+3531 6313822 nationalich@chg.gov.ie


Location Throughout the island of Ireland as well as in 8 international units: Australasia; Asia; Britain; Canada; Europe; Middle East; North America; New York
Categories Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
Social practices, rituals and festive events
Oral traditions and expressions, including language
Performing arts
Traditional craftsmanship
Keywords Hurling, camogie, hurley, sliotar, GAA, Camogie Association
Contact organisation GAA, Camogie Association

Hurling (incorporating Camogie) is a national game indigenous to Ireland. The national games, that also includes Gaelic Football, are governed in Ireland and overseas by two volunteer-led sister organisations i.e. the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Camogie Association. In Ireland, there are 32 County Boards with a total of 1,615 GAA Clubs and 511,500 registered members across the island of Ireland. These bodies form a community network that is closely linked with Irish schools as Hurling is also played in 74% of Primary Schools and 66% of Post-Primary Schools. The game of Hurling is played by approximately 98,000 children while at Youth and Adult level there are an estimated 177,096 amateur players. In addition to this, the number of volunteers within the GAA amounts to 6% of the adult population in Ireland. Internationally, there are 8 International Units worldwide with 421 Clubs from Argentina to Vietnam with 27,764 registered members.

In 2018, Hurling received international recognition when it was inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Background information

Hurling is a field game played by 2 teams, which dates back 2,000 years featuring strongly in Irish mythology most notably the epic saga of Cú Chulainn.

Traditionally, the number of players was unregulated and games were played across open fields. Nowadays, there are 15 players on Adult teams and the game is played on a clearly marked pitch that has a set of goalposts at each end, which are similar to rugby goalposts.

Hurling is played using a wooden stick (hurley), and a small ball (sliotar). The shape and composition of these has changed over time but today a hurley is similar to a hockey stick except the end of it is flat and rounded while a sliotar is similar to a baseball but smaller.

The object of the game is to use the hurley to strike the sliotar and hit it between the opposing team’s goalposts. If it is struck over the crossbar a point is awarded. If it is struck beneath the crossbar, past the goalkeeper, a goal is awarded (3 points).

The sliotar can be caught in the hand and kept in the hand by a player for 4 steps. After 4 steps a player must balance the sliotar on the end of the hurley. A player can pass the sliotar by striking the sliotar with the hurley in the air or on the ground or can pass the ball using a ‘hand-pass’ i.e. using an open hand to propel the ball to another player.

Hurling is an intrinsic part of Irish culture and it is not limited to one community but rather goes to the heart of the social fabric of modern-day Ireland as it plays an unparalleled role in the promotion of physical fitness, health & well-being, inclusiveness, team spirit and community identity.

Hurling provides people in Ireland and abroad with an irreplaceable connection to the past and a sense of identity that ties back to the folklore, myths and legends that surround the game. Apart from the ancient warriors and heroes associated with the game, in modern-day Ireland, hurling provides a platform to embrace and include all communities in Irish society. In schools and clubs nationwide, children of all backgrounds and nationalities are given the opportunity to pick up a hurley and to share the enjoyment that comes from playing Hurling. In so doing, they achieve a sense of belonging – becoming part of the global hurling community.

The hurley and sliotar are symbols immediately recognisable throughout Ireland and abroad as uniquely Irish. But beyond this they are also symbols of the commitment, dedication and skill required to master this challenging yet fulfilling game. While the game provides men and women with sporting goals to aspire to, the act of playing hurling and being part of the community simultaneously develops them as people in a broader holistic sense.

Ultimately the game is about connection – a connection to the past, a connection to heritage and a connection to a community and each other.

Practice and practitioners

The primary bearers and practitioners of Hurling and Camogie are the players – known as hurlers (male) and camógs (female). Players train and play with their Club and/or School team in the first instance and, if they are especially talented, they will be selected to play with their County team.

Coaches are responsible for developing players through training sessions and games. 95% of coaches are volunteers while a small percentage are employed by the GAA and the Camogie Association to support the volunteers. In accordance with GAA policy, coaches must undertake Coach Education Courses, which are made available to all coaches.

