Montreal

Ireland didn't have a proper ice hockey rink — then some Canadians got involved

After almost 10 years of not having a suitable rink, the Irish Ice Hockey Association has managed to secure funding for a lone year-round ice rink in the Republic of Ireland, and it's partially thanks to the Canadian prime minister and Montreal's Irish community.

The Irish Flying Ducks came to Montreal in 2017, making an international appeal for a hockey rink of their own

Members of the Flying Ducks Ice Hockey Club practise on in-line skates while they wait for an ice rink to open. (Aisling Daly)

It's an unspoken rule of international relations: if you want an ice rink, call the Canadians.

After almost 10 years of not having what they considered a suitable space, the Irish Ice Hockey Association has managed to secure corporate funding for a year-round ice rink in the Republic of Ireland, said the president of a local hockey club.

If the final negotiations carry on as planned, the rink will open near the end of the summer, just in time for the next hockey season.

And the head of a hockey club in Ireland said it's all partially thanks to the Canadian prime minister and the Montreal Irish community. 

Rink closed in 2010

It's been nearly a decade since hockey teams in Ireland have had a proper place to play, says Aisling Daly, president of the Flying Ducks ice hockey club. In 2010, their main rink in the Republic of Ireland — the Dundalk Ice Dome — shut its doors.

The lack of facilities, it makes it really hard to build up a base.- Aisling Daly, President of the Flying Ducks Ice Hockey Club

Despite that, there are a handful of senior hockey teams.

They make do by training on in-line skates and training on "pop-up" rinks around Christmas.

Daly estimates that her team has access to an ice rink for about seven weeks of the year — through the pop-up rinks. 

Still, she said there's growing interest in the sport.

"I suppose ice hockey is perfectly suited to Irish people," she said. "We've got a lot of contact sports here. It's just the facilities. The lack of facilities, it makes it really hard to build up a base."

Team members of Ireland's Flying Ducks pose with a snowman in Montreal in March 2017. (Flying Ducks Club)

Trip to Montreal

Enter Kevin Murphy, the vice-president of advertising and public relations for the United Irish Societies of Montreal.

He heard about the Flying Ducks team back in 2016, and called Daly to see if they were interested in flying to Montreal and walking in the St. Patrick's Day parade.

"I thought it was really cool that there are hockey teams in Ireland," said Murphy.

"Within minutes, hours, they answered back saying, 'Yes, for sure.'"

United Irish Societies vice-president Kevin Murphy was instrumental in bringing the Flying Ducks to Montreal but said their success is mostly down to their own hard work. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

It was a perfect match for Murphy, who is interested in his Irish roots, knows the Montreal Irish community well, and loves hockey.

The Flying Ducks set up tournaments in Montreal, and they were wowed by the fact that many Canadians are able to play hockey every day.

They played on an outdoor rink — a first for many of them, said Daly.

And then they marched in Montreal's annual St. Patrick's Day parade in March 2017, where they met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Murphy said the team told Trudeau about their lack of decent rinks.

"He really took it on, he really understood what they wanted to do. I won't say he promised, but he did tell them he would do what he could," said Murphy. "And when called upon, he did. So it was great."

Pitching a rink amid trade negotiations

Four months later, Trudeau went to Dublin to discuss CETA, a trade agreement between Canada and European Union.

Trudeau hadn't forgotten the Flying Ducks — he mentioned Ireland's dearth of quality skating facilities not once, but twice on his trip.

"[It] was phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal," said Daly.

From there, she said, the issue snowballed. She said the Trudeau shout-out helped get more local politicians on side, which ultimately led to securing funding for a rink.

"The government knows exactly who we are, thanks to your prime minister," she said.

The lawyers are still working out the final details for the new rink, but it is set to be in the same location as the old rink that closed in 2010.

It's thrilling news for Daragh Daly, 16, who plays on the team. It's located just down the street from where he lives.

"That's where I'm spending most of my time from now on," he said, laughing.

In a statement, Trudeau said he's happy for the team.

"It is fantastic news that the Flying Ducks and the Irish people will finally have a rink to call their own," he said.

"Having more Irish youth playing hockey and growing the game will enhance Canada and Ireland's already deep relationship and strong people-to-people ties."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, has a laugh with Irish government leader Leo Varadkar at Farmleigh House in 2017. Trudeau brought up the country's lack of quality skating facilities during that visit. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Montreal delegation to travel to Ireland

Murphy said he and some other Montrealers are planning to go to the rink's grand opening later this year.

But despite Canada's role in helping the Flying Ducks and the Irish Ice Hockey Association, he said most of the credit is due to the teams who have worked tirelessly to secure funding for a rink.

"I would say there's a Canadian aspect to it, but it was them. It was them that put all this together," he said.

"All we did was invite them to the parade and make sure they got a couple of fun moments in Montreal."

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