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Kurdish Refugee’s Croke Park Debut

Hurling star Zak Moradi, who arrived in Ireland at the age of 10 as a Kurdish refugee. (Photo: GAA)

By Olivia O’Mahony, Editorial Assistant
October / November 2017

History was made in Dublin’s Croke Park during the Lory Meagher Cup final in June, when the Leitrim senior hurling team took to the terrain for the first time against Warwickshire. Equally significant, however, was the presence of Iraq-born Iranian-Kurdish refugee Zemnako Moradi, who goes by Zak. It marked the first time an immigrant of that background lined out in a national GAA final.

Moradi, 26, arrived in Ireland at the age of 11 as one of some 100 Kurds placed in Leitrim’s Carrick-on-Shannon as part of a United Nations-supervised resettlement program in the early to mid-2000s. Several members of the group were profiled in the New York Times in September. During the 1980s, Zak’s parents fled to Iraq to escape persecution in their native Iran, but soon found themselves living in a terrorized community under Saddam Hussein. Arriving in Leitrim, Moradi spoke no English, and knew nothing of GAA until he met local hurling legend Clement Cunniffe.

“It took me a year or two to get used to it,” Moradi told the Irish Times. “I started later than everybody else.” But he learned fast, and when his family moved to Dublin, he began to play for the Thomas Davis club in Tallaght. His loyalty, though, lies with the county that welcomed his family into its community 15 years ago: “I never lost the connection,” he said on the day of the final, which came to a 0-17 – 0-11 win to Warwickshire. “I have a lot of friends down there in Leitrim.”

Moradi was named on the 2016 Lory Meagher all-star team and has gained popularity in his position as corner forward. He believes that the ethnic diversity in GAA will continue to broaden, and that the sporting sphere in Ireland is a place of welcome and inclusivity: “When you play GAA, you become part of the community and part of the culture.” ♦

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