GAELIC GAMES – IRISH SPORTS YOU CAN TRY OUT FOR YOURSELF ON HOLIDAY

Last updated on February 15, 2024

The streets and pavements are decorated with colourful flags and bunting. “Best of Luck”, “Go Girls Go” and other encouraging slogans are written on large signs at every second shop and, of course, at the pub.

“This must be a sporting event of national importance”, I think – but far from it, around the next bend comes the solution to the riddle: young girls in colourful sportswear run across the street, sports bags and strange wooden bats in their hands. The village is playing against another village – hurling!!!

Photo: thekilkennyway.com
Photo: thekilkennyway.com


Intro

Why hurling with three exclamation marks?

Hurling gets even the strongest Irishmen emotional. This Gaelic sport is about as important in Ireland as football is in Germany. Every game is followed with enthusiasm and all major matches are shown on big screens in pubs across the country.

This enthusiasm for sport is infectious, even for non-Irish people. Tourists don’t know much about the game because the rules are completely different to those of European football (soccer), for example.

But you can be helped, because even as a holidaymaker you can get a taste of Gaelic sports and give them a try. I’ll tell you where and how to do this in this article.

My family and I are from Germany but have lived in Ireland for several years (second home). At our location, south of Dublin, we run our motorbike rental business in the summer (https://www.easycruiser.tours) and also have guest rooms for travellers (https://www.the-view-accommodation.ie).

Let’s get back to Gaelic Sports…

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Gaelic sports or Gaelic games – a (brief) overview

If you drive around Ireland, you will find a sign in every town pointing to the nearest GAA club and every household will have at least three or four hurling bats lying around in the hallway.

So what are Gaelic Sports or Gaelic Games?

Gaelic games have a tradition dating back over 3000 years – unbelievable but true! They were played as early as the time of the Celtic tribes to keep warriors fit.

Gaelic sports are therefore former fitness sports for warriors. And indeed, Gaelic football and hurling in particular have elements that are strongly reminiscent of rugby. Physical contact is part of the game.

Photo: thekilkennyway.com
Photo: thekilkennyway.com

The GAA, the Gaelic Athletics Association, is the sporting organisation that oversees the 6 ancient Irish sports and over 2000 local clubs on the island. These are in detail: Hurling, Camogie, Gaelic Football, Ladies Football, Gaelic Handball and Rounders. Incidentally, Gaelic Games are purely amateur sports, there is no paid professional league.

The GAA also organises Irish music, Irish dance and Irish culture, activities which are also held as competitions.

With the emigration of millions of Irish people to North America, Irish sports also became established in the USA and Canada, as well as in Australia, New Zealand and other countries. Today, there are also more and more teams on the European continent.

Let’s take a closer look at the Gaelic Games:

Hurling and camogie

The game is played with two teams of 15 players each. There are two goals, which are extended upwards. The players use a wooden stick that resembles a hockey stick and move the small ball with the stick, hands and feet.

Physical contact is part of the game and the players wear a protective helmet. Hurling is played by men in sports competitions. Camogie is very similar to hurling and is played by women.

Both games are extremely dynamic and are regarded as the fastest games on grass – worldwide!

UNESCO has added hurling to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

You can find an introduction to the rules of hurling here: https://youtu.be/biFcgUB98ns?si=hEY4-t2lSGuLGX8J.

And here you can get a great impression of camogie: https://youtu.be/Uu99hSEwiY4?si=-D55t2fIsk7DWS5P.

Photo: thekilkennyway.com
Photo: thekilkennyway.com


Gaelic Football and Ladies Football

Gaelic football is played on the same pitch as hurling or camogie. However, the players do not use sticks and the ball is significantly larger. Unlike European football, the ball is not only moved with the foot, but also with the flat of the hand or the fist. Physical contact is also permitted here – and regulated.

Gaelic football is extremely popular in Ireland and is played by both men and women across the country, with the women’s version being called ladies football.

Here you can find the rules explained and get an impression of the game: https://youtu.be/vSOe-USZzok?si=kj336H76jlgZQDnx.

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Gaelic handball

This sport also has little in common with European handball, but more with squash: two players take it in turns to hit a small rubber ball against a wall, whereby the ball may only touch the ground once. Unlike squash, the players do not use rackets, but only their hands or fists to hit the ball. Protective goggles and gloves are worn. There are different variants with just one wall, or four walls in a closed court, with two players, or with four players.

Here you can get an impression of Gaelic Handball: https://youtu.be/opKbELbJEQQ?si=QbOUkfNfA_qIiEII.

Rounders

Rounders can be seen as the British forerunner of the American sports of baseball and softball. There are two teams, pitchers, players with bats and catchers.

There is also an Irish version of the game, which differs from the English version in the shape of the pitch, among other things.

You can find a rounders match on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/gfcyYQKnlpI?si=L65pNax2wt8o99tv.

For the rules of rounders, see: https://youtu.be/f5Lxiy9_L9Q?si=OmHvTEXLmmQRHk0V.


Where you can try out Gaelic Sports on your holiday in Ireland

You too can try out the Gaelic Games on your holiday!

In my research, I found several locations that offer a taster day or half days, but ultimately there are only two different providers that also specialise in tourists and events:

Photo: experiencegaelicgames.com
Photo: experiencegaelicgames.com


The Kilkenny Way

The beautiful city of Kilkenny is home to the most successful hurling club in Ireland, which is why Kilkenny is all about hurling. The Kilkenny Way offers several activities for groups or tourists, where you can learn a lot about the game, try it out for yourself and then enjoy a good meal. The activities are always group events. If you are travelling as a group, you can book for your group, as a solo traveller you can certainly ask if you can join a group.

See: https://www.thekilkennyway.com/kilkenny-hurling-package-2.php.

Experience Gaelic Games

This is a family business based in Dublin with further locations in Cork, Belfast and Galway. Here you can learn about the culture of the Gaelic Games in an entertaining way and then try out hurling, Gaelic football and Gaelic handball for yourself.

You can get a small impression here: https://youtu.be/dvzxvKQQlUI?si=NHotn7Bf_lcToNM7.

There are various booking formats for groups, families, senior citizens, etc. …. As I said, even if you are travelling alone or as a couple, you can always ask and there is sure to be a group you can join. See: https://experiencegaelicgames.com/.

Where you can watch a Gaelic Game live

Of course, you can watch all the major games on big screens in most pubs on the island and enjoy the lively pub atmosphere.

Or you can watch a game live: Croke Park in Dublin is the home stadium of the GAA and therefore the premier venue for Gaelic sports in Ireland.

Here you will find the GAA Museum and guided tours, events of all kinds and of course you can also watch a match in Gaelic football, ladies football, hurling or camogie.

Tickets can be purchased online and all information can be found on the Croke Park website. See: https://www.crokepark.ie.

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Conclusion

I once watched a women’s national Gaelic football match on a big screen in a pub – the atmosphere was indescribable, the pub was shaking!

Although I had no idea what the ladies were actually doing, it was an extremely dynamic and intense game – I still have goose bumps as I write about it.

Gaelic sports are exactly that: intense, fast, dynamic and exciting. They excite the Irish and they will excite you too – guaranteed.

Watch a game on your holiday in Ireland, or even better, try it out for yourself!

Have fun on the sporty Emerald Isle!

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Image credit cover picture: Photo by Adrian Payne on Unsplash

Uli Written by:

Hello and welcome to my blog. Originating from Germany, my family and I now live in Ireland (at least part time). We have travelled this amazing isle many times and know many parts of it very well. In this blog, I would like to share valuabe tips and information for your next trip to Ireland with you. Enjoy the content, yours, Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg