Naomh Alee GAA club of Saudi Arabia remembers the late Edel Kelly Behan

20 February 2017

As a leaving gift, the Naomh Alee Chairman Patrick Moynagh presents (young) Joe Behan with the 2016 GPA GAA Football All Stars Programme following their visit to the UAE in November 2016. Parents Liam Behan and Edel Kelly-Behan look on. December 2016 at Ishbilia Park, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

By Patrick Moynagh, Cathaoirleach, Naomh Alee GAA Club

A recent reflection of a husband and father, having been part of an expatriate GAA Club in Saudi Arabia, following the loss of his wife and the mother to his young son, and the impact of the GAA on their lives...

In early February 2017, Edel Kelly Behan – the wife of Liam Behan and mother to the 10 year old Joe Behan, lost her battle to cancer.  Edel had battled her condition bravely over a number of years, and had never shirked from her role as wife and mother and a central figure in both her family and her community.

For two years up to the end of 2016, that community was the expatriate and Irish diaspora community of Riyadh, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

Liam, with Edel and their son, known to everybody as ‘young Joe’ had ventured from their home in Cork to the desert climes of Saudi Arabia, to progress careers and life experiences. 

Edel had been diagnosed with her illness and with a challenging prognosis, before their departure.  But, treatment facilities in Saudi Arabia were progressive, and where there’s life, there’s hope.

Now, the Irish diaspora are renowned for their adaptability and perseverance.  And there are perhaps fewer places in the world that would test that adaptability more completely than Saudi Arabia. 

An alcohol intolerant, single faith country, the home of 30% of the world's proven oil reserves and the bedrock of Islam – host to tens of millions of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca each year. 

But perhaps surprisingly, Riyadh is also home to a strong, professional group of Irish medical professionals, Doctors, Radio-therapists and Nursing professionals.

And it was through this mutual engagement with medicine in Saudi Arabia that Edel Kelly-Behan first came across the nursing staff members of Naomh Alee GAA Club in Riyadh... as it happens, the longest established GAA club on the now vibrant Middle East GAA scene.

Young Joe Behan meets and is presented with his medal by Pat Spillane at Ishbilia Park in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December 2015.

So, Edel, coming as she did from a family of girls in Sligo, who had never been a member of a GAA club in Ireland, became involved, together with her entire family, with a little GAA club in the middle of the Arabian desert.

Over the following 20 months, Edel and Liam progressed their lives and careers in Riyadh, battling the unforgiving illness with the true spirit of the fighting Irish. 

And in the middle of 2016, the news appeared good, and the family looked forward to good times ahead that would see a talented young Joe continue to flourish at school and on the football field, where this young Cork-man was taking the Friday morning training sessions at the Naomh Alee/DCU GAA Academy by storm. 

By January 2016, Joe had accumulated a fistful of GAA medals and had shaken hands with the visiting GAA Uachtaran Aogan O Fearghail and with the legendary Pat Spillane. Things were looking up for the Behan clan.

But ‘tempus fugit’, and the arrival of Autumn in 2016 brought challenging news.  Edel’s illness had returned. 

In October 2016, the family made the difficult decision that they would return to Ireland and plan the next, and very difficult phase of their family lives, together. They left Saudi Arabia in early December 2016. 

The Naomh Alee GAA Club and the collected Irish affiliated community in Riyadh, celebrated their time with our club at a leaving event, suitably, on the GAA field at Ishbilia Park. Emotions ran raw that day.

Christmas 2016 would be the last Christmas together for Liam, Edel and young Joe.  It was spent in Ireland as a family, with their extended families from Cork and Sligo.

On 9th February 2017, we lost Edel.  Our loss in Riyadh was considerable, a vibrant young member of our community had tragically passed on. But we knew that the loss to husband Liam and son Joe would be more profound and far reaching. 

We remembered Edel within our club, across social media and in our private thoughts.  The following week, we travelled as a GAA club the 1,000km from Riyadh to Sharjah in the UAE, to compete in final round of the Middle East GAA League.

Naomh Alee GAA Club, Riyadh - Crest.

We remembered Edel in the final moments before the start of each game. As fate would have it, this was the day of Edel Kelly-Behan’s memorial Mass in Ireland. 

At the very time that the Behan family were saying their final farewell to Edel, the Riyadh Gaels were playing against UAE club Al Ain Gaels. And as we later discovered, on that team was Liam Behan’s niece, Jenna.   

Fate had conspired to bring Edel’s extended families together in the Middle East, over 6,000 miles away from Dublin, at the moment she said her final ‘Goodbye’.

On Thursday 16th February, Liam Behan took time out of the most traumatic week in his life, to pen the following memo on Social Media:

“Sometimes in life you meet the most fantastic people ever and in this group, for me and my family, are the individuals that make up Naomh Alee Riyadh GAA Club. 

“Edel, coming from Sligo and a house full of girls, would not have had much interaction with the GAA. [But moving to and] living in Cork, and being congratulated by a neighbor when Joe was born with the remark that ‘it is great to have another hurler in the Parish’ started to give her some indication of the importance of the GAA in peoples lives.

“However, it was when we arrived in Riyadh and became involved with Naomh Alee, that she really became a GAA person, and really embraced the friendships made on a weekend morning in Ishbilia Park and so appreciated and respected the work put in by the club members.

“When we were leaving Riyadh, Edel insisted that I got a club Jersey for her.  It is the one and only GAA jersey that Edel ever owned.  Edel found her Parish when we joined Naomh Alee Riyadh.

“The Funeral Mass for Edel was held on Friday February 10th.  Late on Friday I was contacted by my niece Jenna Behan, who happened to playing in the Middle East League for Al Ain against Naomh Alee at the same time as the Mass was taking place.

“Purely by this remarkable coincidence have both myself and Joe learned that the club, both before and during the match, remembered Edel.

“This means so much to us and will never be forgotten.

“Go raibh maith agat a chairde.

“Liam and Joe Behan”


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