Three years ago most Irish Americans would have thought GPA meant Guinness Peat Aviation, the jet leasing company once owned by now deceased businessman Tony Ryan.
If you were at the Plaza Hotel in New York with 700 others last night you would have realized it meant far more than that. $600,000 was raised for an organization unique in the annals of Ireland that has taken New York, and elsewhere in the US, by storm. There has simply not been a more impressive group out of Ireland in memory.
The Gaelic Players Association of Ireland is a throwback, a banding together of Irish hurlers and footballers reminiscent of the “meitheal,” the grouping of neighbors coming together to help with the harvest.
The annual GPA event in New York is designed to celebrate and acknowledge the deep historical and cultural ties between the two countries, recognizing a shared ancestry of which Ireland’s unique Gaelic sporting heritage is an intrinsic part.
Everyone who has been to Ireland knows the power of Gaelic games, hurling and Gaelic football and their female equivalents camogie and ladies football.
In every village in every county, all 32 of them, there is a team or maybe two and counties vie with each other in the greatest sporting spectacles culminating in the All Ireland finals in hurling and football in September..
The games were the Irish way of expressing themselves going back to pre-Famine times and the glory of the village was often at stake. English occupation could never quench the Irish thirst for their own games, which date back in some form to the pre-Christian era where there is mention of hurling in the mythological cycles.
There is a wonderful book called "Knocknagow" about that very topic. It was written by Charles Kickham in the 1870s and depicts Irish rural life and the place of the native Irish sports in it. The crowd assembled last night in New York could have related to it.
The amazing thing is nowadays, despite attracting millions of spectators to matches every year, the GAA players are all amateur in an era where multi-million salaries are doled out to second rate soccer stars in England and washed up baseball pitchers in America.
The Gaelic Players Association was formed to give voice to the voiceless players, to help ensure their needs were taken care of and that short of being paid superstar wages they could benefit from counseling, serve as role models and build up an organization dedicated to the welfare of the amateur sportsmen.
But they also believe in giving back. When Hurricane Sandy struck they went to Rockaway Beach and restored buildings and basketball gyms. Last night they donated some of their profits to local Irish groups that need help.
Their honorees fit the occasion. Mike Brewster is a Wall Street guy who spoke movingly about what the GAA meant to him and his family growing up. Tom Moore is among America's best trial lawyers, but his Waterford origins mark him as a huge GAA fan.
The room was full of Irish from across the social spectrum. Irish Consul General Barbara Jones asked us to imagine an Ireland without these Gaelic games. There were lots of blank stares.
It is simply inconceivable.