East Belfast GAA club targeted in ‘sinister’ attempt at intimidation

PSNI called to Henry Jones playing fields, used by East Belfast GAA, following discovery of suspicious object

Children as young as five were training with their GAA club at a Belfast sports ground when it was targeted by a “sinister” attempt at intimidation.

Police were called to the Henry Jones playing fields used by East Belfast GAA on Sunday following the discovery of a suspicious object. Searches were carried out and the council-owned pitch in Castlereagh on the outskirts of the city was closed.

The Irish Times has learned that underage football training for boys and girls aged five to 14 took place in the morning while the club’s ladies’ footballers were due to play a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) team on Sunday afternoon.

Police received a report at around 11.20am and attended the scene along with Ammunition Technical Officers (ATO).


The object was declared an elaborate hoax on Sunday evening and the fields and surrounding roads were re-opened, with police appealing for information.

The incident is the latest in a series of attacks since the club’s formation in 2020 – it is now among the biggest GAA clubs in Ulster with more than 600 members, including 200 children – when a pipe bomb was planted in a bin at the field before one of its first training sessions.

Police initiated a hate crime investigation last summer after the club’s nets were set on fire while a hoax bomb alert also led to a pitch closure in May.

Many of the club’s members come from a Protestant background, while the playing fields are located in a part of the city that was once a unionist stronghold.

SDLP Councillor Séamas de Faoite condemned the latest incident and insisted that it will “only increase support for East Belfast GAA who continue to go from strength to strength”.

“Make no mistake about it, this is a sinister attempt to intimidate one of the most diverse GAA clubs on our island and it’s an attack of the entire community in East Belfast who want to live in peace with their neighbours,” he said.

“It will not work and those behind it will not win.”

The development comes in advance of the beginning of campaigning for the Westminster elections on July 4th.

In the run-up to the North’s local council elections last May, comments made by a Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) candidate, Anne Smyth, sparked an outcry when she said a decision to cancel a “taster” GAA session at an East Belfast primary school was “justifiable in view of the sectarian nature of the supposed ‘sporting’ organisation that is the GAA”.

Ms Smyth, who failed in her bid to get elected to the hardline unionist party, cited “GAA expansionism concerns” surrounding the Henry Jones playing fields and criticised East Belfast GAA’s former honorary president Linda Ervine “for her attempts to persuade east Belfast people to learn Gaelic”.

On Sunday, Alliance Party MLA for the area, Peter McReynolds, said those behind the latest security alert have “no regard for anyone in the community, nor do they represent the people of East Belfast”.

“East Belfast GAA has garnered immense praise from our community, and rightly so. Their efforts to unite people through sports is something to be celebrated and promoted,” he said.

“Yet the club has received a never-ending slew of threats and security alerts. Those behind security alerts like this are not interested in anything positive; instead, they are focused on creating division and destruction.

“They are unwanted in East Belfast or anywhere else, and I would urge anyone with information on this alert to contact police immediately.”

East Belfast MP and interim DUP party leader, Gavin Robinson, posted on social media that the incident was “senseless”.

“I’ve spoken with Police ... They are grateful to the wider community, impacted once again, for their patience. This is senseless,” he wrote.

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times