HURLING: FROM ASH TO GOLD

Paulo Nunes Dos Santos

 

Hurling, one of Ireland’s national sports, is much more than a simple game – it is a tradition. Older than the recorded history of Ireland, hurling is thought to predate Christianity and to have come to the country with the Celts. Considered to be the world’s fastest field sport, hurling has been an important part of Irish culture for more than 2000 years. From the traditional making of the hurleys, the unique handcrafted wooden sticks used to hit a sliotar (ball), to the excitement surrounding All-Ireland cup matches, hurling is deeply embedded in Irish culture. It’s a fixture of life that is regularly featured in local film, music and literature. Despite centuries of conflict, famine, mass emigration and British occupation, this Irish game has stubbornly survived. It carried on even when English laws banned Irish customs. The hurleys, often given as a gift to honoured guests, are made from ash wood. The base of the tree near the root is the only part used by craftsmen who still follow traditional production methods. The game is a 30-man battle on a rugby-like pitch. The players chase a leather ball that fits snugly in the hand, sometimes balancing it on their sticks as they run, sometimes swinging the sticks in midsprint to arc the ball toward an upright goal. The single aim of the game is to advance the ball to the goal. This requires hitting the ball, often while on the run, between the uprights and over the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar, past a goalkeeper and into the net, for three points. There is no protective padding and helmets became mandatory only a few years ago. The jerseys carry numbers instead of the players’ names, with each number reflecting the player’s position, such as 1 for goalkeeper, 3 for fullback and 14 for full forward. Hurling is a unique game played by joyous and ferocious amateurs who bump shoulders, jab each other with their sticks of ash and do everything permitted to take the ball from their opponents. Those efforts occasionally draw blood. From students to tradesmen, players as young as toddlers and as old as the body can stand swing their clubs for pleasure and to bring pride to their club, parish or county. Generations of young men have aspired to graduate from local clubs to play for their county’s senior team in the All-Ireland championship, an event that captivates the nation.

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