Irish Sports | Hurling

In our previous post we talked about Gaelic Football and its rules. Now, we want to talk about another great Irish game: Hurling. Hurling is the fastest  and one of the oldest sports in the world. Hurling is played with sticks known as hurleys and balls called sliotar. It is played by two teams of 15 members each in a large pitch with goals at each end.

The first record of its existence dates back to the 7th and 8th century in a Legal manuscript about sporting injuries. It’s also mentioned in Leabhar na hUidre ( Irish epic dated 11th/12th century) and in the romantic tale Cath Mhaigh Tuireadh Chunga (13th/14th century) where the Tuatha De Danna and the Fir Bolg played a very violent hurling game at Moytura, Co. Mayo. However, the most famous and oldest mention of hurling is in the Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailgne, whose origins are in the Iron Age. This tale narrates the adventures of Setanta, an Irish hero. Hurling is specifically mentioned when Setanta uses a hurley stick and a sliotar to kill a vicious hound. You can find a wonderful mural displaying this history on Nassau Street in Dublin city centre.

setanta mural

Hurling was considered in these tales as a combat training technique. Besides legends and fairy tales, hurling is also mentioned in the Celtic Legal system. It was also said to be forbidden during the Normans occupation during the 12th century. Despite this, the Irish sport survived.
During the 19th century another version of hurling developed. Its winter version, very similar to modern Scottish shinty, became very popular within the Irish upper class. It was played fundamentally on the ground with a stick and a hard ball.Its second version, called Leinster Hurling, was played with a broader hurley and a softer ball and players could pick up the ball from the field, catch it and strike it too. With the establishment of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in the late 19th century and the introduction of a formal set of rules, these two versions, unified in the sport we know today.

How to play Hurling?

Following the GAA description, hurling is played as follows: “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.”

Here are a few examples featuring our students:

hurling sport 2
hurling sport

Hard to understand? This video will make it easier!

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