Story by: Merissa Quek, Photos by: courtesy of Declan Griffin
Influence Seoul Gaels chair
Declan Griffin has played Gaelic football since he was a young lad growing up in Kerry, Ireland, but he fully expected to take a break from the game when he moved to Seoul in 2007. It was two years before he joined the Seoul Gaels, one of Korea’s largest expatriate sports clubs, and he has been involved ever since. Now, as chair, he is at the heart and soul of the club.
Over the years, Griffin has seen the Gaels’ growing membership evolve from an overwhelming Irish majority to a more international makeup; last year saw several more Koreans joining both the women’s and the men’s teams. “We don’t want to be just a foreign club,” says Griffin. “We want to be more integrated into Korea.”
With so many new members on its roster, the club’s main focus has been engaging with their new members and making sure they felt at home. Going forward, Griffin believes that the challenge is getting the balance right between being competitive and being fun.
League members currently play in clubs in Busan and Daegu, and the Seoul Gaels sends several teams to the Asian Gaelic Games and the North Asian Gaelic Games every year. Last year, they sent a hurling team to the Asian Gaelic Games for the first time.
But it’s not all about sports. The club is heavily involved in organizing the St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Seoul, an annual event attended by thousands, and organizes fundraisers for the team and local charities.
Despite an already packed schedule, Griffin is hoping to do more. Over the last couple of years, Seoul Gaels has run a summer camp in Ireland, helping a dozen Korean children improve their English, soccer skills and understanding of Irish culture. The club has also been running a youth league for the past two years, an area that Griffin hopes to further develop in the future. In the meantime, he hopes to obtain funding from the Gaelic Athletic Association to get more kids involved with the sport.
Though Griffin has benefited from the sense of community that has developed around the Seoul Gaels club and its members, his real motivation is his love for the game.
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