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What is Ireland's National Sport?

Love it or hate it, sport is a massive part of national life no matter where you are on the globe.

It’s no different here in Ireland and, for such a small nation, we regularly excel in producing some of the best sporting men and women on the planet.

Despite the famous names and countless achievements you might be wondering, what is a classically Irish sport? What is Ireland’s national sport? 

G.A.A.

You can’t talk about sport in Ireland without talking about the G.A.A., which stands for the Gaelic Athletic Association.

The GAA was formed in Hayes’ Hotel, in Thurles, Tipperary, on November 1st 1884 to preserve and celebrate the unique pastimes and cultural heritage of Ireland and her people. 

From humble beginnings it has grown and grown and now boasts over 500,000 members worldwide due to the ever growing Irish diaspora and emigrating communities!

Local club parks and giant stadiums are dotted up and down the country and every year the GAA calendar culminates in local club finals, generally held on Saint Patrick’s Day, and All-Ireland county finals, generally held in September, in Croke Park, Dublin.

The GAA works hard to promote various cultural and heritage projects but for many in Ireland it boils down to the three sports which could generally be considering Ireland’s national sports; Hurling, Gaelic Football and Gaelic Handball. 

Hurling

Medium Leinster Hurling Final B 14Th June 2012 01

Hurling is Ireland’s oldest pastime and has been played for over 4000 years! It even predates recorded histories about the country itself!

We’ll let Wikipedia cover the basics of the game

“The objective of the game is for players to use a wooden (ash) stick called a hurley to hit a small ball called a sliotar between the opponents' goalposts either over the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar into a net guarded by a goalkeeper for one goal, which is equivalent to three points. The sliotar can be caught in the hand and carried for not more than four steps, struck in the air, or struck on the ground with the hurley. It can be kicked, or slapped with an open hand (the hand pass) for short-range passing. A player who wants to carry the ball for more than four steps has to bounce or balance the sliotar on the end of the stick, and the ball can only be handled twice while in his possession.”

That description, or any for that matter, will never truly do the sport of hurling justice. Check it out on YouTube for a better idea.

It has been described by many as one of the most electrifying live sporting experiences in the world and we would highly recommend you check it out either at a local club or at the mecca Croke Park. 

Gaelic Football

Gaelic football, in some respects, is like a hybrid between football (soccer), hurling and rugby union. 

That might sound weird to the uninitiated but again we’ll let Wikipedia handle the basics below.

“Players advance the football, a spherical leather ball, up the field with a combination of carrying, bouncing, kicking, hand-passing, and soloing (dropping the ball and then toe-kicking the ball upward into the hands). In the game, two types of scores are possible: points and goals. A point is awarded for kicking or hand-passing the ball over the crossbar, signalled by the umpire raising a white flag. A goal (worth three points) is awarded for kicking the ball under the crossbar into the net, signalled by the umpire raising a green flag. Positions in Gaelic football are similar to that in other football codes, and comprise one goalkeeper, six backs, two midfielders, and six forwards, with a variable number of substitutes.” 

Like hurling, gaelic is also contested by both local clubs and all 32 counties in Ireland. 

Gaelic Handball

Handball is the least traditionally popular of the main GAA games but you’ll still find it played throughout Ireland, both casually and competitively.

Handball is played in a court, or "alley". Originally, an alley measuring 60 feet by 30 feet was used with a front wall of 30 feet, off which the ball must be struck. 

The objective of a game is to score a set total of points before your opponent does. Points are only scored by the person serving the ball. In other words, if a player wins a rally but did not serve at the start of that rally they only win the right to serve, and thus the chance to score after a subsequent rally. The serving player has two opportunities to hit the ball, from the "service area" (between the two parallel lines), off the "front wall" and across the "short line" (which is located exactly halfway down the court from the front wall).

Players take turns at hitting the ball off the "front wall" before the ball bounces twice on the floor of the court following their opponent's previous shot. Most handball games take place in a four-walled court but there are also three-walled and one-wall versions of the game.”

Other Sports played in Ireland

Ireland is a fanatical sporting country.

Drive through any city, town or village and you’ll find pitches, courts and centres dedicated to our love of all things sport.

Despite the GAA taking so much of our time and attention you’ll also find men, women and children enjoying football (soccer), rugby union, golf, swimming, track and field and many, many more. 

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Have you ever watched one of our national sports in person? Or maybe you play? Let us know!

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