Ger Loughnane with ice hockey legend Brendan Shanahan for Poc na nGael
Ger Loughnane with ice hockey legend Brendan Shanahan for Poc na nGael

#Interview: Scannain Talks Poc na nGael with Éamonn Ó Cualáin ahead of the Galway Film Fleadh

Fócas Films are bringing their documentary Poc na nGael (Puck of the Irish) to the Galway Film Fleadh on Sunday, July 16th at 2.15pm.

Did the Irish invent ice hockey? Hurling legend Ger Loughnane sets out on a fascinating journey across Canada to discover the Irish links to the Canadian obsession that is ice hockey. Canada is passionate about hockey just as the Irish are passionate about hurling. The bond between the sports quickly became evident to him: “When I watch hockey, I can see the links to hurling. The passion, the skill and the stick work, the commitment of the players, it’s clear to me that the sports are connected.” Ger isn’t alone in his thinking. Hockey legend Brendan Shanahan agrees “I can see some sense to the theory that hockey has roots in hurling. The attributes between the athletes are very similar.”

What will surprise most is that the hurling link is due to Irish Protestants/Ulster Scots who brought hurling across with them. Ger uncovers this fascinating link at the birthplace of hockey in Windsor, Nova Scotia. His journey across eastern Canada reveals that the sport the Irish helped develop also provided the Irish with the opportunity to grow in Canadian society. After the Famine, the Irish were mainly in the slums. In Montreal, Ger visits the site of a mass grave where 6000 Irish were buried. Toronto became the “Belfast of Canada” such was the division between Catholic and Protestant Irish in the city. Yet, success in hockey provided a gateway for the Irish to progress in Canadian society. Irish teams and Irish players became adored across Canada. Ger discovers the strong Irish heritage of leading Canadian teams such as the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs who originated as the Toronto St.Patrick’s. As the NHL celebrates its 100th anniversary he examines the Irish legacy and how it is remembered today.

Poc na nGael is a fascinating insight into how the Irish integrated into Canadian society through Canada’s national game, a game in which the Irish were essential in creating and developing. As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday this documentary presents an opportunity to highlight the role of Irish immigrants in making Canada the country it is today.  It’s about the Irish tenacity to succeed, both on the rink and in Canadian society. Without the Irish influence, Canada would not have the game it loves and enjoys so much today.

Poc na nGael is directed by Éamonn Ó Cualáin and produced by Ó Cualáin and Sam Kingston of Fócas Films. The documentary was funded by Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and TG4. It will air on TG4 in autumn.

Poc na nGael is showing at the Galway Film Fleadh on Sunday, July 16th at 2.15pm in the Cinemobile.  For more on the film check out Twitter and Facebook.

Scannain caught up with director/producer Éamonn Ó Cualáin to talk about the film:

How did the film come about?
The documentary came about just after our screening of Men at Lunch at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2012, I met Sam Kingston who co-produced the Poc na nGael documentary with me for a coffee to discuss the idea. It was a story that I was very familiar with as my wife’s family are based in Toronto and the story had come up at social outings during one of our trips to Canada.

Did you know much about hockey before you began?
I knew very little about hockey before we started, I knew players skated on ice and that it was a tough game.

Do you think hurling or hockey is the more physically taxing sport?
The physical side to hockey is probably what drew me to the sport, the game holds the same speed, strength and passion that hurling does. These are definitely the same attributes that our presenter Ger Loughnane most liked about the game.

If we could teach the Hurling All-Stars to skate could they take on an NHL team?
If Irish hurlers were trained to skate they would definitely compete with any NHL team. But as many of our contributors mentioned in the documentary, skating is a tough thing to master especially at the speed NHL players operate.

What are your plans for the film after the Fleadh?
The documentary will screen on TG4 in the Autumn. We have interest from festivals especially in Canada that would like to screen the film.

Poc na nGael Poster