I’ll come right out and say it – I don’t much like sports. I’ve never understood the culture; money spent and made, clothing, equipment, (especially) crazed fans, confusing rules; massive boredom. And I do have people in my life who love football, basketball, fishing, golf, hunting and soccer (which isn’t bad, as far as sports go). They’ve tried, truly, they have, to convince me of the benefits and enjoyment of sports. I will admit that viewing a game in person is infinitely better than watching on TV, or even worse, listening to it. But still, I’d rather read a book. Or stare off into space. Or clean the house.
That said, I found a sport that I find fascinating. While in pub in Dingle, Ireland, we watched a final match in the game of hurling. I was hooked.
What is hurling?
The game itself: Hurling is a fast paced game, the fastest paced game in the world. The field is 1 1/2 more in length than an American football field and almost twice the width. That makes for a lot of running! There are two teams of fifteen each. Six forward, six defenders, two mid-fielders, and a goal keeper. The stick is called a hurley and the ball a sliotar. Here are the playing rules as per the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) found at: gaa.ie, “*Playing Rules *You may strike the ball on the ground, or in the air. You may catch the ball or pick up the ball with your hurley into your hand and carry it for not more than four steps in the hand. After those steps you may bounce the ball on the hurley and back to the hand, but you are forbidden to catch the ball more than twice. You can run balancing or bouncing the ball (the solo) on the hurley indefinitely. Players may contest for the ball by playing it with the hurley or by shoulder charging an opponent side-to-side. To score, you strike the ball over the crossbar with the hurley or under the crossbar and into the net for a goal, the latter being the equivalent of three points.” You can watch clips of games on the GAA site also.
The teams are all male; but don’t despair, there is a woman’s equivalent. It’s called the Camogie (pronounced Cam-gee). I haven’t yet seen one of their games.
Back to the pub: it was crowded with cheering patrons, a couple of TVs with the game on and plenty of drink and excellent food. At first I thought it was going to be boring and loud, but I was oh so wrong. At least on the boring part. I was mesmerized, as was my son-in-law, who is a huge soccer fan. We couldn’t get enough. Unfortunately, the game ended way too soon. And this from me!
Later, in Galway, we went to a sporting goods store, mostly to find county shirts. Since some of my ancestors come from Galway, we wanted to get a shirt from there. You can only buy shirts in the county for that county (at least that was our experience). We later got a shirt in Sligo also, another area my ancestors came from. (Picture from stock images.)
My son-in-law was all for buying a hurley set for his family. Alas, my daughter talked some sense into him (where would they play and with whom? Much less getting all of it back to the states.)
But it doesn’t end there. The history of hurling and the GAA is fascinating. Hurling is an ancient Celtic game, dating around 3000 years old. It is mentioned in Celtic mythology. Irishmen have been playing the game for a long time; until the English came to Ireland.
The English and the Irish viewed the world differently. Not only was the language different, but the entire culture, from laws to dress, were different. The English considered the Irish to be wild savages and it would benefit the Irish to be forced into the English way of thinking. Over the centuries, several laws and policies were set in place to remove the Irishness from the inhabitants. During the Celtic Revival (late 1800s), many Irish wanted a return to their culture. They brought back Irish language, dance, literature, and sports.
Michael Cusack, in 1884, meet with other like-minded men and together they created the GAA. On their website, even today, it states: “The Association also promotes Irish music, song and dance and the Irish language as an integral part of its objectives.” They bought land around Dublin and built Croke Park, still in use today.
Politics, never far from Irish anything, also played a part in the early days. British were required to have permits if they wanted to play and if one was in the British forces, one was prohibited from being on a team. In fact, from 1901-1971, any GAA member taking part in, or even watching, non-Gaelic sport, was ousted from the GAA.
During the war of Independence (early 1900s), trouble broke out. Some of the founding members were more radical than others, and the English, fearing trouble, sent spies to the GAA. (Very simplified telling here.) Those spies were found out and assassinated. In reprisal, the English went to Croke Park during a hurling match and opened fire, killing thirteen, plus two were killed by the stampede of the 5,000 spectators. If you’re interested in the full story, go here: http://www.theirishstory.com/2011/11/21/today-in-irish-history-bloody-sunday-november-21-1920/#.XIRg2FxKg2w
It became illegal to play hurling games as it was counted as a ‘gathering of rebels’.
The Free-State of Ireland won its independence from England in 1922. Northern Ireland is still part of Great Britain. Hurling was once more a sport of the Irish.
The GAA is an amateur Association, and always has been. “Players, even at the highest level, do not receive payment for playing and the volunteer ethos remains one of the most important aspects of the GAA.” (from gaa.ie)
It’s a world wide game now, with leagues all over. In the USA there are over 130 Hurling clubs. Here is where you can find out more information on them: http://usgaa.org
Let me know if you get to go to an actual game of hurling, or if you watch it on TV.
I’d love to know what you think.