Described as 'the fastest game on grass', hurling has been granted Unesco special status. Picture: RONINMD/PIXABAY
Described as 'the fastest game on grass', hurling has been granted Unesco special status. Picture: RONINMD/PIXABAY

Dublin  — The Irish sport of hurling, often described as “the fastest game on grass”, was granted Unesco special status on Thursday, adding it to the register of “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”.

“I am delighted that hurling has achieved international recognition,” Irish culture minister Josepha Madigan said.

“Hurling is a key element of Irish culture. For centuries, hurling has been an important part of the Irish identity, with men and women passing on this living tradition to each rising generation.”

Hurling is known for its brutal contact tackles and during play the ball regularly travels at speeds in excess of 150km/h, requiring players to wear face masks. The game is played by teams of 15 on a pitch with H-shaped goals at either end.

Players use carved wooden sticks called “hurleys” — resembling paddles — as well as their hands and feet to move a “sliotar” similar to a baseball — up the field.

Points are gained by striking the sliotar between the goalposts with the hurley. A goal, when the ball passes below the bar, is worth three points while a shot over the crossbar is worth one point.

Hurling and Camogie, a form of the game played by women, have a deep cultural and political history in the republic. According to the Gaelic Athletic Association,  the sport is one of the world’s oldest field games and has been popular for at least 3,000 years in Ireland.

Tales of the sport are enshrined in Irish myth and legend, which emphasise it as a form of training for the rigours of the battlefield. The early Celtic legal system codified compensation for hurling accidents,  with provisions for deliberate injury and even death during a game. In the 12th century, hurling was outlawed, following the Norman invasion of Ireland.

In the history books there are also reports that when the Irish fought the British for independence members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) sometimes trained with hurleys, using them as stand-ins for the rifles they lacked.

Hurling enjoys a vigorous following across Ireland. It is played widely in schools, and counties regularly play against each other in well-attended league and championship competitions presided over by the Gaelic Athletic Association.

“This Unesco award is international recognition for our native game and an acknowledgement of its cultural, social and sporting importance to the people of Ireland,” said association president John Horan. “It reaffirms the fact that Hurling is more than just a sport. It is a national treasure; an ancient tradition that connects us to our Celtic past and a part of our DNA.”

AFP