Sports are a huge part of Irish culture. The Irish love strength, passion, speed, and tradition, especially with a beer in hand.
Whereas you can find non-Irish sports such as basketball, soccer, etc in the country, there are three traditional sports that reign supreme, drawing crowds by the millions. Here is a quick breakdown of their three most popular sports.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit a GAA center (Gaelic Athletic Association), where Irish sports are taught and the tradition continued. We were shown a brief powerpoint describing the three main Gaelic sports, then shown demonstrations from actual players themselves.
The three main sports are: Gaelic football, Hurling, and Handball.
As our demonstrators put it, Gaelic Football is a combination of soccer, volleyball, basketball, and rugby. It is played on a field alike a football or soccer field, but has 15 players on the field for each team at all times.
The ball must be put into the goal on the other side by either kicking or hitting, and can have different points associated with it depending on whether or not it is put into the lower or the higher goal.
The players carry it up the field while their competitors attempt to beat them down. Only “four” steps can be taken while holding the ball (but it was explained to us that this is more like 4-10 steps), and after those steps one must either pass by hitting it to your teammate or kicking it, or, you can kick the ball up back towards yourself, dribble it, or punt it down the field.
There are many rules in this game but the most important thing to remember is that the rules are very loosely followed. Anything can happen, so pay close attention.
Hurling is a combination of baseball, lacrosse, field hockey, and ice hockey (especially in its fouls). It is played on the same type of field as Gaelic football, also with 15 people on the field for each team.
There is a similar objective to Gaelic football, get the ball either through the net or through the top of the net and between the bars. A player will wear a helmet and carry a wooden stick similar to a field hockey stick.
Also similarly to Gaelic Football, the small ball can be picked up and ran with, although not for more than 4ish steps, then it must be passed off by stick or hand, or he must balance it on the end of his stick.
Other than the helmet, there is zero protective gear and nasty injuries are common, due to the loose nature of the rules. The number one rule we learned was, protect your fingers! This is because if your fingers get hit by someone else’s stick, that will be your fault.
Gaelic handball is a lot like American handball, and a little like those wall-ball games you’d play in elementary school. You can play with two or four and in partners, but the objective is to hit the ball with your hand against the wall so as to make it impossible for your opponent(s) to return it.
The ball can only bounce once before the opponent(s) have to return it, or they can hit it right away. You can hit it off of other walls as well and if the ball has already bounced, you can ricochet the ball off of the back wall so it hits the front wall without bouncing.
This one is a little easier to get the handle of but being quick and strategic with your hits is best.