The GAA and Hurling

hurling1

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.)

Irish-County-GAA-jerseys-Uniform-Gaelic-Hurling.jpg_350x350

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.

 

 

The Colors of Ireland’s Flag

The Emerald Isle – Forty shades of green – Green beer – Shamrocks – Wearing of the Green – Green Leprechauns; what is up with Green being associated with Ireland?

Not only is the landscape considered lush and green, but the color itself has important, as well as, political meaning.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is said to have explained the Holy Trinity by using the shamrock, a type of clover, which grows profusely in Ireland. (Seamrog is the Irish word for ‘little plant’ and hence, shamrock.) But that’s only the beginning.

The English had been trying for several hundred years to subject the Irish into submission. Which the Irish resisted through countless rebellions and strife. Probably where the idea of Irish stubbornness comes into play. Sometime in the early 18th century, soon after the rebellion of 1798, green became the color of Irish nationals. Patriots began wearing green ribbons to show their support of Ireland and its independence. The English were not amused.

Ever attempting to quell Irish rebellion, a ban on wearing green was enforced. You may have heard the popular Irish song, The Wearin’ of the Green. It was written at the time of this ban and is still sung today. Here is part of the song:

“O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that’s goin’ round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!
No more Saint Patrick’s Day we’ll keep, his color can’t be seen
For there’s a cruel law ag’in the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”
I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand
And he said, “How’s poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?”
“She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen
For they’re hanging men and women there for the Wearin’ o’ the Green”.”

(There are several versions of the song, all with the same theme.)

Ironically, this ‘ban’ forever joined Ireland to the color green. As many Irishmen and woman were forced to leave Ireland for America, Australia, and England, they brought their pride of Ireland with them by ‘wearin’ of the green’.

As the Irish were Catholics, and religion is a political issue in Ireland, green was the color associated with the Catholic Irish.

How does orange come into all of this? William of Orange, a protestant king of England, came to the ‘rescue’ of Irish protestants in the late 1680s. He fought alongside his army in the battle of Boyne and is considered a hero to the protestants in Northern Ireland. You can read a great account here: https://www.libraryireland.com/biography/WilliamIIIofOrange.php

Bringing it to basics then: green is for (Catholic) Irish independence and Orange is in support of Protestants and against an Irish Free State. (Which now exists, after the Easter uprising of 1916 and is known as Ireland rather than Irish Free State – Northern Ireland is still part of the UK.)

White is the hope for peace between Catholics and Protestants.

As late as 2005, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was active in trying to unite all of Ireland into one country. They announced an end to armed conflict in 2005, bringing some peace to a land torn by war, rebellion and uprising for hundreds of years.

Growing up in NJ I remember St. Patrick Day’s parades where supporters of Ireland wore green and Irish Protestants wore orange. It was a pretty big deal. Maybe a few fights would break out – just a bit of shenanigans by some hooligans drinking too much green beer.

 

The Four Treasures of The Tuatha De Danann

four treasures

When the Tuatha De Danann came to Ireland in ships from the far north, they brought with them magical treasures. Each treasure comes of a different city and each treasure was brought by the poet of that city.  I think the term ‘poet’ can be used pretty broadly; they were trained in all of the arts, including magic and druidry. These treasures, or hallows, are an integral part of Irish mythology. There are many stories, both ancient and modern, where these treasures are mentioned or referred to. They make a good tale, even today. Check out Valerie Biel’s books starting with Circle of Nine. They are a fantasy series incorporating Irish mythology and the four treasures. http://www.valeriebiel.com

And you’ve probably heard of The Druid Chronicles too. The series is laced with Irish references. https://kevinhearne.com/novels/

Cauldron by Lorriane Mulholland

The first treasure (not in any specific order of importance) is the Cauldron of Dagda. (The picture is from Google and is by Lorriane Mulholland.) The cauldron was brought by the poet Semias from the island city of Muirias to Ireland. This cauldron had an endless supply of food, that not only filled the person eating, but also restored health and vigor. Dagda was regarded as a god of the Tuath, the father/chieftain. He was also considered a great druid, mixing wisdom with magic.

nuadasword

Second is the Sword of Nuada. (This picture comes from ancientpages.com) Interestingly, it was not brought to Ireland by Nuada, but used by him in battle. The sword was brought by the poet Uiscias from the city of Findias. Nuada was the first king of the Tuatha. Once the sword was drawn, no one could escape it’s lethal blow. Not only that, but an enemy was drawn to it, so running away wasn’t an option.

