History of hurling

The history of hurling is long and often unclear, stretching back over three millennia. References to stick-and-ball games are found in Irish mythology. The game is thought to be related to the games of shinty that is played primarily in Scotland, cammag on the Isle of Man and bandy that was played formerly in England and Wales.

Prehistoric and early historic Ireland

Hurling is older than the recorded history of Ireland.[1] It is thought to predate Christianity, having come to Ireland with the Celts.[2] It has been a distinct Irish pastime for at least 2000 years.[3] The earliest written references to the sport in Brehon law date from the fifth century.[2]

The tale of the Táin Bó Cuailgne (drawing on earlier legends) describes the hero Cúchulainn playing hurling at Emain Macha. Similar tales are told about Fionn Mac Cumhail and the Fianna, his legendary warrior band.

Meallbreatha describes punishments for injuring a player in several games, most of which resemble hurling.

The Seanchás Mór commentaries on the Brehon Law state that the son of a (local king) could have his hurley hooped in bronze, while others could only use copper. It was illegal to confiscate a hurley.

13th century

Statute of Kilkenny forbids hurling due to excessive violence, stating further that the English settlers of the Pale would be better served to practice archery and fencing in order to repel the attacks of the Gaelic Clans.[4]

15th century

A 15th-century grave slab survives in Inishowen, County Donegal dedicated to the memory of a Scottish gallowglass warrior named Manas Mac Mhoiresdean of Iona. The slab displays carvings of a claymore, a caman, for playing Shinty, as opposed to Hurling and a sliotar.[5]

16th century

1527: Statute recorded in Galway City: "At no time to use ne occupy ye hurling of ye litill balle with the hookie sticks or staves, nor use no hand balle to play without the walls, but only the great foot balle."[6]

1587: Lord Chancellor William Gerrarde complains that English settlers of the Munster Plantation are speaking Irish and playing hurling.

18th century

The Eighteenth Century is frequently referred to as "The Golden Age of Hurling." Members of the Anglo-Irish landowning gentry often kept teams of players on their estates and challenged each other's teams to matches for the amusement of their tenants. Tales of colorful hurling matches from this era continue to be collected from modern Irish storytellers and newspapers of the era.[7]

19th century

Shamrock Hurling Club team, Waterford Co. Champions, 1915-16.

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is formed in 1884 in Thurles, County Tipperary under the patronage of Thomas Croke, Archbishop of Cashel and [Charles Parnell.

20th century

The 20th century saw greater organisation in Hurling and Gaelic Football. 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.

21st century

As hurling entered the new millennium, it remains Ireland's second most popular sport. An extended qualifier system resulted in a longer All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, but Cork and Kilkenny have come to dominate the championship (they have won six of the seven All-Irelands so far played) and some argue that the All-Ireland has become less competitive. Pay-for-play remains controversial and the Gaelic Players Association continues to grow in strength. The inauguration of the Christy Ring Cup and Nicky Rackard Cup gave new championships and an opportunity to play in Croke Park to the weaker county teams.


  1. "A Brief History of Hurling". 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2010-05-03.
  2. 1 2 Humphries, Tom (5 October 2003). "Sticks and thrones". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  3. "The history and practice of Irish hurling". Modern Brewery Age. 2002.
  4. Seamus J. King, "A History of Hurling," pages 6-8.
  5. Roger Hutchinson, "Camanachd! The Story of Shinty," pages 27, 28.
  6. Seamus J. King, "A History of Hurling," page 8.
  7. Seamus J. King, "A History of Hurling," pages 10-28.
  8. McEvoy, Enda; Kieran Shannon; Dave Hannigan; PJ Cunningham; Malachy Clerkin; Pat Nugent (4 January 2009). "125 Most Influential People In GAA History". Sunday Tribune. Retrieved 20 January 2009.
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