113. Foreign Sport

Foreign Sport: It is truly one of the wonders of this trip that we can wander around a Western, English-speaking country like Ireland and still find exoticism. Such is the spectacle of hurling, the non-professional Irish pastime of wooden sticks, hardballs, gruesome face injuries and some truly spectacular swearing. By the time I joined her here, Amy had a three-page To Do list that featured “hurling” in the top five, even though I suspect she’d already done a fair deal of a different kind of hurling after all those pub crawls. Never mind, because I’m always up for armchair sports and happily pegged hurling matches as something to look for early and often. We mostly forgot to though, until after attending a traditional music session one night in the tiny town of Cushendall, where the elderly whistle player cornered us between sets to confirm what he’d guessed by looking at us.

“Yous er from The States then.”

Yes, of course we are. Yes, of course we’re enjoying it here. Weather could be a little better. Ha ha, yes we do know the difference between Ireland in the winter and the summer – the rain is warmer in the summer. Yes, we heard that May was gorgeous, like Spain they say. No, we’ve been to see quite a bit of music, but this has been great. The best.

And then he leans in real close, overpowering us with the smell of age and wisdom, which was probably just the recent application of a menthol chest rub.

“Well have ya seen ah hurley match yet?”

Devastating question, because in this country and in this kind of small town pub, this is the kind of question you desperately want to answer yes to. It’s guaranteed kinship for the rest of the night if you say yes and then recount the excited details of injuries and foul play. Instead, we weakly answered no, only to see him immediately straighten up and move to the bar. We figured that the next day would be a popular day for hurling matches, so we vowed to spend it looking for a match.

Although it turned out that the day after that day was actually the more popular day for hurling, so we may have just drank heavily until then. But how it was worth it! The match was a small city match in Cushendun on The North’s east coast. Foggy, but draft beer and soft-serve ice cream were availed of. Amy makes some crude comments about muscular thighs and tight shorts while the men of Cushendun work through their stretches and then, without a starting gun, anthem or buzzer, whack! They’re off and running. And hitting and punching.

It’s a wonderful sport to watch in person, like a more exciting lacrosse to my eye, but one that also incorporates elements of golf, rugby, cricket and kickboxing. To their credit, most of the players do wear flimsy little plastic helmets, but we ended up cheering for the idiot heroes who went without, on account of they ended up with great gushing bloody noses and were always the ones swearing the loudest anyway. I’ve been told that Indians are magnificent at swearing, but it’s all in local dialects, so I could never understand it. These Irish expletives I can understand, and there are few joys this country will give me greater than sitting on the grass next to a little old Irish woman while she unleashes a profanity-laced tirade in support of the beloved boys of Cushendun (who lost mightily by the way, seven thirteen to two ten). Maybe next &!$@ing time. Here’s a grainy instructional video of sorts, if you’re interested.


  1. nancy says:

    Hurling is the ab fab BEST. But I notice your hurlers are wearing head gear?!! Wusses.

  2. Sara K says:

    Hi Sloan and Amy!

    Wow, hurling really is a sport. Guys played it in my high school in the Midwest and I thought they made it up. And that it was called hurling because they drank (a lot) afterward.

    But of course Marc says that Midwesterners are not that creative.