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The History of Hurling

Below is a short, concise and very readable 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 first recorded reference to hurling dates to the Battle of Moytura, near Cong in County Mayo (in the West of Ireland) in 1272 BC between the native Fir Bolg and the invading Tuatha De Danann. When both sides were preparing for battle they decided to have a hurling contest on the eve of battle, between twenty-seven of the best players from each side. Both sides fought a bloody match and in the end when they were bruised and broken the match finished with the Fir Bolg victorious who then slew the Tuatha De Danann.

The tale of the Táin Bó Cúailgne tells of the hero Cú Chulainn playing hurling at Emain Macha as the boy Setanta, where he went to join the Red Branch Knights, his journey commemorated in the All Ireland Poc Fada Championships today. HURLING STICKSSimilar 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 the early Modern era (17th & 18th centuries) 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. One of the oldest records of Hurling from this era is a poem in Irish (as Gaelige) circa 1750 from the Cooley Peninsula when Irish was widely spoke on the Peninsula, from a townland named Bavan in Omeath "The Hurling match of Bavan Meadow" (Omeath lost its last remaining native Irish speakers in the 1960’s).  

Iomáin Léana an Bhábhúin
"The Hurling Match of Bavan Meadow", by Niall Óg Mac Murchaidh.

Bhí sé feara deag de scafairí Ómeith
Is iad ag iomáin ar léana an Bhábhúin,
Ó mhullaigh an mheáin lae go cromadh dubh do ghréin,
'S char chuir siad ar aon taobh an báire.
Gach branán barrúil éachtach a' baineadh leis an liathroid,
Ag imeacht mar bheadh gaoth rua Mhárta ann;
'S níl aon ríon faoin ghréin a cífeadh orthu radharc
Nach dtuitfeadh in aon sméideadh i ngrá leo.

Bhí ógfhear gasta stuama d'aicme d'fhíor-fhuil Ruairc ann,
Ba scáfnta mo ghruagach ar léana;
Bhí mac an tí seo thuas ann, is dá rachaidís chun tuatacht,
Ar dheis no ar chlé go mbuailfeadh sé an liathróid.
Nuair a thógtaí an balla uathu leanaidís fear a fhuadaigh,
'S níorbh fhollain 'thiocfadh uathu don réim sin;
Ba aolbhinn's ba suáilceach bheith ar chnoc na Tulcha an uairsin
Ag amharc ar mo chuid buachaill á dtréanáil.

Bhí ógfhear de chlanna Néill ann - 'chóir a bheith i dtús an scéil seo
Ba ch'iste bhuailfeadh an liathróid i mbéal báire;
Is Ó Casalaigh na dhiaidh ní ba dual ó fhréamh.
Is an balla leis 'sna beanna a bhfágáil.
Bhí sár-mhac Chuarta ar léim ann a bhuailfeadh poc in am feidhme
Is a rachadh amach cúl éaga le rása;
Siud Ó hIr ina aghaidh mar Oscar in am ghéibhinn,
Is bhuailfeadh ‘steach sa léana gan spás é. 

(Continued on next page).

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