Your 465-Word Mini Irish Culture Lesson

Hurling and Gaelic Football are Ireland’s national sports. This suits me just fine, as it means I don’t have to hear a word about basketball, baseball, or American football aside from when my friends back home update their Facebook statuses. Thank you, Expatriate Life, for catering to my lifelong guilt about being totally uninterested in my country’s national pastimes. I’m a bookworm – what do you want from me? Let me shrivel up in my room in peace.

As a foreigner, I have an excellent excuse not to know or care about Irish sports. Perversely, that almost makes me more interested in them. Chalk it up to that bookworm thing again; I love learning new things and without constant pressure from my fellow countrymen to care lest I be considered weird, it’s game on.

Gaelic Football – referred to as “Football,” “Gaelic,” and “Gah” – is thought to have evolved from an ancient Irish ball game called caid. It is played by teams of 15 on a rectangular grass field with H-shaped goals at the end. Players compete to get the round, leather balls through the goals. Highest score wins. To me, this sounds a lot like American Football apart from the shape of the ball, but Sean insists that it’s nothing like bloody American Football. For one, the ball is in continuous play. For two, the players don’t wear protective padding or helmets. Gah, Sean says, is more like soccer, except players can carry the ball.

Image from Wikipedia.

Hurling is Ireland’s other great sport. Before you assume that it’s a disgusting contest played after a great night down the pub, I will explain: Hurling is much like field hockey or lacross – the object is for 15-player teams to get a ball (sliotar) through their respective goals by using a wooden stick (hurley ) to move the ball down a large, rectangular grass field.

File:Hurling sport - Taking a swing.jpg

Image from Wikipedia.

A shot scored over the goalpost’s crossbar earns one point and a goal under the crossbar earns three. Hurling is thought to be one of the world’s fastest team sports, but no protective padding is worn by the players although a plastic helmet/faceguard is recommended. The female version of Hurling is called Camogie . I move to call girl Hurlers “Ghurlers” but no one I’ve suggested it to seems to think this is clever.

Whether or not they’re on official teams, all children play Hurling and Gaelic Football in school. Though Sean is a karate MASTER who enjoys the mayhem of the World Cup, team sports are only the faintest blip on his radar. His mother once told me that when Sean was made to play Gaelic Football as a child, he ran down the field with all his might … away from the other players. That’s just one of the many reasons we’re super friends.

6 Replies to “Your 465-Word Mini Irish Culture Lesson”

  1. I’m glad you took the time to write this, it’s my national sport, I’m not interested in sports at all but it’s lovely to see it all the same. ^∇^

  2. I think Irish Football is the originator of Aussie rules. Aussie rules uses that funny oblong ball, and that’s about the only difference, the rest is very similar.

  3. I, too, have enjoyed not having to hear about the local sports while here in Japan – mind you I avoided it fairly well in Oz, e.g., never watch TV news as half of it is devoted to sports results (and the rest is just sound-bite journalism anyway).

    However, I am aware enough to know that what Yo said is true and that US football is nothing like Aussie Rules (aussie rules is tougher and faster for the same reasons as gaelic – “timeouts” indeed, sheesh) so I’m afraid you probably are wrong hehe

    From what I understand, original Gaelic Football used the whole town as the field with the goals at either end of the main thoroughfair, sometimes extending between towns – or is that something else?

  4. Danielle, I know so little about sports that I have to look them up on wikipedia – if there’s a ball involved, they’re all the same to me 🙂 Although a town-wide football game does sound kind of fun!

    1. It sounds like fun but also dangerous – we’re not just talking across town but across country! I found this at:


      “There are historical references to a form of Irish or Gaelic football being played in Ireland as far back as the
      14th century. It seems that Gaelic football games were cross-country marathons involving hundreds of players,
      and violent exchanges were the norm. This cross-country football was called ‘caid in County Kerry, taking its
      name from the ball of horsehide or oxhide which had an inflated natural bladder inside it (Healy, 1998).
      As recently as the mid-1800’s, a typical game of football in Ireland involved hundreds of people playing
      across miles of open countryside, with the obligatory frequent pauses for bouts of wrestling and fist fighting.
      The object of the game seems to have been to spend the day crossing fields while eluding flying fists and
      sprawling legs. The ball was more of an accessory, and the game was a social event as much as a sporting one
      (O’Heihir, 1984).
      At the end of the game all the players joined up in the house of the winning gentleman (a leading figure in the
      village who organized the fun), and had a few pints of beer.”

  5. Hurling, Lol…..

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