Tara_stone

Next is the Stone of Destiny. In Irish it’s known as Lia Fail. It was brought by the poet Morfessa from the city of Falias. It would cry out when the rightful heir touched it. Reminds me of King Arthur legends with Excalibur. (I’m sure the Irish legend is first.) Cuchulain, a great hero in Irish mythology, apparently got pretty angry when the stone refused to cry out to the man he wanted to be king. He tried to split it with his sword. After that the stone wouldn’t declare the true ruler, until Brian Boru in 1002. Since then, it’s been silent. The stone remains among us mortals, in County Meath, on the hill Tara. I haven’t yet been there, but I am surprised at the size. It’s above ground height is just over 3′. From the pictures it looks taller. On the other hand, that’s quite a stone to bring all the way from…Morfessa. Like all Irish monuments, it’s open to the public. Many battles were fought at the foot hills of Tara.

lugh spear2

Lastly, is the Spear of Lugh. (This image comes from Grannulu’ Grove, where there are blogs about Ireland you might enjoy.) It was brought by Esras from the city of Gorias. Lugh, like Nuada, is the barer of the weapon. He is considered a young warrior god of light for the Tuatha. No one could withstand the spear, making the wielder invincible. The Smithsonian channel did a show on sacred sites in Ireland. An interesting idea they presented is that of the legend of Lugh. He coincides with a comet. Up until that time, most Irish legends are concerned with the earth. But the comet brought attention to the sky. Lugh is shown as bright light, wielding a spear, shooting across the sky, like a comet.  Ancients would have been astounded by a comet, believing it something to do with the gods. It makes interesting scientific sense of lore. The show was fascinating, and if you’re a fan of ancient Ireland, you may want to take a look at it.

All of treasures are really ways to win a war and run a kingdom. An army needs food to sustain it and weapons to overcome the enemy as well as a ruler that you have total faith in.

The Stone of Lia Fail is the only remaining treasure. Remember how the Tuatha went to the otherworld? Well, they took their treasures with them. Was it to protect humans from too much power and magic, or to jealously guard them?

Have you been to County Meath and seen the Lia Fail? If so, I’d love to know your thoughts.

The Tuatha De Danann

Tuatha arriving in Ireland

Who were The Tuatha De Dannan?

Now mind, this little snippet is taking in thousands of years of oral history and a myriad of legends and myths. Let me state now that I believe there was such a race of people, though probably not as they are often depicted. I’m going to tackle this subject as ancient history. OK, mixed with myths. (But then, I believe there was a King Arthur; just not the rewritten medieval version.)

The People of the goddess Dana (or Danu) arrived in Ireland from the north, in ships. They set fire to those ships so they could never return from whence they came. Myth has them arriving in a cloud. Perhaps the smoke of the burning ships mixed with the constant Irish mists gave rise to this idea. The reason they left their homeland is not known. One account I read stated that the Tuaths came from Greece. They were tall with dark hair and eyes and pale skin. Maybe the present day ‘dark Irish’ are descendants of the Tuath. (Since I fit that description, I’m all for it.)

The Fir Bolgs were earlier inhabitants and many wars broke out between them. The Tuath prevailed, sending the Fir Bolgs to the hills and underground. Many who study Irish history felt that the rise of leprechauns comes from the displaced Fir Bolgs, who stole and harried the Tuaths after the wars. Another constant enemy were the Formorians. Some scholars, however, believe the Fir Bolgs and Formorians may be the same people; others see them as a type–good vs evil.

The Tuaths ruled Ireland and brought culture, art, architecture,  druids, and magic. They were gifted in necromancy as well. They had four magical treasures; the Stone of Fal, Spear of Lug, Sword of Nuadu, and Cauldron of the Dagda. I’ll discuss this in a later post.

