After a year of planning, the Omagh Thunder Basketball Club of Omagh Northern Ireland toured portions of the Northeastern U.S. in July. Under the leadership of head coach Eamon Daly, a member of Philadelphia Division 39 now living in Omagh, and assistant coaches Aidan Bradley, Conor McElroy and Chris Grimes the team of eleven boys,12 and 13 years of age, landed at Kennedy Airport on July 15 to begin a ten-day tour that was, by every measure, an overwhelming success. Their stay in the states gave team members a taste of what an American summer can be like, thanks to the heat wave in the Northeast in late July, and reports from the team say they were thrilled to arrive in Shannon on July 26 greeted by the welcoming rain of home.
Sightseeing, meeting people, along with great receptions and picnics hosted by AOH and LAOH members, were a big part of the trip, but basketball was first and foremost on the agenda and the centerpiece of every stop was a game and clinic. Our American organizers and the local committees did an outstanding job of not only lining up local youth teams for the boys to play against but in securing the very best in local youth basketball coaching to run the clinics. The Omagh coaching staff was effusive in their praise for the content of the clinics and the improvement in the team’s skills as a result.
Of course it was not all work and no play and the team was treated like kings at every stop. They were showered with gifts that included clothing, backpacks, sneakers and plaques and their day trips took them to Six Flags Great Adventure and Avon on the Sea at the New Jersey Shore, the Liberty Bell and the “Rocky Steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (team members are fans of the movie Rocky), St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, the Intrepid and Madison Square Garden; they experienced American baseball at a minor league baseball game and spent a day at the National Basketball Hall of Fame. They ended their trip with one of their biggest thrills that centered on their favorite basketball team, the Boston Celtics by touring the Boston Garden and having the chance to shoot hoops at the Celtics training facility in Waltham, MA.
Our thanks go to the American tour organizers who included Dennis Daly in Pennsylvania, Tim Myles in New York, Kevin Weldon in New Jersey, Dick Thompson and Dick Wall in Massachusetts, as well as Frank Kearney, Jr. in Connecticut. The AOH and LAOH National Boards helped with their financial contributions. The Hibernian Charity under whose banner the trip was organized and most especially to the AOH and LAOH divisions and membership who have supported this project since its inception need to be very proud of what they have done. As one of our organizers said, “Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of the many good things we do as an organization”
This project made a very positive impact on children from Omagh, a town which suffered a massive bombing downtown on August 15, 1998 with the largest loss of life in a single bombing in all of the Troubles. Every member of the AOH/LAOH can take great pride in what they have done to help Eamon and Omagh Basketball with this reconciliation project in a city which suffered such a massive loss, as well as on the Basketball Tour in the United States.