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Sports in Ireland - A Cultural Phenomenon


Gaelic Athletic Association
Gaelic Football

The sport of hurling is widely recognized as the national pastime of Ireland. Dating as far back as the 13th century, there is considerable reference to hurling in many old Irish manuscripts and many Irish heroes were recognized as expert hurlers, such as the legendary warrior Cú Chulainn (Hurling). It was brought to Ireland by the Celts when the last ice age was beginning to recede and is considered Europe's oldest field game. However, the original game of hurling is considerably more violent than the version being played in stadiums today.


The Original Game

In traditional hurling, the players, armed with a three to four foot ash stick, would attempt to hit and hurl a ball, or "sliothar", from one village to a distant goal in the next village (Move to Ireland). The hurlers would traverse over great distances, through hedges and over hillsides, whacking the ball and catching it on the rounded end of their stick to each other. However, because the players on the other team are trying to move the ball in the opposite direction, it is quite likely that the hurley sticks were used for much more then simply hitting the ball (Croke Park).


Hurling Today

The game revived in 1884 is much more civil then its violent predecessor. Unlike the vast expanses of land that hurling was originally played on, the new dimensions of the field has made the game one of the fastest paced events on earth. The field's dimensions are approximately 137m long and 82m wide with goalposts located on each side. The goalposts are the same size as on a rugby field, but the crossbar rests slightly lower. Each team is comprised of 15 players and is allowed a maximum of three substitutions per game (pitch positions can be seen below).

The ball can be moved on the ground, through the air, or can be carried by the players. If carried, however, a single player may not take more then four steps with the ball in his possession. Once those steps have been used up, the player may bounce the ball on the ground and back into the stick, but it is forbidden to catch the ball more than twice at any given time. To score, the ball can be hurled over the crossbar for one point or under it and into the net for a goal, worth a value of three points (All About Hurling).

Cultural Importance

Although many old variations of sport have been played throughout Ireland's history, hurling is among the few that is ancient. The modern revival of the game is inseparably linked with the revival of Irish culture and nationalism that occurred during the 19th century. The game represents a link with Ireland's historic past, and it is a great source of pride to those who still cherish their roots.


All About Hurling. Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). GAA. 10 Nov. 2006

Croke Park - Site visit to the historic Croke Park while in Ireland

Hurling. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 7 Nov. 2006.

Move to Ireland. 1996. Move to Ireland. 7 Nov. 2006.

Hurling Pitch

Pitch Positions

Hurley Ball ("Sliothar) and Stick ("Hurley")

"On Christmas Day and during the Christmas season we used to have hurley matches, and the whole village used to be mixed up in the game. Two men would be chosen, one from each side, for captains. Each of them used to call up man by man in turns until all who were on the strand were distributed in the two sides. We had hurleys and a ball. The game was played on the white strand without shoes or stockings,and we went in up to our necks whenever the ball went into the sea. Throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas time there wasn't a man able to drive his cow to the hill for the stiffness of his back and his bones; a pair or so would have a bruised foot, and another would be limping on one leg for a month." --Tomás Ó Criomhthain reminiscing about his youth on Great Blasket Island in the years before the regularisation of hurling rules. From "The Islandman," by Tomas O'Crohan, pages 133-134.

"Sports do not build character. They reveal it."

John Wooden (American, b.1910)