Weird Sport: A look into one of Gaelic Ireland’s most ancient sports: hurling

By: Marin Dremock

While reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, I came across the mention of a sport that I’ve never heard of. It’s called hurling, and it’s Ireland’s oldest and fastest game.

Hurling is a combination of field hockey, lacrosse and baseball, according to the website Experience Gaelic Games. It involves two opposing teams trying to bat the ball, the sliotar, between the other team’s goalposts.

Waltonian | The Waltonian Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

The hurley, or camán in the Irish Gaelic, is like a flattened out field hockey stick that has more of the effect and look of a paddle. It is the instrument used to hit the sliotar either between the posts for a point or into a net under the crossbar to score a goal, which is worth three points.

Players can advance the sliotar by catching it and carrying it in their hand, hitting it while it’s in the air or hitting it while it’s on the ground (sort of like polo, field hockey or golf). Experience Gaelic Games says that the sliotar can travel up to 180 kilometers per hour over the course of a hurling game, giving the sport its reputation as the “fastest game on grass” and “the most skillful game in the world.”

Similarly to football (soccer, in our American dialect), there are a number of fouls that a player can commit, resulting in a free hit for the other team. Some fouls are, according to Traditional Sports, “pushing, kicking, holding, jumping on the opponent, blocking the opponent with the hand or arm.” Also, players can be awarded with yellow or red cards for the severity of these fouls.

Hurling is said to have been played by the ancient Celts, but a league was officially formed in Ireland in 1887, when the Gaelic Athletic Association encouraged games to be worked around a common set of rules. Since then, championships have been played almost every year.

Hurling has advanced its play to areas of the world like Australia, North America and other parts of Europe. It was even featured as an unofficial sport in the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, Mo. As the unique game grows, it’ll be interesting to see if it ever comes to the Olympic games as an official game.

Sources: Experience Gaelic Games, Traditional Sports

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