Hurling is regarded as one of the fastest ball-games in the world - and to the uninitiated a first encounter may also beckon forth the attributes "chaotic" and "brutal". Sometimes hurling is confused with hockey. This confusion only lasts until one realizes that charging players occasionally wield their hurleys like lethal weapons of messy destruction. Quite within the rules in most cases.
A Basic History of Hurling
It is said that the heroes of Ireland played hurling long before Saint Patrick's time - the game might hold the claim of being the original gaelic game, being mentioned long before football. Around 1,300 bc the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha de Danaan started their epic battle at Moytura with a game of hurling. The Brehon Laws, Ireland's native system of justice, regulated the proper use of hurleys (the "stick") and any compensation in case of injury. Setanta (or Cúchulainn) was not only a proficient warrior, he also was a great hurler - beating a team of 150 single-handedly or hurling a dangerous dog to hell.
Hurling has been declared illegal several times - the Statutes of Kilkenny (1336) and Galway (1527) outlawed the game. Maybe due to the fact that acquired hurling skills might come in handy in a close combat situation. Nonetheless hurling remained popular in Dublin, Leinster, Munster, in Galway and parts of Ulster. After the rebellion of 1798 hurling activities became restrained and by the middle of the 19th century it was a minority interest. Strangely enough Trinity College still was a hotbed of activities, though played to rules more reflecting hockey than tradition.
At the end of the 19th century, however, the nationalistic GAA rediscovered the national sport of hurling. Since then the game has gone from strength to strength - though being played less often than football.
Hurling's Basic Rules
The devil is in the details ... the rules of hurling quickly make this obvious:
- The playing field is rectangular, with a length between 130 and 145 meters, a width of between 80 and 90 meters. About seven meter high goals with a crossbar at less than medium height are at the shorter sides.
- The ball may be hit with the hurley either on the ground or in the air - the last only after it has been thrown by hand or picked up with the hurley.
- A player may run with the ball if it is carried on or dribbled with the hurley. Note that the ball may be caught be hand, placed and subsequently carried on the hurley and then taken into the player's hand again. In addition the ball may be hit with the hand instead of the hurley or kicked with the feet.
- No player may touch a ball on the ground with his hand(s) - obviously unless he falls onto it. And a ball in the hand may only be carried four steps.
- Players may physically attack each other if fighting for possession of the ball but at least one foot of the attacker has to maintain ground contact. The (tempting) use of the hurley in attacks is discouraged.
- Players may only leave the playing field to gather momentum for a penalty or to retrieve a ball. Obviously they may be carried off by first aid personnel.
- A goal is scored when the ball passes between the goalposts and below the crossbar; should the ball pass between the goalposts and above the crossbar a point is gained. A goal is the equivalent of three points in the final score.
- In case of a penalty or after an interruption the ball may only be picked up and than hit with the hurley - or hit with the hurley from the ground.
- Penalties are given in case of "aggressive" or "technical" fouls in a designated area around the goal. The penalty is executed from the middle of the 20-meter-line.
- Should the ball be played across the end demarcation of the playing field by the defenders, the attackers may start a new effort from midfield.
Where to See Hurlers in Action
In most counties, though hurling's popularity is less than football's - just enquire at your current hostelry and they will guide you to the nearest match.
With luck you might even get tickets for inter-county matches, though due to the lesser number of participating counties football matches are easier to attend. The Crown of Hurling is the All-Ireland Final in September, played at Croke Park (Dublin).
Camogie - A Different Game
If you see hurlers wearing skirts they are neither Scottish nor cross-dressers, you are watching a game of camogie. Introduced in 1904 and regulated by the Cumann Camógaíochta na nGael, camogie is a slightly toned down variant of hurling. Played by women, hence the skirts, even today worn over more practical short leggings. Due to the high risk of facial injuries camogie players tend to wear helmets and face-protectors, sometimes frowned upon (with drastic cosmetic consequences) by male colleagues.