Thursday, 21 August 2014

Gaelic Football in the Kingdom ??

A taxi ride at rush hour through Riyadh’s chaotic traffic for almost forty minutes brings us to the gateway of one of Riyadh’s better compounds to the north of the city. Any taxi ride around this city is eventful to say the least, road etiquette simply doesn’t exist and neither does public transport, and add in the fact that women are not permitted to drive (though there’s no specific written law on this !) and that the city has a population of some six million people, gives you an idea of what traffic can be like here.

It’s Sunday evening, which is the first working day of the week, and it’s also the beginning of pre-season training for Riyadh’s Naomh Alee Riyadh GAA Club, a fully affiliated GAA club, founded twenty years ago and a member of the broader Middle East GAA Family which includes other clubs in UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman & Kuwait.

It’s still around 38 degrees when we start our workout on the floodlit grass pitch which has just been much sought after these past few seasons, the group grows to over forty people by the time training kicks off in earnest at 8pm, which is of course is in complete darkness at this time of the evening all year around. This session is led by Sean O’Sullivan from Cork, Patrick Moynagh from Cavan and Tony Robinson from Derry and the participants and club members come from Dublin, Fermanagh, Clare, Galway, Antrim, Down, Wexford, Offaly, Cavan, Derry, Westmeath, Louth, Meath, Tipperary and a few lads from Cork. It doesn’t end there of course as a further sizeable contingent in this group and the club as a whole come from much further afield, such as United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, United States and Jordan. At one point in the session, one could even hear a strong Australian accent count out “a H-aon, A do, a tri….” while the squad does press ups.

In recent years, Naomh Alee Riyadh GAA Club has seen a strong revival in Riyadh, coinciding with the economic slump back in Ireland which has brought additional numbers of professionals to the Kingdom securing work in sectors such as Banking, Construction, Education, Agriculture and Nursing, the club has seen increased participation and is now running a number of both Men’s and Ladies Teams in the Middle East League, and competing very consistently and competitively in the past few years. They provide Gaelic Football only at the moment, however in its early years in the late 1990’s, it was initially a hurling club, and there are ambitions to once again field a hurling team in the future.

This club is like no other in the sense that it doesn’t have a dedicated pitch and must arrange to use facilities such as this one within a compound, it also uniquely must travel abroad to play competitive matches given the lack of any other GAA in the Kingdom at the moment and the difficulties in getting visa’s to allow a travelling team to come to Riyadh to play the home team, so Noamh Alee Riyadh GAA Club will travel over six weekends over the winter season to Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and Al Ain to play fixtures in the Middle East League and other Competitions in the region. It’s a huge commitment from players and management alike and a great credit to all of them. The Club has also been very well supported by way of sponsorship from Irish Businesses working in Saudi Arabia in recent times, such as Jones Engineering Group, Bruce Shaw, First Staff Recruitment and CCM Recruitment.

Beyond sport however, the Club represents so much more, it’s a very natural stop off point for Irish emigrants passing through Riyadh , whether on a long stint here over many years or a one year assignment. It provides a vital conduit for those just arrived to find out how to make one’s way around this vast city and integrated into their new surroundings and culture, it’s a vital sporting and social outlet for the many Irish, British, Australian and New Zealand nurses who play on the ladies squad, and a great way of building and sustaining the Irish Community in Riyadh, fostering new friendships and also having some great fun.
Naomh Alee Riyadh GAA Club also run a Juvenile programme for young boys and girls to take up the sport. They also promote Irish culture and with the on-going support of the Irish Embassy, has been to the forefront of all things Irish in Riyadh.

The session finishes up just before 10pm with a warm down led by Tony, and the exhausted and rather sweaty group of people head off into the Riyadh night chatting as they go, off to recover, get home, have a shower and a good sleep before the next day’s work and the next training session the following Wednesday…….

If you are Interested in participating in Gaelic Football, want to stay fit and also get to know more people in Riyadh, or maybe you are considering a move to Riyadh soon, get in touch, as the club is always looking for new members and is here to help….
Contact details as follows…



Monday, 30 June 2014

Sitting in Bahrain Airport the other day.......

Sitting in Bahrain Airport the other day, waiting for a flight back to Riyadh and sipping on a cold beer, that old familiar feeling returned that I know so well, here I go again back to Riyadh, starting back to another year in the Kingdom, and reflecting on how transient and different and sometimes  lonely life has become in the last few years…

July 2011, I left Ireland to take up a posting on a remote Military base in Afghanistan, Its now three years later, I’m working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and life is so different to what it was ten years ago
I can only describe the last few years as a mixture of adventure, relief, grief, a sense of a transient lifestyle, sometimes loneliness, always interesting but to be absolutely frank, a world completely turned upside down from where I was ten years ago.

Back in 2004, I was married, I had just set up my own business, I was Dad to a two year old son and was anticipating the arrival of a second , was about to go on holiday to Lake Garda in Italy which turned out to be a fantastic trip abroad that summer. I can still remember having Daithi perched  on my shoulders heading off for pizza in the warm evenings.

This is not where I now compare life to the present day and bemoan the cards I’ve been dealt, that is of no use to me or indeed to you the reader and I actually  believe I’ve been fairly  fortunate,  though the ride has certainly been rough at times and like many things, some aspects are positive, others not so.

The Financial meltdown from 2008 was a massive blow to Ireland, and its repercussions are still being felt, though there are now signs of recovery in parts, primarily the greater Dublin area and also Cork. This is certainly to be welcomed, though I personally would have concerns about other Irish towns such as Limerick for example where recovery is somewhat slower and I belong to an industry that was effectively wiped out and will take some time to recover properly back home.

