When in Ireland, do as the Irish do! And one thing the Irish are certainly fond of are sports. At least in the role of a spectator. TV, radio and newspapers provide a constant stream of coverage - but to experience the full impact sports can have on the Irish psyche, join the crowds at one of the many matches, fixings and other events scheduled throughout the year. Here are the ten most popular spectator sports:
Regarded as "the fastest game on earth", hurling is played by two teams equipped with sticks (hurleys), chasing a small ball across a football-sized field. The ball can be prodded along the ground like in field hockey, may be carried on the hurley or smacked mid-air like a baseball. Speed, agility and marksmanship are in great demand. And even games between junior teams can take your breath away.
Very similar to soccer - until a player actually picks up the ball and runs in rugby-like manner away with it. Some historians of the game claim that both soccer and rugby are bastardized versions of football. Games can be enjoyed almost everywhere, football being more popular than hurling. Occasionally "International Rules" games are held, 2006 an Australian team toured Ireland.
Historically this is the way football was played in public schools in Rugby - essentially not an Irish but an English game. This sectarian overtone has diminished and the "Six Nations" and other international events are immensely popular. The games in the international "Heiniken League" also draw sizeable crowds, especially when Leinster is playing at the RDS in Dublin.
Ireland has the "Eircom League" catering for professional soccer, but the economic situation of most clubs is precarious. The whole Irish soccer scene is more of a "feeder operation" for English and Scottish clubs, with player legends like George Best (Belfast
) and Roy Keane (Cork) becoming immensely successful there. International fixtures draw huge crowds both in the Republic and the North, each part of Ireland boasting its own national team.
Whenever prestigious tournaments are hosted in Ireland, crowds of fans gather to observe the teeing off and putting of the world's golfing elite. Golf is a common pastime in Ireland, so is watching the game. So much that players actually feel crowded at times.
"Having a flutter on the horses" is big business in Ireland, nearly every larger village will boast at least one betting shop and major races are covered live on TV. Any horse racing event will have a huge attendance and lively crowds. Major events like Galway Race Week and the Easter races at Fairyhouse are society occasions - do not miss any "Ladies' Day" if you are interested in fashion!
Find out more about Horse Racing in Ireland:
Despite some setbacks to Irish showjumping due to avoidable blunders and scandals, Irish horses and riders are ranked amongst the best in Europe. Be it individual stars or the riders from the Irish Army's Equestrian School. The main event to look out for is the Dublin Horse Show in Summer, held at the RDS Showgrounds and usually drawing riders and visitors from around the world to Ireland.
Though not drawing such huge crowds as football and hurling, camogie has become increasingly popular during the last years. Basically this is a toned-down version of hurling reserved for female players. Slightly less bloodcurdling, but a fast and exciting game nonetheless.
An honest fist-fight is something enjoyed by lots of Irishmen and a few Irishwomen and boxing events tend to be popular. Irish boxers have enjoyed some international success from time to time, interest seems to wax and wane in cycles as well. A subculture of illegal fights, some with bare knuckles, exists - these occasions are best avoided by the tourist.
Greyhounds are said to be the poor man's racehorses. Consequently hundreds and thousands are bred for racing purposes and abandoned or destroyed when they do not show promise. Greyhound Races are, however, frequent and popular. These tend to be dominated by reputable trainers and breeders.