Ice Hockey players pushing for permanent rink after 40 years of skatingGary Ibbotson 11 Mar 2021
Ice hockey players around the country are taking part in a fundraiser in an effort to develop a permanent ice rink in Ireland – after more than 40 years of the sport being played here.
Players, friends, and family are walking, running, cycling, and skating the equivalent distance between their respective homes and the ice rink in Dundonald, Belfast for the month of March.
The Belfast rink is the only one on the island of Ireland, meaning the only one ice hockey players can play their matches on – roughly about once a month.
Due to the lack of rink, players have to practice with inline stakes rather than on ice, too.
“For the past eight years, we have had one time slot in the Dundonald ice rink – 10.15pm to 11.30pm every Saturday night,” says Aaron Guli, president of the Irish Ice Hockey Association (IHHA).
“By the time you get dressed and get home, it could be around 2am,” he says.
Guli says that this time is especially detrimental to children who wish to take up the sport as it can be too late for the players and their parents who drive them.
“We have kids here who want to play the sport but are being forced to move to the UK, USA, Belgium or somewhere else because we don’t have an accessible rink,” he says.
There was a full-size, year-round ice rink in Ireland at one point, however.
Located in Louth, the Dundalk Ice Dome opened in December 2006 but closed in May 2010, after less than four years in business.
“For the 40 years that ice hockey has been played in this country, there has only ever been one full-size rink, and that was open for less than four years,” says Guli.
“We have been in touch with the owners of the old ice rink for the past three years, trying to get it re-opened,” he says.
“But they have no interest in re-leasing it.
“We have met every requirement that they have set us, but they just do not seem interested, which is quite puzzling.”
Smaller rinks, mainly used for public skating were open in Dolphin’s Barn and Phibsborough during the 1980s and 1990s, but both have since closed – the latter shutting its doors in the early 2000s.
“Unfortunately, due to their size, they were never really conducive to ice hockey or winter sports,” says Guli.
Because of their minority status, sports such as ice hockey don’t receive much Government backing.
In November 2020, in an effort to boost the sector after Covid-19 restrictions, the Government announced an €85m funding package for sporting organisations.
As part of the fund, the Irish Ice Hockey Association was allocated €20,000 – 0.023% of the overall fund.
“The has been no Government funding,” says Guli. “They just have no interest.”
“Every other European country supports winter sports. You can find a rink in nearly every country apart from Ireland.
“Some of poorest countries in the world such as Nepal, Mongolia and Iran have ice rinks, but Ireland doesn’t.
“We say we are a sports-mad country, but in what way?” he says.
Guli says that local councils in Dublin have been more supportive of the cause but so far it has mainly been “lip service.”
“We have been in contact with the four Dublin councils about land options and where we can find land – we are looking for a home,” he says.
“Space and land have been difficult to find.”
Guli says the association “is not highlighting certain areas,” but would prefer to develop the rink within the M50.
“We are not going to turn down looking at anything,” he says. “We don’t want to limit ourselves.”
In regard to cost, Guli says the price of building a rink can vary drastically.
A short-term solution would be an air-dome which would be semi-permanent and cost around €1.2m while a fully permanent rink could cost anything between €3m and €10m.
“We have been dealing with a German based company who is looking to invest in the project,” Guli says.
“This fundraiser is not only about the financial aspect, but also about raising awareness – showing people how dedicated we are.”
Currently located in the Sports Ireland campus in Blanchardstown, the IHHA has about 400 signed up members, Guli says.
“That figure is actually probably closer to zero at the moment because nobody has signed up over the past year due to the restrictions.”
“We had about 1100 when we had a rink, so at that time it was absolutely a growing sport,” he says.
In non-pandemic times, eight adult teams compete in all-Ireland league with various kids’ clubs spread across the country, too.
“We have kids clubs in Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Mayo etc,” says Guli, “so people do want to play the game.”
Guli says the fundraiser and campaign is dedicated to the late Nigel Smeaton, a former Irish international player who passed away last June due to cancer.
“It was his dream to see a permanent rink in Ireland, so this is our way of honouring him and hopefully fulfilling his dream.”
The fundraiser, called March to the Rink, can be found on GoFundMe.com