Northern Ireland’s County Armagh has faced more than three decades of violence and political turmoil. Unlike most Northern Irish counties, which swing one way or the other, Armagh has been almost exactly half-Unionist/Protestant and half-Nationalist/Catholic. The county has seen much of the worst of the violence attached to the Troubles, and earned itself the nickname of “Bandit Country,” in reference to its rural IRA strongholds. As recently as August of 1998, when a bomb was detonated in the nearby village of Omagh, killing 29 and injuring 220, the community has been shattered by violence and aggression.
It is a testament, then, to the average Northern Irish citizen’s desire for understanding and peace, that Protestant and Catholic Gaelic football teams can meet each other on the field in friendly competition. Played almost nowhere else in the world, Gaelic football provides a common ground for these communities – they become neither Protestant nor Catholic, neither Unionist nor Nationalist, but simply Irish.
Dating to at least the 12th century, Gaelic football is one of the world’s oldest games, and the Irish take great pride in it. The fanaticism surrounding the sport surpasses even that which Americans display for professional baseball and football. But it’s not just sport that brings people together in small villages like those of County Armagh, it’s a shared national pride. And in the wake of the Troubles, it’s hard not to shake the sense that one isn’t watching just a friendly, small-town recreational game of Gaelic football, but history in the making. 15 + 15 is a dreamlike portrait that seeks to capture the exhilaration, beauty, and otherworldliness of this uncharted territory.