The final invasion (for the Tuatha De Dannan) came from the Milesians, a people from Portugal and Spain. According to Seumas McManus in his book, The Story of the Irish Race, the Milesians were a Celtic tribe scattered throughout Europe. A calling of the Clans went out and the clan gathered. It took years to build ships and for word to get to the scattered tribes. When they were ready, they set sail and landed in Ireland; their Land of Destiny.

Of course, they had to defeat the Tuatha De Dannan, which they eventually did. An agreement was made that each race would take half the land. The Milesians, apparently being a cunning people, divided Ireland in half; the Milesians would inhabit above ground while the Tuatha De Dannan would live in the Underworld–where they became the Fae/Fairies of Ireland.  Mr. McManus points out that most conquerors despise those they’ve defeated, but not so the Milesians. They turned the Tuatha De Dannan into gods and goddess and as characters in their mythology.

In modern times, the Tuatha De Dannan have been used to influence elves and fairies. They have also been mentioned in movies and games. I remember Willow using the name as part of a spell. Have you heard the term in books or movies?

Do you believe they were an actual race or total myth? Or maybe a mix of the two? Whatever you believe, they are an interesting people with a rich history and have left an indelible imprint on Ireland.

 

 

 

Tara – the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland

Tara

Tara, in County Meath, should be on your Ireland bucket list. It is on mine. Sadly, I haven’t been to Tara – yet.

Tara, known in gaeilge as Temair, was the ancient center of power in Ireland. More than 140 kings were crowned there. The Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny, sits atop the hill of Tara. It was brought to Ireland by the famous Tuatha De Danann. Legend has it that the Lia Fail will roar when touched by the rightful ruler. (This is somewhat reminiscent of the King Arthur legend; only the rightful heir can pull the sword from the stone.)

Before that it was a dwelling place of the gods, as well as a portal to the underworld. The oldest passage tomb on Tara, Mound of Hostages, dates to 2,500 BC.

St. Patrick supposedly confronted the pagans here, bringing Christianity to Ireland.

Here’s an interesting fact: at the turn of the last century, amidst much controversy, a group of British Israelis believed the Arc of the Covenant was buried there. (It wasn’t.) Many Irish nationalist didn’t want anyone digging up/around Tara. This was the first time a national monument came under scrutiny as a national monument and not just as British owning Ireland.

Recently an incredibly large temple was found under the hill of Tara. It hasn’t been excavated because the government doesn’t want Tara closed down and dug up. But it does show the importance of the area in ancient times.  It also helps to confirm questions about the many other standing stones and ancient sites surrounding Tara. Because of new technology, archaeologist have found close to 100 other monuments in the area.

It would have been quite a spectacular place to behold in those ancient times! 100 acres of standing stones, monuments and passage tombs. Imagine a king being crowned, with thousands of people gathered to witness the event. Or the death of a king, taken to the passage tomb. There is so much history there, one could dream up all sorts of scenarios about what may or may not have happened. Definitely a place for those who love ancient history, Ireland and imagining what once was. How have I missed this place before?

There are mixed reviews. Once, when visiting England, a woman with our tour group kept complaining about all the castles. If I see one more stupid castle… Really? You truly can not please everyone. If you’ve been to Tara, I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Depending on the site I’ve researched, entrance varies from free to 5 Euro. Better have the Euros handy. The average time visitors take varies also, from 1-2 hours. I’d probably be there all day.

Interested in more reading? Try these sites:

https://mythicalireland.com/ancient-sites/the-hill-of-tara-teamhair

hilloftara.org

http://www.newgrange.com/tara-ark-of-the-covenant.htm

 

Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery

A Megalithic Cemetery. Seriously. This is an incredible place to visit. Not just one or two passage tombs or Dolmens, but thirty remaining circles, tombs and Dolmens. There may have been over a hundred in ancient times. Carrowmore dates back to 3700 BC. And you get to walk around the area, touch the stones, and soak in the ancientness of it all.

Carrowmore is located in County Sligo (where many of my ancestors hail). It’s one of four major megalithic sites in Ireland. Though it is in a remote area, it’s easy to find; well marked. The bonus for me is that it’s all easily accessible. There is a place to park, a small building with some information, a bathroom, and where you buy tickets. Tickets are only five Euro/adult. They do have a guided tour or you can get a pamphlet and walk around yourself. The person at the counter was very knowledgeable and willing to talk, explain, and answer my questions. Expect to spend about 1-2 hours, especially if you enjoy this sort of thing. But then, why would you end up here if you didn’t like it?

