Anyone who has spent any time in Ireland will know, the Gaelic Games are breathtakingly fast-paced and wildly popular – with crowds far outnumbering those for the likes of football and rugby.
You can try the Gaelic Games out for yourself on your trip to Ireland. If you fancy an excuse to have a good run about with your mates (with the added bonus of tackling each other to the ground every five minutes) then we can sort out a taster session where you can learn the basics of these national sports and get a real flavour for this institution of Irish culture.
It’s a great bonding experience and terrific craic, as well as being suitable for all skill levels. And you never know, you may even find your calling at the end of a hurley.
Plus, you get to dress the stag up like the clown that he is...
The games are purposefully and proudly amateur. They are generally known as a beacon of humility, with players’ names absent from their shirts and the players, managers and coaches all unpaid. This has helped to keep the focus on the simple love of the game – a refreshing attitude in a world of millionaire sports personalities and enormous egos.
The traditional Irish games (that became the Gaelic Games as we know them today) have been played in Ireland for thousands of years. It’s said that, when the Egyptians were building their pyramids, the Irish were Hurling.
They haven't always been played by wholesome looking chaps in big, shiny stadiums though - there was a time when Irish ballgames were more of an all day, 'cross-country' event played by hundreds of players on miles of open countryside. The ball was really more of an accessory during these games, which mainly consisted of running and fighting.
Despite the fact that these games have been repeatedly banned throughout history, The Games are tenacious little buggers and always revive themselves. It turns out that love of the game will always find a way in the end.
If you’ve ever seen or played Aussie Rules, then you’ll have some idea of what Gaelic football is like. It's a fast-paced, madcap game that is something like a combination of soccer, rugby and even a little basketball. You've gotta be quick on your feet and hard as nails to excel here. To play, you move the ball using a mixture of chipping, running, kicking, bouncing, dribbling and punching, and score by hitting it through the posts (for one point) or into the goal (for three points). Be prepared to run, dive and tackle your way through this fierce game.
Hurling is largely considered to be the most ancient of the Gaelic Games, with its prehistoric origins dating back over 3000 years to the Iron Age. It is also known as the world’s fastest field sport, with play reaching breakneck speeds. It is like a cross between lacrosse and hockey and it shares many of its basic principles with Gaelic football, but it is played with a cricket ball-like ball and a stick called a hurley. The ball can be moved about the pitch with either the stick or players’ hands and the action can get pretty fierce at times. Lightning fast reactions are a must, as well as nerves of steel and a slightly reckless attitude towards personal safety.
Handball and Rounders
Other sporting events in the Gaelic games include Handball – a game kind of like squash but without the racquet, in which the ball is bounced off a wall using a gloved hand – and Rounders, just like you used to play at school. These events could be seen as secondary to the massive institutions of hurling and football, but are still an integral part of the games.
Cultural activities: Irish language, music and dance
This is what LNOF HQ looks like after a couple of pints of Guinness...
Another big part of the Gaelic Games is the inclusion of traditional Irish culture such as music, dance and the Irish language. Whilst they are not official parts of the Gaelic Games, the GAA (the Gaelic Athletic Association) put special emphasis on the preservation and promotion of native Irish culture.
The Gaelic games are a true expression of Irish identity. This is only amplified in the combining of the sport with the cultural aspects of the Irish language, dance and music and the very conscious decisions to keep the games true to their Irish origins.
Remember, you can experience the Gaelic Games for yourself on your visit to Ireland for a cracking last night of freedom.