In multiple 12th century texts – Hurling and it’s rules are mentioned – In these texts there is a clear mention of a green set aside for hurling (See Fergus Kelly, Early Irish Farming). Hurling sticks and a ball were frequently mentioned in a wide range of early texts– a recent find of 14 balls from the 10th- 13th century show that these balls were carefully designed and made from cow/horse fabric and is concrete evidence that hurling was played on this Island prior to an Anglo –Saxon presence. It was also recorded in law that if a youth lost a ball by hitting it out of the field of play his parents would have to pay up – Highlighting the expense of balls, but also re-enforcing that the game was played on an enclosed area… Just as an add on, these balls were found in Sligo, Limerick, Kerry, Tipperary, Clare and Mayo
The aim of the game was to drive the ball down field to score a goal - immáin in old Irish meant drive – and here we are a thousand years later still shouting ‘drive it’ and you have clowns on here telling us the game is British. In many texts there is also a second shorter game mention where one person guards the goal/hole and multiple youths try and score with their hurling sticks – Some scholars have likened this to being like a game of penos that youths play today in modern soccer – i.e it was still a variation of the game of hurling just a shorter game but once more clearly identifying the objective of the game was to score/stop a goal.
There were, however, regional differences of how the game was played and evidence that the game in the North-east was more a ground game akin to shinty also played across the water in Scotia minor. Other areas would have had a mixed variations but the ball was certainly driven high. In different accounts of the Tain it is certainly suggested that the ball was lifted and driven in the air as opposed to solely on the ground. I’ve highlighted on here before how hurleys appear on a number of late medieval graves around the country – the most well-known being the grave of a gallowglass (Scottish mercenaries) in Donegal, on his grave the bas was long and thin suggesting he was of Gaelic origin and adds to the shinty connection with the north. While on early high cross graves around Meath and Louth there are depictions that scholars hold are Cu Chulain slaying the beast with a hurley with a much more rounded bas – used for rising and striking. ‘Cuman’ – an ancient Irish word – means bent/bend (Cum) and little (an) = little bend and this word dates right back to the medieval and pre-dating even the Vikings on this island. A recent archaeological find in Donegal of 1,296 skeletons dated from between the 7th-17th C. with a large number of thumb injuries is being put down to the winter game of hurling (shinty) which would suggest the game was thriving in Donegal during this period and prior to the Cromwellian settlement and land confiscation which @The_Selfish_Giant and @Matty_Hislop would have us believe coincided with the invention of the game, when it’s clear it fucking killed the game. – See http://donegalnews.com/2017/03/donegal-hurling-stronghold-medieval-times/
In another law tract it states the things that a boy should have on fosterage – (All sons were fostered out to another family for a period)- and the prime thing they needed was a hurling stick, and the more decorated with bronze the better to show off high status. This again clearly displays the importance of the game of hurling in ancient Ireland than more than just a game. The quality of your cammán was used to signify social status and all boys of status were expect to have one (see Angela B. Gleason 2002 Entertainment in early Ireland PhD thesis, TCD) – If I remember correctly didn’t Cu Chulain have a bronze hurley? Maybe our resident antiquarian @theselfishgiant can confirm this?
The game and skills itself are not overly referenced – From various stories recorded between the 12th-14th century accounts differ – in the Tain once Cu Chulainn got the ball over the line he beat the other kids – While other accounts recorded feats of multiple goals being scored. Another tale gives details of a foreigner taking up the game and showing great skill in being able to drive it high and long and running onto it and catching it before it hit the ground. Before leisure became a part of life, adults didn’t have time for games and you’ll note in most accounts it is youths who played and the game was used to forge manliness and bonds in youth. In the 14th century poem addressed to Domhnall Mac Domhnaill Mac Carthaig as he was about to become King in place of a dead uncle, he was told to give up his boyhood passions such as hurling and to become a man. Nevertheless, Gleason and others note that adults played around fair time and games often lasted days.
There is earlier evidence of the game also – In Brehon laws dating back to the 8th C. Hurling was used to settle disputes. Which is interesting as some claim hurling comes from the lost Irish martial art of stick fighting (still used up to the 18th c.) see - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataireacht. This is interesting insofar as the Celts nearly always settled skirmishes with one v one combat, sending out their best warriors – martial art is generally one on one and tho hurling is a team game it’s very essence is one on one battle. Art O Maolfabhail also notes that Brehon law catered for injuries on the field of play and different compensations, depending on injury inflicted, were recorded. (See O Maolfabhail, Caman: 200 years of Irish Hurling)
It must be noted that a variation of ball and stick game was recorded right across Northern Europe at the same period as the Irish were recording and they nearly all share their origin with the Egyptian game (and other customs)– which suggests most tribes across Northern Europe share a common ancestry/migration pattern from the near east.
In the 15-17th century the game began to be banned by the British authorities as it was distinctly Irish – this was a period when British rule tried to change Irish language, religion, laws and customs and everything that was distinctly Irish was outlawed or challenged as the English monarchy wanted to assimilate the Gaelic Irish to their way of life… There’s the well-known royal decree to ban hurling in Kilkenny in the 14th century as many English settlers had taken it up as well as other Gaelic past-times.
Naturally the Irish resisted in many parts of the country but the loss of our Gaelic aristocracy and breakdown of Gaelic society between the 16th-18th centuries saw the game decline in many quarters. In the pockets that refused to let it go landlords tried to regulate it rather than stop it but it never quite had the same effect as local villages/parishes/townlands would rather sneak off and challenge other villages/parishes/townlands which often resulted in either rioting and/or arrests. These people kept the games handed down to them by their ancestors alive despite hundreds of years of oppression.
I’ve already noted counties such as Mayo, Sligo, Donegal, Meath, Louth in this little piece – It’s often thrown out here that Hurling was only ever popular in a few counties that surrounded Tipperary … Hmmm.
Here are 19th c. reports from Dublin City showing that the game was very popular away from and landed estates...notice the last section of article two.
I'll throw up more newspaper reports of other counties surrounding Tipperary Like West-Meath and Wexford later...