One if the questions I had were about what we can’t see – are there more tombs? The gentleman at the desk told me this entire area probably had hundreds more tombs and there is much more work to be done.

It was raining, off and on, the day we went. (No surprise here.) Umbrellas aren’t very useful with the wind either, so you may want to have a light rain coat with a hood when you visit, just in case.

The best website to read more about Carrowmore is:

http://www.carrowkeel.com/sites/carrowmore/index.html

It is full of interesting information and photos.

Queen Maeve’s Cairn:

Carrowmore6 Mave's tomb

This picture is taken from Carrowmore. It’s Queen Maeve’s Cairn. You can see the mist almost obscuring the cairn. We waited, taking many pictures, for the mist to swirl out of the way and the sun to shine enough to see it.

The cairn is located on the top of Knocknarea and thought to have been built about 3200 BC. We didn’t hike up the mountain to it, but you can tell it’s incredible from Carrowmore; to be so visible from so far away! It’s a well preserved tomb, one of the best in Ireland.

Maeve was a fierce warrior queen of Connaught.  Quoting the site mentioned above: “That she chose to be interred in the Great Cairn of Knocknarea says something about its prestige as the most important and ancient sacred site in Connaught.”

Carrowmore and Knocknarea must have been a hallowed area in ancient times.

Sligo and the megalithic cemetery at Carrowmore are well worth the effort to visit.  Often when travelers visit Ireland, they head to Dublin and/or Belfast, or the Ring of Kerry. All fantastic places – indeed, I doubt there isn’t a great place to visit – however, Ireland holds many unique and wonderful sites. If you’re planning a visit, consider some of the less traveled places.

Let me know what treasures you find.

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

I grew up in New Jersey. There are a lot of Irish in New Jersey. St. Patrick’s Day was always a pretty big deal, even if you weren’t Irish. Parades, wearing of the green, pubs, and a bit of fisticuffs were what made the day memorable.

Then I moved out west. For the first time I learned that if you weren’t wearing green you got pinched. (But who wouldn’t wear green? Well, now I was surrounded by people who were not as Irish as back east.)

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was a holy day. Pubs closed, good Catholics went to church. However, that has changed, probably due to tourism. Did you know that over 34 million Americans claim Irish ancestors? Add the Canadians, Australians, New Zealander’s and others, and that’s a lot of tourists wanting to visit the old country. Now, St. Patrick’s Day is more festive. They have parades, pubs are open, and Irish culture is honored.

Interesting facts:

The first St. Paddy’s Day parade was held in NYC in the 1760s by Irishmen in the English army. The parade later became a show of strength for Catholics who felt outnumbered by Protestants.

The pinching is supposed to represent Leprechauns, sneaky little creatures that they are, who pinch you for not wearing green and being proud of the Irish.

Why wear green anyway? Since Leprechauns are green and/or wear green, you can become invisible when you wear it. Those of you choosing not to wear green are seen by said wee folk and so…you get pinched.

On a darker note, green was the color worn by the Irish in rebellion against the English. The first color of Ireland was blue. Later, one of the rebel groups wore green. It was a way that they could identify members. The English, after catching on, would imprison or hang anyone wearing green, so it became a great symbol of Irish resistance. (Speaking Irish could also get you sent to prison or hung. I guess a lot of things did; being Catholic, adding windows to your house, wanting to have your own country…)

Orange is the color for Protestants, due to William of Orange. I recall a few St. Patrick’s Day parades where those wearing green and those wearing orange would converge and literally battle it out.

St. Patrick was actually, scholars believe, English. He was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland as a slave. He escaped and returned, bringing Christianity to Ireland. 17 March 461 is the day many believe he died.

Though credited for ridding Ireland of snakes, he did not, as there were never any snakes in Ireland to begin with.

Being Irish in America is the second largest immigrant group. I thought Italian was first, but then, I did grow up in New Jersey. But no, German is number one.

So, if you’re Irish, part Irish, wish you were Irish, support Ireland, have a great St. Patrick’s Day!

(Corned Beef and Cabbage with Irish Soda bread – yum!)