Enda Wiseman had plenty of things to worry about when he moved to Raleigh from Ireland three years ago.
He was leaving his native country, taking on a new job at GlaxoSmithKline and adjusting to a new culture.
But Wiseman’s biggest concern was whether he’d find a local athletic group where he could play his beloved Gaelic sports.
So Wiseman, 34, joined Raleigh Cú Chulainn, a local chapter of the Ireland-based Gaelic Athletic Association.
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“It saved me,” Wiseman said. “Coming here, that was my biggest fear, that I wouldn’t have the sports and the social club that comes with it.”
Raleigh Cú Chulainn participates in four of the five games promoted by the Gaelic Athletic Association: Gaelic football, which mixes soccer and basketball; hurling, which is similar to lacrosse; ladies’ football; and camogie, a women’s version of hurling.
It’s unclear how many people participate in the sports locally. Raleigh Cú Chulainn doesn’t track membership and players can join games whenever they want.
The teams practice in the spring and summer months on a field in east Raleigh that the group leases from a Raleigh rugby team.
The dedication and camaraderie has served the group well: The 14-member U.S. team that went to the first-ever Gaelic Athletic Association World Games in Abu Dhabi earlier this year had 10 Raleigh players.
Last year, two years after forming, Raleigh Cú Chulainn also won the North American Championships in Gaelic football.
The team has been a fixture in Raleigh’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. This year’s parade is set for Saturday in downtown Raleigh.
For many members who have recently moved from Ireland, the team is an extension of their native country. Raleigh Cú Chulainn has members who live as far as Chapel Hill and Fayetteville.
Most Irish children grow up playing one of the Gaelic sports. As adults, most people in Ireland play a sport or at least watch them, Wiseman said.
“It’s the home away from home,” said Eddie Foley, Raleigh Cú Chulainn team manager and treasurer.
Foley was born in Boston but grew up in Ireland. He moved back to the United States in the 1980s and to North Carolina in the ’90s.
He said he’s watched the local Irish population swell as more people move to North Carolina to study at local universities and to work in the biotech industry.
“The Irish are finding their way around the country,” Foley said.
Nearly 34,000 Raleigh residents identified themselves as having Irish ancestry between 2009 and 2013, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey.
It was the fourth-largest ancestral group, behind German, English and American.
Although the local Irish population is growing, Wiseman said most people who participate with Raleigh Cú Chulainn are American.
“Realistically, the future of this club is going to be mostly Americans,” he said.