HURLING: FROM ASH TO GOLD

Paulo Nunes Dos Santos

 

 

Hurling, one of Ireland’s national sports, is much more than a simple sport – it is tradition. Older than the recorded history of Ireland, hurling is thought to predate Christianity having come to the country with the Celts. Considered to be the world’s fastest field sports, hurling has, for more than 2000 years, been an important part of the Irish culture. From the traditional making of the hurleys, the unique handcraft wooden stick used to hit a sliotar (ball), to the All-Ireland cup matches, hurling is deeply embedded in the Irish culture. It’s a fixture of life, regularly featured in art forms such as film, music and literature. Despite centuries of disputes, famine, massive migration and British occupation, this Irish game survived a multitude of adversities. It carried on even when the English law banned adoption of various Irish customs. The hurleys, often given as a gift to distinguished guests, are made from ash wood. The base of the tree near the root is the only part used by local craftsmen in Ireland who still follow traditional production methods. The game is a thirty men battle on a rugby look-a-like pitch. They chase a leather ball that fits snug 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.  In hurling there are 15 players to a side, 35-minute halves and substitutions. The single purpose of the game is to advance the ball to the goal. This requires hitting the ball with the hurley often while on the run, between the uprights and over the crossbar for 1 point, or under the crossbar, past a goalkeeper and into the net, for 3 points.  There is no protective padding and helmets became mandatory only a few years ago. There is an absence of names on the jerseys and the player’s number reflects the position he plays – 1 for goalkeeper, 3 for fullback, 14 for full forward – in service to his club, his parish or his county. Hurling is a unique game played by joyous and ferocious amateur sportsmen that bump shoulders, jab sticks of ash and do everything allowed to dispossess their opponents of the ball. Efforts that on occasion 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 bring pride to their local communities. Generations have aspired to graduate from local clubs to play for their county’s senior team in the All-Ireland championship, an event that captivates an entire nation.

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