Many weeks ago – the week before the USC game – it came to my attention that a premier Irish hurling team was going to be at Notre Dame to have a demonstration of, well, hurling. Not knowing much more about the sport than that it existed, I decided to go.
This game was part of the Celtic Championship series. They let us go over there and play American football in Dublin, and in exchange we let them come over here and show us their national sport. From the links my sister, a misplaced Irishwoman, sent me, this hurling match was a BIG DEAL in Ireland, even making the national headlines. Kinda cool, again emphasizing the whole Irish nationalism thing going on at a school founded by French émigré priests. The game was sponsored by several Gaelic sports associations, Aer Lingus, and the (best) Irish Studies department (in the country) at Notre Dame.
If not for my sister, who has spent quite a bit of time in the Emerald Isle, I would have been completely clueless. Before the match started, she was already waxing poetic about the “clash of the ash”, which is what it is called when the hurling sticks hit each other.
This was a modified game held on the lacrosse field, which is smaller than a hurling pitch. My impression is that a hurling pitch is equivalent in size to a professional level soccer field, which is huge. Each team fields 15 players, sort of like an American Football team, who run around after a ball, like rugby, except the ball is built like a baseball and is neon green like a tennis ball, and each player has an ash stick, sort of like field hockey. They have rules about how many steps you can run while holding the ball, like basketball, and after they have exceeded the number of steps, they’re supposed to balance the ball on the end of the hurlies, or ash sticks, like an egg-and-spoon race, but at much higher velocities. The rules are closest to soccer and they throw the ball across the pitch to each other, like baseball, and can slap it while passing, like handball. Is there an American sport I’m omitting?
I never quite got the hang of the all the rules or the scoring rubric (because they score up and down), but the scoring had been modified for this particular event anyway. The teams were comprised of the best players from all the counties in Ireland, and were artificially named The Fighting Irish and Notre Dame. Zero creativity points for them. The director of Irish Studies had been afraid of turnout – what if no one showed up to see the best Irish players come? – but he needn’t have been afraid. The stands were packed. Interestingly, I noticed many people from Ireland in the stands. They stood out a little bit because they were dressed up (compared to game day jeans and hoodies on everyone else) and their suits were cut all European style. I wonder how many people came over just to see this event. Interesting to think some (well-moneyed) individuals flew over just to watch a modified hurling match. No one else had a clue what was happening either, but everyone cheered when each team scored and winced as players hit each other.
According to hurling’s Wiki page, players’ names are omitted from their jerseys, like Notre Dame. Go Irish! There is no professional hurling league, so all the players are amateurs. So think of it like the American frisbee team going overseas. This is the oldest field sport in history (yay history!), having been around for over 3,000 years. That is correct, three thousand years. What were your people doing three thousand years ago? Three thousand years ago, ROME wasn’t invented.
This historic game was historic. I’m glad I got to be there even if I didn’t understand anything. I hope the Irish ambassador and other foreign visitors enjoyed watching us
barely win over USC. I’m happy some real Irish people came over and got to experience the Notre Dame variety of Irish, especially after being more confused than impressed the first time we played in Dublin (that I can remember in 1996).