Historic rumblings tell us that a chance encounter by Baron Pierre de Coubertin when he stumbled across the Scottish Highland games was the inspiration behind what we call the modern Olympics.
Bravo to the Baron and the Highlanders. Still, we can’t help feeling that Monsieur de Coubertin missed a trick – Ireland’s Gaelic Games
On a sports field in New York an Irish American, Mr Slattery, is being interviewed by the city’s most famous title, the New York Times.
“From the time you’re a kid, that’s what you’re taught,” Mr Slattery said. “All your idols are playing it; all the kids you know are playing it; everybody’s playing it.”
Clash of the ash
For those of us who grew up on the same island as Mr Slattery, we don’t need to ask what he’s referring to. There’s only one sport that could be so all encompassing, so, so Ireland.
And while he may be a long way from home the mere mention of Croke Park, sideline cuts, the clash of the ash, the Cusack Stand this event, that cup, or the other league, would take him instantly back to the auld sod and to the sport that defines an island.
Villages in Ireland are commonly defined as hosting a pub, a church and a school. You can add a gaelic pitch to that list. From Malin Head at Ireland’s most northerly tip, to Cork’s Mizen, the gaelic games of football, hurling, camogie and handball have become Ireland’s expression in sport (if you’d like to brush up on the background of the game, we’ve got you covered).
Fancy catching a game? No problem. You can watch the best of the best right across the country. Yes, Croke Park is the Cathedral, but Gaelic Games count many churches among its flock. Nowlan Park in Kilkenny is arguably the home of hurling, Casement Park in Antrim boils to a bubble on game day and the roar from Limerick’s Páirc na nGael (Gaelic Grounds) will send shivers up your back for the whole 80 minutes.
Expect to see everyone from Granny and Granddad to Tommy the toddler in the crowd. And expect them to be excited. Right now in Ireland, though, the demand for gaelic games is exceeding supply. We simply love it too much.
Ireland’s answer? Festivals.
It’s no secret anymore that the year 2013 is the year of The Gathering Ireland. With a whole 12 months of events championing oysters to beards and back again, there was always going to be space for Ireland’s national games.
Roll up Aer Lingus Hurling Festival (cool your jets, it’s not on until September) celebrating the fastest field sport in the world and bringing hurls, sliotars and mighty craic to Galway City and county. Connemara under a high ball? Yes please.
Céilís and kicks
In Limerick, the Tailteann Festival is a marvellous meshing of the deepest strands of Irish culture. Think set dancing ‘til your feet are sore and a Céilí Mór where the Kilfenora band will be pulling the strings (literally) until the early hours.
But possibly more importantly: think gaelic. The Tailteann Nua Women’s Gaelic Football Tournament has sent out the invitation to teams in the UK and worldwide to meet on the field of play. Sounds nice and friendly? Outside the 80 minutes of game time it most certainly will be. Inside? We’re not at liberty to really say…
If you’ve still got wind in your lungs, swing south to Cork and dip into The World Mini Games Gathering. Organisers are calling it a “reduced format version of sports” but we’re guessing that doesn’t mean a reduction in passion. If you doubt us, take a sideline seat at the Gaelic Games 10s for an entire weekend. If that’s ‘reduced’ we’ll eat our hat.
And should you see Mr Slattery there, make sure to welcome him home.