
Persons interested in joining or learning more about the Irish Cultural Centre can call (781) 821-8291.