Hockey league shooting to ease ‘Troubles’ in Ireland

Dave Thompson is currently traveling abroad but continues to send his ruminations on European Sports n’ Things

Dave Thompson is currently traveling abroad but continues to send his ruminations on European Sports n’ Things

If this is Tuesday, this must be Dublin, or at least that is our hope.

Just in Belfast, which is still easing its way out of its, “Troubles,” not long past.

Among the ways the city is attempting to move beyond its often bloody sectarian history is, believe it or not, promoting professional hockey via the Belfast Giants.

Every other sport apparently can potenially incite sectarianist tendencies among the still divided populace.

(Divided still, in the most fractious areas, by actual walls and locked gates).

It was a two-page coverage event Monday when one of the fenced and gated through lanes in a “quieted” area was unlocked on a trial basis to allow both Protestants and Catholics in that area to use the whole of Applegate Park to walk their dogs – a big enough event to draw a German reporter for the happening.

The Giants, named to honour the two gantry cranes at the nearly defunct shipbuilding docks in the area of the only arena in town (one name that was turned down was the, “Bombers,”) were to play in the new facility as a means to incite sporting fervour without the local sectarian attachments every other game, including basketball, are tied to.

You may know this, Nelson mayor John Dooley’s son played for the Giants in their third season.

As our city tour guide explained, few in Belfast were good skaters when the arena was built so Canadians, Americans and Russians stocked the infant franchise. Irish-sounding names were, of course, helpful to North Americans trying to make the roster.

On the ice, the team has been middling successfull. In the stands, there has been mingling among the two basic political sides.

So, the club is a success in that part of its initial mission.

Hockey as a peacemaker, who since 72 would have thunk that?

Part of our local touring included the Falls Rd.-Shankill area in which the residents are still divided by three miles of 10-foot concrete walls, and many other neighbourhoods with barriers (there are still 40 of these). Armoured camera carriers still patrol the area at night.

Most Canadians, ourselves included, only know the problems of Northern Ireland from scraps of fading memories from newscasts.

People here know them differently, and seem to be unsure of how, or even if, they can move on.

From our hotel, in safe downtown Belfast, it is only three blocks to a betting shop where 13 people were gunned down in two separate instances in the 80s. It is less than 100 feet, just across the road, to a car-bombing site that killed two more.

We are loving the trip, but knowledge such as this makes us very glad we live where we live. And hopeful Belfast and Ireland can find the means, whether it includes Canada’s game or not, to move towards a social compact like – despite all our griping – the one we have.