Roy Keane, Brian O’Driscoll, Stephen Roche… Ireland has always and probably always will produce great sporting figures. With a population comparable in size to that of Denmark, the Irish continue to punch above their weight in international sport.
Most of the usual suspects
They are currently number one in the world in rugby union and with the World Cup in France just around the corner, who knows if they could lift the trophy on October 28.
Football is also very popular in Ireland, but unfortunately the national team has seen better days.
Ireland can certainly hold their own on the greens – they are apparently the most golf mad nation in the world and Rory McIlroy is currently ranked as the third best player in the world.
But the less said about tennis the better. Simon Carr (852) and Sinead Lohan (1,484) are their highest ranked players!
No shortage of success
Boxing in Ireland has always had a large following, as have the bookies’ other favorite sports, horse racing and greyhound racing – so something of a pattern there.
An Irish cyclist, Stephen Roche, was the first athlete from the British Isles to win the Tour de France, ahead of the second, Bradley Wiggins, by a quarter of a century.
And Ireland are no spring chickens at the Olympics, ranked 54th on the all-time list. Swimmer Michelle Smith is their most decorated Olympian, although she is no longer mentioned in polite conversation, even though the doping allegations were never proven.
The spiritual home of sport
However, none of the above sports are more popular than the Gaelic Games, Ireland’s very own sporting heritage. These sports, unique to Ireland, have been around for centuries and some for millennia.
Croke Park in Dublin is the spiritual home of the Gaelic Games, as well as the seat of the Gaelic Athletic Association. Under the watchful eye of the GAA, these traditional sports are as popular as ever and Croke Park is regularly packed to the rafters.
As St Patrick’s Day approaches, here are a few of the most popular Gaelic games:
As of 2022, this is Ireland’s most popular sport. Known in Ireland simply as ‘Gaelic’ or ‘GAA’, this crazy sport is probably best described as a mix of football and rugby with a bit of basketball thrown in for good measure. Played with a regular football, points are scored by hoofing the ball through the opponent’s goal posts. To confuse the uninitiated, there are both football and rugby goalposts. Either way, the Irish clearly love it as crowds of over 80,000 flock to Croke Park to watch the All-Ireland Senior Championship every year.
Mentioned often in Irish legends and folklore, hurling has existed in Ireland for thousands of years. Described as “the most beautiful and skillful of the traditional Irish sports”, it’s a little like hockey, but only a little bit. Each player has a stick called a ‘hurley’ – camán in Gaelic – which they use to hit or pick up a small leather ball called a ‘sliotar’. Points are scored by throwing the sliotar through the same kind of goalposts found in Gaelic football. Hurling, played at a blistering pace, has been described as the world’s fastest field sport. A sport similar to hurling exists in Scotland called Shinty. They are so similar, in fact, that the Shinty-Hurling International series is held annually, uniting the Gaelic nations of Scotland and Ireland.
Camogie is mainly hurling, but played by women. Oddly enough, the sport was mentioned by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett in his absurdist masterpiece ‘Waiting for Godot’, although I won’t include the quote here because it doesn’t make much sense.
If the three-legged race doesn’t give you enough exercise on St Paddy’s Day, then this is probably the easiest Gaelic game to play at home. Nothing to do with Olympic handball – which the Danes never tire of reminding us that they are the best in the world – it’s a bit like squash, except that the ball is bigger and you use your hands instead of a racket. Most people will have played some version of this game as a child. There are four different variations – softball, 4-wall, 1-wall and hardball – but forget all that: as long as you have a wall and a ball and a buddy, you can play.
Is rounders a Gaelic game? Apparently so, although the exact same game is played in the UK. Admittedly, it’s not very exciting.
Played in pubs all over Ireland, this is the country’s national card game. Over 400 years old, it is linked to the even older Scottish game of maw. Like poker, ‘Spoil Five’ is played with chips, and players must win them by robbing, forfeiting, jinking and paying-off – to name a few of the terms specific to the game. Like poker, Spoil Five is a game often used for gambling. Even WB Yeats wrote about it and spoke of “old men playing at cards with a flash of old hands”. Cards are at the heart of Irish culture and any good pub will have a deck of cards.
Check out our full 2023 St Patrick’s Day supplement here.
Source: The Nordic Page