The games are regulated by Match Officials including a Referee, Linesperson (x2) and Umpires (x4). During a game the Referee is the primary Match Official and must ensure that players adhere to the Playing Rules of Hurling. There is one Linesperson on either side of the pitch and he is responsible for assisting the Referee and indicating when the sliotar has gone over the sideline. Two umpires stand at each end of the pitch beside the goalposts. They must indicate whether a player has missed a score or has scored a point (over the crossbar) or goal (under the crossbar). All Match Officials receive training in their roles.

The GAA is responsible for approving and regulating the Playing Rules of Hurling. They also approve and organise competitions at all levels (Club/County). In addition to this, they are responsible for providing Learning & Development opportunities to Players, Coaches and Match Officials.

Development, transmission and safeguarding

The game of Hurling dates back 2,000 years and was played without regulation until 1884. During this period the skills of the game were passed on through the act of playing the game. However, by the 19th century there was a growing fear that the game of Hurling was dying out. In 1884, the GAA was founded as part of the Gaelic Revival – a broad cultural movement to protect and preserve the Irish language, literature and games. Since then the GAA has taken responsibility for putting systems in place to transmit the skills and values of Hurling.

Today the skills of Hurling are protected and promoted to new generations through providing coaching and games in Schools, Clubs and Counties throughout Ireland and overseas. Voluntary coaches are responsible for organising coaching sessions in their local schools and clubs, while also ensuring that there is a programme of games for players at each age grade from U.6 up to Adult level. The GAA and Camogie Association have also developed courses, workshops and qualifications to ensure that the volunteers are qualified as coaches and referees.

Furthermore, the skills are promoted through televised games. The games that feature on television are generally games between adult players of the highest calibre – male and female – either at Club or County level. These games attract huge match-day crowds and television audiences.

As the custodians of Hurling, the GAA and the Camogie Association believe that the best way to preserve the viability of Hurling is to ensure that it is played as extensively as possible. These volunteer-led organisations have invested significantly in human and capital resources, to ensure that all children receive an opportunity to play Hurling and so that all volunteers are up-skilled. Underpinning the learning provided to volunteers is the identification, documentation, promotion and enhancement of the skills of Hurling. The provision of learning inputs has recently been innovated and revitalised through the introduction of an online Learning & Development portal – meaning that volunteers from Dublin to Dubai can access online workshops, courses and videos anytime.

The Hurling community is also committed to ensuring that Hurling’s significance as part of Ireland’s intangible cultural heritage is recognised. Past initiatives include the mass compilation of histories, hurling memories, oral testimonies, outreach projects in the community and the production of ‘Iomain, An Illustrated Heritage Guide to Hurling’. Many of these initiatives have been carried out to mark historical dates e.g. the Centenary of the establishment of the GAA (1994). Furthermore, on-going initiatives and exhibitions to safeguard Hurling as intangible cultural heritage are regularly showcased at the dedicated GAA Museum in Croke Park, Dublin and at the Lár na Páirce Museum in Thurles. Further testimonies to the antiquity of hurling have been maintained through individual collections including Ó Ceallaigh GAA collection in Limerick City Library and exhibitions by the National Museum of Ireland.

Current and past Irish Governments have also made successive efforts to safeguard Hurling. The State have included a special reference to ‘Gaelic Games’ in the Physical Education curriculum for Primary School children to encourage widespread participation in Hurling. Furthermore, for the past decade, Sport Ireland, the State Agency for Sport in Ireland, has provided annual funding for the deployment of full-time coaching personnel who provide coaching in schools and aim to support and upskill volunteers. In addition to this, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, provides financial support for projects run by Units and Clubs internationally. Furthermore, the State has provided capital funding supports for the construction of many of the Hurling stadia nationally. All of these efforts reflect the commitment of the Irish State to increasing and supporting participation in Hurling.

In relation to Hurling’s place in Irish cultural intangible heritage, State bodies such as the National Museum of Ireland have held a number of exhibitions displaying artefacts and folklore relating to Hurling e.g a hurley that was radiocarbon dated to the fifteenth century AD. A recent exhibition in 2014 showcased the predecessor of the modern sliotar i.e. hair hurling balls. The balls of matted cow hair with a plaited horsehair covering were all found in bogs and are up to 800 years old. 14 such balls were displayed by the National Museum of Ireland.

Contact organisation

GAA and Camogie Association