Flashback to 2016 in Croke Park where a youth team from Seoul and Shanghai were brought to Ireland by Conor Melvin on a summer camp and got to play on the hallowed turf at half-time during the All-Ireland senior football semi-final between Mayo and Tipperary.

Mayo diaspora well represented on global GAA bodies in Asia and beyond

With most clubs and counties just finishing up their end-of-year annual general meetings and electing new board members and officers throughout Ireland in preparation for the coming season, we often forget about the global reach that our national sports have developed in recent years.

The GAA has well and truly gone global and is well organised throughout the world, from Australia, New Zealand and North America to the Middle East and Asia. Members of the GAA boards in these regions will be joining colleagues from Europe, the UK and the 32 counties of Ireland for the GAA congress later this week in Newry.

Recently elected chairperson of the Asian County Board, and a native of Castlebar, Conor Melvin, along with two other delegates from across Asia, will join all the international bodies and county boards from across Ireland and the world in Newry to vote on proposed changes to rules and electing new representatives to Croke Park.

Castlebar native Conor Melvin is the newly elected chairperson of the Asian GAA County Board.

Conor and his delegation represent around 25 clubs from all across Asia, including India, Japan, several clubs in China, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and his club own club, Thailand GAA.

Also in Thailand and heavily involved in the GAA and the Irish community for over a decade is another Castlebar native, Seamus McHugh.

A successful entrepreneur based in Bangkok, Seamus provides valuable assistance to students across Asia in applying and gaining admission to Ireland's premier universities, and has been growing his business steadily over recent years.

The Asian County Board also has Ballyhaunis native Jonathan Cleary as treasurer. Jonathan, or JC, has been based in Kuala Lumpur for many years and his sons grew up there being able to play Gaelic games in one of the most diverse and inclusive GAA clubs in the world, Orange Éire GAA club.

Kuala Lumpur and Orange Éire have a very strong Mayo connection, in no small part due to Belmullet native Pat Gorham, who has been chairperson of the club in Kuala Lumper in the past and whose company, MFE, sponsor Belmullet GAA.

His three young sons make up the backbone of Orange Eire's underage teams, which compete annually against other youth teams from across Asia.

For this year’s congress, Conor Melvin will join another Mayo native, Gearóid Cronin from Lahardane, who has been chairperson of the Middle East County Board since 2022.

The Middle East has dominated the GAA World Games since its first tournament in 2015 as it is a popular destination for many top tier GAA players to live and work for a few years, and several All-Ireland winners, men and women, now reside there.

Pictured are children from Seoul and Shanghai with their host family, the Heneghans from Castlebar, some 10 years ago.

Also in Asia, outgoing Taiwan Celts chairperson Chris Walshe, a native of north Mayo, has recently joined a sub-committee on the Asian County Board, where he is using his expertise in multi media and promotion to boost awareness of Gaelic games in Asia.

Chris has lived in Taiwan for eight years where he owns and operates an education company that runs classes and camps teaching coding, robotics and STEM-based subjects to primary school children.

He is also making a documentary on the history behind the Asian Gaelic Games and Derek Brady, who was one of the original group that, in 1995, set up the first GAA club in Asia, the Taiwan Celts, and organised the first ever Asian games.

The men’s senior trophy has been dedicated to Derek's legacy in bringing our national games to Asia, where it now has a solid and ever increasing following.

For the men and women who have left our shores to go abroad, there is no doubt that the GAA clubs have rolled out the welcome mat, not just in getting them involved in sport but also providing contacts for seeking jobs and integrating with the local communities.

Many of these men and women will return home but quite a few have found a new home abroad, where they have married and settled down.

“The summer camps proved very popular in the past and families are anxious to send their kids to Ireland not just for the sport, but also for the rich culture the country has to offer, and hopefully we will see students coming over again sooner rather than later,” said Conor.

Flashback to 2013 when then Taoiseach Enda Kenny greeted the students from Seoul who were on a summer camp in Castlebar, where they were accommodated by local families and attended the Connaught final between Mayo and London.