From O’Hickey’s to STU: Irish Sport in Fredericton

Nic de L’Eveille at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. (Submitted: Nic de L’Eveille)

Irish culture may boom during the month of March, but for many, it is a constant interest and pursuit to preserve the culture, including in sport. 

Gearoíd Ó Treasaigh is originally from Galway, Ireland and has a two-year contract as a professor at St. Thomas. He has spearheaded the revival of the STU Irish Society, which hosted events such as speed dating, Céilí dancing and trivia. 

For him, one of the largest differences with sporting culture between Ireland and Canada is the popularity of sports across all of Canada. 

“At home, it’s definitely very regional what sports you play,” he said. “So sometimes the sport depends on what part of the county you’re in.”

Some of the most popular Gaelic sports are hurling, camogie and Gaelic football. 

“There’s also rounders, which is kind of like an Irish version of baseball and we have handball which is essentially like squash and nothing like Olympic handball,” said Ó Treasaigh. 

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has constituents all around Canada, an amateur sporting organization that strives to “revive and nurture” indigenous Irish sport and culture. Founded in 1884, a statement on their website states it is “difficult to determine where the communities and the GAA club starts as they generally overlap and are intertwined.”

“Around that time, there was a strong Gaelic revival in Ireland and people were developing interests in other facets of Irish culture and languages and society and things like that,” said Ó Treasaigh.

‘It was also to provide a kind of a standardization of rules,” he said. 

Nicolas de L’Eveille has also encountered the GAA’s influence right here in Fredericton, at O’Hickey’s Pub on Queen Street. 

“[They’re] always serving pints of Guinness, they go through so many kegs of it and they do it right,” he said. “They pour it properly.”

You can go into O’Hickey’s anytime and ask if there’s a GAA match going on and they’ll check for you, said de L’Eveille, even with surround sound. 

“If they have a game they’ll put it on and it’s actually in full Gaelic,” he said. 

De L’Eveille has played rugby for much of his life and has been a large supporter of rugby in Ireland. When he was 18 years old, he had the opportunity to travel to France for the Rugby World Cup. Unlike a hockey game in Canada, which may house around 19,000 fans, these rugby games had numbers closer to 40,000. 

“It really hit different,” he said. “It was really crazy.”

Though de L’Eveille did not watch an Ireland match, he did meet many Irish rugby supporters and described a great communal feel. He took in a game between Canada and Australia, but being a part of the atmosphere was a lot of fun to experience firsthand, he said. 

“You just get lost in the chants and it was great,” he said.

In coming back home, it was sometimes difficult to catch Irish rugby games due to the time difference, he said. In 2011 when his son was first born, he would watch the Rugby World Cup held in New Zealand while doing the night feeding. 

“I would watch the rugby games, especially Ireland, or whatever was on and it was big deal,” said de L’Eveille.

His family feels very connected to his Irish roots and it’s events like these that have strengthened those bonds, he said. Often at family gatherings they would dress in Irish clothing and he even wore a kilt to one of his STU classes. 

Now, he would like to see more students coming out to try events with the STU Irish Society to learn more about Irish culture, including sports. For the greater area of Fredericton, he hopes to one day see a local hurling club, or something similar.

For de L’Eveille, being an Irish sports fan has really taught him the communal feel of rugby and Irish culture, as a whole. 

“You always hear rugby is a hooligan sport played by gentlemen,” said de L’Eveille. 

“The fans are the same way … you can be Ireland or England [supporters] and at the end of the day, you’re going to the pub and you’re drinking with them.”