My experience of the years from 2008 to 2011 was of running a business which was less than five years old and seeing turnover literally collapse by 80% in two months, Its only now when I look back, i appreciate how dramatic that was for business owners up and down the country and the effects it had on families and local communities, right up to this day and beyond in the form of failed businesses, unemployment and for many of us, emigration.

When I finally gave up on the business in 2011 after doing as much as I could possibly do to keep it alive and to also re-invent myself for other roles, it came with a huge sense of failure, that you have let your staff down, your family down, you deny it and try to battle on, but it’s actually a huge sense of failure which can lead to a dark place if it’s not addressed.

Emigration has been a way back, a sort of redemption, a return in confidence, not something I had anticipated in the first year when based in Afghanistan and with confidence, comes perspective again and a new focus on the future. I have recovered a lot of lost ground financially thankfully, and have relocated here to Riyadh since 2012 with an Irish Company and I have much to be grateful for and which I am.

The change is challenging, there is very little one can do about it other than adapt. Here in Riyadh, its very transient, people (particularly ex-pats) come and go fairly regularly, Its incredibility hot,( 43 this week), it lacks a sense of place for a lot of us and its culture and societal norms can take a lot of getting used to by comparison to other near-by countries. I have formed new friendships and relationships, I’ve sadly lost others, but life is going on and there is much to look forward to also. My boys are growing bigger and smarter, the banks now write polite letters to me (wasn’t expecting that, and to be honest, I don’t take it too seriously either), I get more time off than I used to in my own business, I’ve visited a lot of countries I never expected to and have come to understand the Middle East so much more than I did before, and on the other side, yes, It’s been a struggle at times, I really do miss home and look forward to the day when I can return and re-establish a life in Ireland. Now there’s something to look forward to.

"It doesn't matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes, What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions" - Jim Rohn

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A few things I miss from Home….

I am just about to commence my fourth year away from Ireland and am already into my third here in Saudi Arabia, where does the time go ? Its been a time of great change for me both personally and professionally and I’m often asked what I miss most...

My Sons
The recent trip to UAE with Daithi & Oisin was amazing and we all enjoyed it hugely and it won’t be long before the next trip back to Ireland for a trip to West Cork, but of course, it doesn’t replace the school homework, eating together, going to the movies and regular “tickling fights”, though we do our best to catch up on those when I’m home !

Talk Radio
I’m always struck at how little radio exists here in Riyadh, everything from music to chat show, yes, there are some but very limited and certainly don’t replace some of the shows I used to listen to back home, "The Last Word" with Matt Cooper was a favourite of mine in the evenings , with great discussions on current affairs, sports and the odd wacky interview with a “Healy-Rae” about pot holes or drink driving or Kilgarvan hosting the World Cup as an alternative to Qatar…

The Pint
Saudi Arabia is a “dry” country so I really miss the Friday evening Pint of Guinness, or a few watching Munster in the Rugby or Clare in the hurling….

When I was a child, there was no coffee and even when there was, it was in a jar and tasting “horrific”, however there was always “Tay”, and copious amounts of it for every possible punctuation in the day, for every chat, or break. You can get Tea here of course its just not the same as Barry's Tea or the like which we were all reared on back home. The suitcase on the return journey to Riyadh is always packed up with at least 80/100 teabags to see me through to the next juncture. 


Though I have made many new friends here in the Kingdom, and we do socialise as much as we can, It just doesn’t replace meeting friends you have had for many years. I left Ireland later in life like others as a result of the economic problems, it wasn’t ever my plan, so I've left behind many good friends and I struggle to catch up in person on trips home and relying on Skype and Facebook is just not the same as meeting in person and finding out how things are with them.

I'm sure this list could go on and on, its just a few of the things that I miss, some small and some far more significant......

Friday, 2 May 2014

Boys in Arabia....

It’s been almost three years now since I left home to come and work in the Middle East region, and I’ve mentioned many times here how I miss my sons, who are now 11 & 9. We had a great trip last summer to London and it was there that we hatched a plan to do a trip to Dubai in 2014.

So on April 11th last, I took a flight from Riyadh to Dubai and arrived there just before my two sons boarded an Emirates flight from Dublin for the first time on their own, to meet me in Dubai.

It’s a strange feeling knowing your children are in the air on their own for over seven hours, an odd feeling where they’re not in either parents care, rather un-nerving…
Late that evening, in fact after midnight, I waited anxiously at Terminal 3 at Dubai Airport and along they both came to arrivals, cool as you like, as only boys of that age can be, “Hi Dad”, an incredible feeling, here they were, in “my world” after 3 years, a great feeling of pride, my two sons, older, bigger, confident, discovering the world, a very emotional moment that will stay long in the memory.

What followed was an amazing week, a road trip around the United Arab Emirates in which they discovered and ran free in the sand dunes of Al Ain, rode the fastest roller-coaster in the world in Abu Dhabi, walked through the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque, went to the 124th floor of the world’s tallest building in Dubai, visited the Souks and bought a traditional Kandoura, Gutra and Agal (Traditional Emerati Clothing), and took a boat trip across the Dubai Creek.

It meant so much to me to share this time with my lads, as it wasn’t that long ago when I doubted whether I could ever take them on holiday at all, given the difficult times back home. Daithi & Oisin went back to Dubai Airport after their week, at least 2 inches taller in their sense of confidence and sense of discovery and adventure, yes, a poignant moment, but also a great moment. Simply an Amazing week…..

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Empire State of Mind........

I was back home last month to wet and windy Ireland and enjoyed a break with my sons in lovely Galway, the boys thought me how to a head-stand in the swimming pool , always a first !!

They also showed me this video clip, Oisin got himself a laptop from Santa and is busy e-mailing, skyping and writing his stories.

They showed me this clip which they made at home a few weeks back, I know I'm biased but I think its awesome !!.....enjoy........