A unique mix of speed, grace, assertiveness and skill, hurling is a team sport played on a field or “pitch” slightly larger than a soccer field. Grouped in teams of 15, the players use a curved stick made of ash (a hurley) to move a baseball-sized sliothar (pronounced “slitter”) down the field. Three points are awarded for hitting the ball through a goal, and one point is awarded for sending it through the uprights mounted on either side of the goal.
The game of hurling is one of the oldest and fastest field sports in existence today. Ireland’s signature sport was first mentioned in accounts of the epic Battle of Moytura, which took place in the13th century BC and began with a bloody 27-a-side hurling match.
One of the greatest hurlers in Irish legend is Cúchulainn (pronounced Coo-KULL-In). Born as Sétanta, his name was changed after killing a fierce hound, owned by Culainn, with a silver sliothar (hurling ball). Upon killing the prized watchdog, the young warrior offered his services in its place and thus became Like Ireland itself, the game of hurling has been marked by a turbulent past. In 1366 AD, laws were enforced in an effort to stop the propagation of the Irish culture and heritage to the invading Anglo- Normans. But hurling was much too popular with the Irish and the new Norman settlers, and the game continued.
Despite other bans instituted by the British, the game survived as a casual pastime until the late 19th century, when hurling experienced a revival as a part of the Irish independence movement.
In 1884, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was founded by Michael Cusack and other Irish nationalists in County Tipperary, with the mission of promoting this and other native games, and continues to govern Irish sport to this day.
The All-Ireland finals are the highlight of the annual sporting calendar, attracting nearly 90,000 spectators to the championship game in Dublin’s massive and revered Croke Park stadium.
But the game has spread beyond the emerald isle as well. Today, there are more than 400 GAA clubs throughout the Americas as well as in Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and the European continent, involving not only Irish expatriates, but, like the MHC, athletes from many background who are unified by the love of this challenging, dynamic sport.