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An Ancient Game

Chapter 3

The game of hurling was played in the Nenagh District long before the foundation of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884. A landed gentleman named George Stoney of Borrisokane recorded in his diary on 9 September 1765 that he " went to the hurling at Carney ". Unfortunately he did not elaborate any further on the event. The English writer Arthur Young described " a very ancient custom " still popular in the Portroe area in the year 1777. When a young girl was of marriagable age, the neighbours came together and organised a hurling match for which she was " the prize of the victor ". After Mass on the appointed Sunday the people first visited the girl's home, where she was expected to entertain them with cider and whiskey. The hurling then commenced and the winning captain carried off the young woman as his bride. Yong noted that these matches often extended over two or three Sunday's and that sometimes one barony hurled against another.He described the game of hurling " as a sort of cricket, but instead of throwing the ball in order to knock down the wicket, tha aim is to pass it through a bent stick, the ends stuck in the ground".

There is a newspaper report of an intended match between a Clare selection and a team from " the parishes of Kilbarron and Mountsea in the county Tipperary " in a field near Whitegate on the Clare side of Lough Derg on 22 September 1825. The local magistrate, rev. Mr. Huleatt, arrived with ten of the Whitegate police to halt the proceedings, but the five hundred local people assembled for the match refused to go home. At about six o' clock a large crowd arrived by boat from Tipperary and were apprised of the situation by the Clare people. " Both immediately formed one body, armed themselves on the beach with stones, and advanced furiously on the police". The newspaper reported that " the Rev. Gentleman himself had his arm and his side desperately battered, and the police were wounded in every direction".

The local press of the early nineteenth century paid little attention to routine peasant gatherings such as hurling matches. Newspapers commented on those events only when something unusual happened at them or they came under the notice of the police. For instance, the Nenagh Guardian carried reports of altercations at matches at Capparoe near Silvermines in 1841, at Ollatrim, Toomevara, in 1846, and at Youghal on the banks of the Shannon on St Stephan's Day 1848. Hurling on the Sabbath was an offence in law, subject to a fine of one schilling before the local magistrates. However the police rarely interfered with matches unless there was trouble. for instance, a large number of person's appeared before the Nenagh magistrates in March 1844 " for hurling on Sundays and for a riot that took place at said hurling". The magistrates pointed out that neither they nor the police wished to interfere with the amusement of the people so long as no acts of violence were committed. The defendants were let off " with a strong remonstrance and caution as to their future conduct".

The Nenagh Guardian gave lenghty coverage to " the disgraceful and unseemly proceedings" at a match at Ballyanny on a Sunday in 1856. The match - described as " a game of hurling between townspeople and country people" - had been fixed for Annbrook, Nenagh, the previous week, but the police had intervened and dispersed the gathering. Foiled in their attempt, the parties met the following Sunday in a field in Ballyanny. The newspaper reported that " the contest for superiority was carried out with the utmost vigour and in the best spirt till a country man shouted in triumph for his party". This infuriated the nenagh players and " soon the hurlbats on both sides were converted in skull crackers and limb breakers". A general brawl ensued and many of the players were carried from the field in " a state of insensibility ". The melee ended when the outnumbered townsmen " beat a speedy retreat " from the field. Their country oponents were so eager to continue the fight that they pursued them part of the road home.




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