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Hurling is a game that should be witnessed by any visitor to Ireland. Played with a wooden stick (known as a hurley) and a ball (known as a sliothar) it is played both in the air and on the ground and is often very confusing to beginners! Played between villages, towns and Counties throughout most of the year, it is the All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship that is the most fought after. 

Every dot on this map of Ireland is a Hurling field, now that is culture.

Originally a form of martial arts training before it was watered down and made a national sport. It is the oldest of all European field games and the fastest field sport in the world!

One of the earliest descriptions of hurling is given in the Battle of Moytura, when the Tuatha de Danaan went up against the Fir Bolg in a violent clash with many casualties that ended in a Fir Bolg victory. Early forms of hurling go back to the Iron Age. It was probably a part of the Tailtean Games, annual gatherings at Tara held more or less continuously from about 1800 BC through 1180 AD. The Youthful exploits of Cuchulainn from Táin Bo Cuailgne (Cattle Raid of Cooley, Ulster Cycle) mentions "camán" which is "hurley" in Irish. According to these stories, Cuchulainn excelled at hurley. As a game, it gave young warriors a sense of combat and the chance to hone their fighting skills, inspiring many of the mighty battles we see on the field today.

An illustration of the Hurling legend, Cú Culainn

Hurling was cited in the Brehon Laws during the 8th century as a way to settle disputes, either one on one, or sometimes entire villages fought each other. Of course Brehon law covered compensation for the families of anyone killed during these match ups. Eventually hurling evolved into a feis game that grew in popularity through medieval times. 

The medieval version had two teams working with hurleys (sticks) to get the sliotar (small ball) past the other team's goal. The ball was made of bronze, leatherbound wood, or hard-packed hair wrapped with twine. The best wood for the hurley was ash, a tapered stick to scoop the ball on one end, the other end wrapped with metal for a good gripping handle, even today ash wood is still the preferred material for crafting these wonderful creations

There were many futile attempts to outlaw hurling, either because of the risk of life and limb, or because it became so closely linked with faction-fighting. The Galway Statutes around 1527 finally succeeded in banning the sport, at least for awhile, and it was replaced by Gaelic football. 

Two hundred years later, hurling came back with a vengeance, taken up by the gentry, who organized teams and leagues and toned down the original version by establishing strict rules. The Great Famine, however, put an end to the sport's renaissance.

The game returned once again when in 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association made it the official game of Ireland, with established rules governing the leagues and games. Many rules have been changed to adapt to the ever increasing pace of the game. The sport in 2023 has evolved a lot since 1884, players are faster, the ball travels quicker and longer and a lot of skills have evolved. Hurling will continue to evolve and it can only be for the best! 

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