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Pooler Magazine

Savannah Gaelic Group Growing Despite Pandemic: Getting It’s Irish Up

Savannah Gaelic Group Growing Despite Pandemic: Getting It’s Irish Up Story by Stephen Prudhomme Photos by Tonya Perry

The Irish are well represented in Pooler and Savannah, and each year the latter hosts one of the largest St.Patrick’s Day celebrations in the country.

A Pooler woman wants to get everyone’s Irish up throughout the year, and she’s relying on some ancient sports started in the Emerald Isle to hurl her agenda toward that goal.  Tara Reese is one of six board members of the Savannah Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which is part of the international GAA that promotes Irish culture and sports.

Started in May with just six players, the Savannah GAA now has 30 adults and 10 to 12 youngsters, and the group ranges in age from 10 to 55.  Although the players practiceThursdays at 6:30 p.m. at Savannah’s Forsyth Park, they haven’t competed in any league matches due to COVID-19. A future practice site will be at the Pooler Recreation Complex, behind the Pooler YMCA, according to Reese.

Although she’s not Irish, Reese attended the February Irish Fest in Savannah with friend and Irishman Caleb Harkleroad. While there, they quickly made friends with two couples, one from Ireland and England, respectively, the other from Ireland and New Jersey, respectively. Four days later, having previously discussed their mutual interest in Gaelic sports at Billy’s Place, they repaired to O’Connell’s Irish Pub and formed the Savannah GAA; meeting at the Irish Fest proved serendipitous, as Reese and Harkleroad had previously discussed starting a Gaelic athletic group.  These six board members oversee a group that has experienced impressive growth, a notable feat considering the limitations brought on by the pandemic.

“It’s something different,” Reese said. “The focus is on community and getting to know one another. It’s a cool sport and the oldest in the world.”

Gaelic Football

Gaelic football doesn’t feature any tackling. Reese described it as a cross between soccer, rugby and volleyball. Although the men and women have practiced together, they’ll play on separate teams once the season starts.


Hurling, described as the fastest game on grass, involves hitting a ball slightly smaller than a baseball and called a sliotar with a stick similar to one used in hockey. Reese said it combines elements of baseball, lacrosse and cricket.

Gina Shields and her husband, Damien, a native of Ireland, are also board members. They’re one of the two couples who met up with Reese and Harkleroad in February and eventually formed the Savannah GAA.  A resident of Pooler, Gina has quickly taken to Gaelic football.  “It’s super fun to watch and play,” she said. “There’s so much action. It’s

like soccer, but there’s more contact and opportunities to score.”  Although she’s practiced camogie, the women’s version of hurling, Gina said she’s unlikely to play during the season.

“It’s an intricate game,” Gina said. “It requires a lot of skill and is like nothing an American has experienced.”

What many American have experienced is the festive atmosphere of St. Patrick’s Day that marks the group’s activities on and off the field throughout the year and not just one day in March.  That approach, Gina explained, follows the GAA’s goal of promoting culture, community and craic, a term for news, gossip, entertainment, fun and lively conversation that is prominent in Ireland.

“We’re all about having a good time,” she said. “It’s very social. We enjoy a beer or two.”