Hurling in the Eighteenth Century
Looking through the records of some hurling matches of the eighteenth century, we find that hurling in Ulster is not a modern sport. Two centuries ago Antrim had hurlers. It is recorded that in the severe winter of 1740 there was a hurling match in the ice on Lough Neagh.
We find, however, that about this period the game was more extensively played outside of Ulster. Records exist of strenuous contests like the "grand match of hurling in May 1748, on Crumlin Commons between the Provinces of Leinster and Munster', in which the former came off victorious. Munster unsatisfied with the result sought a replay, and about a week later they met on the same grounds. Keen on winning Munster picked "a chosen set" but "their utmost efforts were all to no purpose, for Leinster after about an hour's struggle, gained a complete victory." Not yet satisfied, Munster asked a further trial, and "the greatest match of hurling ever played in this Kingdom" was promised, but after the necessary preparations were made, "Munster thought it proper to decline the combat."
In September, 1775, there was a match between Co. Tipperary and the Lower Ormond "band of hurlers" on the Commons of Ballingarry, near Borrisokane, when after an hour and fifteen minutes. trial the "invincible Lower Ormondians, according to their usual methods, put out a fair and undisputed goal." It was computed that there were 10,000 spectators at this match "who quietly separated in the evening without the least accident or irregularity, except a few hats that were lost in the huzzaing."
In September, 1755, there was a hurling match at Lyons, Co. Kildare, between the gentlemen of Kildare and Dublin, at which the Marquess of Hartington (then Lord Lieutenant) and "a most brilliant appearance of nobility and gentry were present'. Yes, the Gentry played the game of hurling then, for it is recorded that in a match about this period between the Counties of Kilkenny and Tipperary the teams were mainly composed of "gentry of the highest respectability from both Counties."
"In honour of their illustrious country, and to encourage reward and honour, bravery and hardihood from whatever part of Ireland they might come." a hurling match was played in July, 1814, on Kensington Commons, London, by some gentlemen of Ireland, the teams (18 a side) being named St. Giles and Wapping. The Duke of Wellington and staff formed portion of 20.000 interested spectators. Gentlemen on horseback acted as stewards, and the dexterity of the players amazed the onlookers. The match was for 200 guineas, and the result was a draw.
In July, 1792, a cricket match, held in the Phoenix Park, was described as a form of I rish hurling, but the latter "was much more strenuous." It was not safe to be a spectator at these strenuous matches, for in September, 1756 a woman got her eye knocked out at Crumlin, and another got her leg broken. Nor was it advisable to interfere between players, for at a match at Glounanere, near Cashel, in 1774, James Raighelly (was he the referee?) in attempting to make peace between two players, was killed with a stroke of a hurley.
In July, 1779, complaints were made "that a mob of people assemble on Sundays in the Phoenix Park, adjoining the residence of Mr. Gardiner, High Sheriff, to play football and hurling matches, and most horrid profanement of drunkenness, riot, and fighting are practised, and these Sabbath breakers are permitted to remain unmolested in defiance of the law, divine and human:'
A century and a half has passed since these complaints were made, and the conduct of the game has greatly altered, but if some of those spirits could return to life and hear the "huzzaing" on an All-Ireland Final day at Croke Park, they would conclude that during their long retirement those "wild Irish" had become even more enthusiastic over their national game.
National Hurling League program, Tipperary v Antrim, Cashel, February 12, 1984