Rockin' Rockland

By Ray O'Hanlon

Get ready for the pitter patter. No, strike that.

Get ready for the thunder of shiny new cleats, and the clash of the ash.

Rockland County will be all Gaelic this weekend as what was once a field of dreams is unveiled as a state of the art "Center of Excellence" for Rockland County's Gaelic Athletic Association.

The official opening of the new multiple field facility is set for Orangeburg over the coming weekend, Friday, July 23 to Sunday the 25th.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

And if that's not enough to whet the appetite of GAA fans in the tri-state area, the following weekend will witness the 2010 Continental Youth Championship Tournament at Eisenhower Park in Nassau County, Long Island, with teams from around the U.S., Ireland and beyond competing for glory.

But first comes Rockland and the new home for the players and followers of Gaelic games in the region, including a roster of young players now numbering in excess of 700.

Gaelic games have for many years been played at the Orangeburg facility, but ten years ago a pioneering group of twenty Rockland GAA members and their families committed themselves to a dream of expansion and improvement.

Outright ownership of the site was secured in 2005 but work on the now 11 acre GAA home continued.

What is now ready for the world to see is a venue that can stand on a par with other GAA sites developed around the country in recent years, including those in Boston and Chicago.

In addition to new grass surfaces, the fields have floodlights which will allow for evening and night games and practices.

A new clubhouse complete with indoor gym, team locker rooms, a meeting room and a pavilion with cooking facilities, as well as a children's playground, are all parts of a master plan that will be completed in the near future.

But while so much of the project is focused on the present and the future, the past is not forgotten. Also on the site will be the a monument commemorating the Great Hunger.

The formal ceremonial field invocation will take place at 6 p.m. on Saturday, while also scheduled for the three days are the annual Robert McKiernan and Dennis McHugh field days.

These consist of a series of youth games dedicated to the memory of three Rockland players, the above mentioned Robert McKiernan and Dennis McHugh, and also John Connolly, all of whom passed at young ages.

"Their spirit and character is embodied in these underage competitions," Rockland GAA said in a statement.

The opening of the new GAA center follows last weekend's hugely successful 37th annual Rockland Feis.

"Competitors and judges come from all over the United States for events including Gaelic football and Celtic design.

"An estimated 4,000-plus people attended the event, which was run by Rockland County Feis and sponsored by the county's Ancient Order of Hibernians," the Journal News daily paper reported in a front page story earlier this week.

Similarly large crowds are also expected at this weekend's unveiling in Orangeburg. More details on the opening and the new "Center of Excellence" can be found at