Grant me O Lord, a hurler's skill,
With strength of arm and speed of limb
Unerring eye for the flying ball
And courage to match whate'er befall
May my stroke be steady and my aim be true
My actions manly and my misses few
No matter what way the game may go
May I rest in friendship with every foe
When the final whistle for me has blown
And I stand at last before God's judgement throne
May the great referee when he calls my name
Say, you hurled like a man; you played the game.
Going for a 'puck around' back home is about as common as sitting down and drinking a cup of tea. You pick up the hurley, walk out the front door and let fly across a field for as long as the heart desires. It is not only a fun way to pass a few hours but also a unique form of therapy. The sound of the sliothar popping off the hurley on a summer's evening is best compared to the sound of a shot being fired from a Winchester rifle. Up and down the country, in parks or fields, you will always find people enjoying a 'puck around.' In Ireland, seeing a group of young men walking down the street, each with a 36 inch curved bat in their hand is not even in the slightest bit intimidating. That is simply because we know what the story is, and we know that they're not carrying them to do any harm. People have been hurling in Ireland in some form or other for over 2,000 years. It is without doubt the greatest game ever played on planet Earth, but despite its genius, remains anonymous to most of the world.
Take our near neighbours across the water for example. Having had the pleasure of living amongst them for a number of years now I can confirm that at least 95% of the British population have absolutely no idea what the game of hurling is. I've been lucky enough to meet a few like minded people during my time in Britain and the opportunity for a 'puck around' is always available to me. I've made a few observations in that time, walking along the street with a hurley in your hand is a very different experience here then it is at home. Some people are genuinely terrified by the sight of a hurley and automatically think it's a weapon of mass destruction. I have received some of the most quizzical looks you could ever imagine. It's written all over peoples faces as you pass them on the way to the park, " what in the name of God is that, and are you going to hit me with it?!?" People in Britain are so nervous by the sight a hurley that I always keep my distance from a person in front when walking with one in hand. It's my way of helping to keep their anxiety levels under control. Everyone who has hurled abroad knows what I mean. Of course, it is absolutely hilarious to those of us from the hurling fraternity to think that a hurley can be so misinterpreted. While on the topic, I must admit that hurleys have been used on occasion for 'extra curricular' activities, but on the whole that is very rare, except in Limerick city.
Even though our islands are so close, we are so different in many ways. For example, Irish people are ferociously passionate about the game of hurling because it is uniquely Irish and an important part of our culture. For that reason, it is promoted and protected to ensure that the game will live on forever. Shinty on the other hand is almost like the Scottish equivalent of hurling. You use a stick to hit a ball, can't be much different? Unfortunately, during my ten years living in Scotland I am yet to see people playing shinty in the park. I am yet to see a game of shinty on tv and I am even yet to see a shinty pitch anywhere in the country. Shinty is another great ancient game, but unlike hurling it is being allowed to die. Barely kept alive by a few loyal supporters somewhere in the highlands. A great shame, but it is not my duty to keep a countries traditions alive. Don't even get me started on Scots Gaelic. A native speaker of Scots Gaelic is about as common as hens teeth, but that's a whole other story.
When you get to the park, and you begin to drive the ball back and forth is when you realise how special the game is. People stop and stare, some take out their phones and start recording. They are genuinely shocked by what they see before their eyes. How on earth could this rock-hard ball be flying back and forth with such speed? Are you not afraid of getting hit? Are you crazy? I have lost count of the amount of questions I've been asked by passers by over the years. Is it a cricket bat? Is that a baseball? Hurling, as in getting sick? Are you guys playing quidditch? Where can I learn how do that? I've had them all. To be honest, I enjoy the random conversations you strike up with complete strangers. I've had full conversations with people I would never have met because of hurling and that is a special thing. Of course, every now and again you'll hear an Irish accent screaming out the window of a car, " Now yer hurling baiiis" or
"pull away mad" and it's always greeted with the customary thumbs up. Wouldn't have it any other way!
Hurling is a game which brings people together. It's our game and we need to continue sharing it with the world. Whether that's in Croke park on All-Ireland Final day, or on Bondi Beach in Sydney after a few cans. Whenever , or wherever you get the chance, just let fly...
Go raibh maith agaibh!