History of Hurling
Hurling is older than the recorded history of Ireland. It predates Christianity and some believe it has Greek origins dating back more than 3,000 years. It came to Ireland with the migrating Celts. Hurling is related to the game of shinty that is played in Scotland, and is also similar to cammag on the Isle of Man and bandy that was played formerly in England and Wales. From early Irish mythology the tale of the Táin Bó Cuailgne tells of the hero Cú Chulainn playing hurling at Emain Macha, where he went to join the Red Branch Knights. Similar tales are told about Fionn Mac Cumhail and his legendary warrior band, the Fianna. The earliest written references to the sport in Brehon Law date from the fifth century and recorded references to hurling appear in many places down through the centuries.
Hurling was played in ancient times by teams representing neighbouring villages. Villages would play games involving hundreds of players, which would last several hours at a time or possibly even days. Sometimes games were arranged to settle disputes although more often than not were just for entertainment.
The Eighteenth Century is frequently referred to as "The Golden Age of Hurling." This was when members of the Anglo-Irish landed gentry kept teams of players on their estates and challenged each other to matches for the amusement of their tenants. In Stradbally, County Laois, where an Elizabethan Family settled in 1593 it was believed that the first in line was notorious for his cruelty to the Irish but a descendant of his, Dudley Cosby, was noted as an extraordinarily fine hurler who often engaged in hurling matches against teams from other estates. His son, Pole, wrote this about him in his autobiography...
“He danced on the ropes as well as any rope dancer that ever was. He was a fine tennis and five player, a most extraordinary fine hurler and fond of all those things, and practised them very much when he was young and able…”
The Cosby family still holds fort at Stradbally Hall today and the current landlord, Thomas, has some fine Ash trees in his woodlands which have found they’re way to the L’Ash Go Leor workshop on a few occasions ...and made some very fine hurls!
One of the first modern attempts to standardize the game with a formal, written set of rules came with the foundation of the Irish Hurling Union at Trinity College Dublin in 1879. Its aim was… "To draw up a code of rules for all clubs in the union and to foster that manly and noble game of hurling in this, its native country”
The Real Revival…
An article appeared in the United Ireland of 11th October 1884 under a heading “A word about Irish Athletics”. It was unsigned but later revealed to be from the pen of Michael Cusack. Its message was simple: the national pastimes of the people were an essential element to a successful nation. Part of it went as follows…
“Voluntary neglect of such pastimes is a sure sign national decay and approaching dissolution. The strength and energy of a race are largely dependant on the national pastimes for a development of a spirit of courage and endurance … The corrupting influences which have been for several years devastating the sporting grounds of our cities and towns are fast spreading to our rural population.”
Michael Cusack believed that foreign laws were hostile to the Irish people and caused them to abandon their native pastimes. And when an attempt was made to revive those pastimes it did not originate with those who were sympathetic towards Ireland and the Irish people.
In the following week’s issue of the United Ireland Maurice Davin (a respected Irish athlete) replied to Michael Cusack’s article when he called for the publication of a rule book on Irish games. He concluded by saying that he would willingly lend a hand to any movement involving the revival and encouragement of Irish games. On the 25th October Michael Cusack replied to Maurice Davin’s piece in the United Ireland and this time he signed his name to the article. The two men, inspired by each others enthusiasm, acted immediately and on the 27th October a circular was sent out calling for a meeting at 2pm on 1st November in the Commercial Hotel (Hayes Hotel), Thurles “to take steps for the formation of a Gaelic Association for the preservation and cultivation of the national pastimes and for providing amusements for the Irish people during their leisure hours”.
On the 1st of November 1884 the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) was founded and turned around a trend of terminal decline by organizing the game around a common set of written rules.
The All-Ireland Hurling Championship came into existence along with the provincial championships. Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary dominated hurling in the 20th century with each of these counties winning more than 20 All-Ireland titles each. Wexford, Waterford, Clare, Limerick, Offaly, Dublin, and Galway were also strong hurling counties during the 20th century.
As hurling entered the new millennium, it has remained as one of Ireland's most popular sports and the inauguration of the Christy Ring Cup and Nicky Rackard Cup gave a new dimension to the hurling championships for counties not as strong as those in the top tier and the opportunity to play in the hallowed grounds of Croke Park.
Although hurling is second to Gaelic football in terms of numbers playing the sport it remains truly at favourite in the hearts of Irish people and a symbol of their heritage.