Moses leading Uganda GAA to the promised land
By John Harrington
For Moses Amanyire, the last couple of weeks have been a dizzying whirlwind of media engagements.
The story of how he and his friend Robert Bakaze have successfully introduced Gaelic games to Uganda has captured the public’s imagination and led to interviews on RTE Radio 1’s Claire Byrne show and with a number of national newspapers.
In fairness, it’s quite the yarn. Amanyire is a PE teacher and he and Bakaze have a shared love of sport that led them to finding videos of hurling and Gaelic football on YouTube and TikTok.
Intrigued, they decided to introduce it to the children in Amanyire’s school and showed no little resourcefulness to get the project off the ground.
“It wasn’t easy, but when you love something and you put in commitment and time, then anything is possible,” Amanyire told GAA.ie
“When I first saw hurling I never thought we'd be able to play it here because it was very, very fast and it was quite physical. And I didn't hink we'd be able to get all the gear, especially the hurls.
“But after learning the rules, watching a few videos, we realised it was something we could do.
“We got some photos from google and then talked to one of the carpenters near the school who tried to make something like a hurl. That's what we've been using from 2019 until March this year when we got the real hurls.
“The kids always like something very new. Of course, some at the start were saying, ‘coach, it's very hard’. So we downloaded some videos from YouTube of matches played in Ireland and showed them the videos and kept on training.
“It wasn't very long then before the children fell in love with hurling especially. Yes, it took some time, but now the kids love hurling so much.”
Still going hard on the sideline cuts 💪 we'll get there 🇺🇬. This lad here (shirtless) is our player of the day,he's been so good day. 💪💪 @_FeachNews @playhurling @LoafPod @MatthewsDarren @sniggih13 @raleighgaa @Dan_Lodge @DangerKidsBooks @DanielugReid @padjo_h @galwaytourism pic.twitter.com/yZewKgBe8p— Uganda GAA 🇺🇬 (@UgandaGaelic) September 24, 2022
Using hurleys make from the wood of the indigenous mahogany and mvule trees, Amanyire and Bakaze held their first hurling training session in December 2019 and Gaelic football quickly followed.
The Covid-19 pandemic temporarily slowed their sporting project, but there has been rapid growth this year which has been assisted by equipment donations from the GAA and composite hurley manufacturer, Cúltec.
John Walsh of the Irish Society in Uganda has also further fanned the flames by helping Amanyire and Bakaze in any way he can after he was wowed by what he saw the first time he attended one of their training sessions.
“I became aware early this year when the GAA got on to the Embassy and the Embassy got on to the Irish society and said, hey guys, there's lads playing GAA here, they started up themselves. We were scratching our heads when we heard that so I said I'd go out and have a look, not expecting too much to be honest.
“When myself and the Irish Ambassador to Uganda, Kevin Colgan, visited them we were blown away. The skills they showed were great, but it was as much the excitment around the whole thing that really stood out, that Ugandan exuberance.
“Back home in Ireland we'll roar and shout at games but we're reserved physically on the sideline. But whenever the kids scored a point or goal you'd have all these other kids running onto the pitch and doing handstands. These were the spectators, not the kid who scored the goal! They played music whenever someone scored a point or goal or even if a shot came within five yards of being a score.
“The whole atmosphere, the whole thing, just blew us away. You had the GAA at its core, but you had that natural Ugandan/African liveliness to it.”
What a save 😅, now this is lovely #GAAfootball #gaainuganda @NSWGAA @saigongaelsgaa @Clonmore_Harps @Global_GAA @gaagoofficial @KildareFan2022 @pass_gaa @RTEgaa @MartyM_RTE @RTEsport pic.twitter.com/1lN1tN0nhu— Uganda GAA 🇺🇬 (@UgandaGaelic) September 18, 2022
A recent social media appeal for second-hand hurling helmets, boots, and old jerseys got a huge reaction with clubs around the world getting in touch to offer their support in whatever way they could.
“The response has been great but for logistical and cost reasons getting stuff from Ireland we can only do as one bulk,” says Walsh.
“We've had a few international clubs offering stuff as well, but it's very difficult and costly getting it to us.
“That's part of the reasons why we've started a GoFundMe page. A dollar or euro would go much further if it was donated to the GoFundMe page than spending a lot of money on postage and packaging.
“We want to be able to buy equipment but also have something for the kids, such as buying them some fruit after training and matches.
“Things you take for granted are not here. That's what would really help us with making sure we can expand and grow.”
Significant growth in the numbers of children playing Gaelic Games in Uganda has already taken place in a short period of time and the plan is to stage the first Uganda Championship on the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day next year.
Amanyire has no doubts the participation rates will only go one way in the coming years if he and Bakaze are given enough support.
“In 2019 it was only my school and that was around only 50 kids that were involved,” he says.
“Then after getting some support we tried to expand to different areas. So now we have four schools and in each school you have over 50 kids that taking part in these games. So we have around 200 kids now.
“And they're not just playing in the schools, they're also playing in their communities. So we have a lot of children that are loving the games and we hope that with all the support from Ireland we are getting, we hope that maybe by June next year we'll have around 500 kids taking part in these games.
“We're very happy we're getting a lot of support now from Ireland in terms of equipment so that will keep us growing. And also the kids love the games so much.
“If in three years we have 200 children, I can't imagine how many we'll have in another 10 years. I think we'll have thousands of GAA players in Uganda.”
Amanyire couldn’t have imagined the journey he was embarking on when he and Bakaze first watched a game of hurling on YouTube.
Along the way they’ve discovered that Gaelic games are as much about community as they are sport, and that’s what he’s so enthusiastic about bringing them to as many Ugandan children as he possibly can.
“Where I teach our school motto is 'Giving children a chance in life',” he says.
“So when I train the kids and I see that people really want to support us it makes me very, very happy. I'm not only happy because the games are growing, but the kids are getting a chance. A chance to play a new sport that they love so, so much.
“Sometimes, especially at the weekends after our training, they'll watch some GAA videos that the GAA gave us. I'm very happy that the kids are getting a new sport, that they are playing, and they are also developing their talent.
“So, for me, the kids are getting a chance to play, to be happy, to develop their sportsmanship, to improve their lifestyle, a lot of different things. So, really, I'm very, very happy with that.”