Hurling: Fighting Irish Commence Playing Irish Sports

Author: Susie Schaab '03

The newest sport on campus is one of the oldest on record.

Earlier this year Notre Dame became the first college in the United States with a hurling program, according to the Irish graduate student who organized the program.

Hurling, which this fall will become an official club sport, is considered by many to be the fastest and oldest field sport on earth. Played by the Celts as early as 600 B.C., it’s Ireland’s national sport and remains immensely popular there. But in America, hurling clubs typically are found only in major cities.

The Notre Dame club got going last fall when members of the campus Gaelic Society, founded in 2002 to exhibit Irish traditions on campus, began practicing side-by-side with people playing catch with softballs and Frisbees on the lawns of North Quad.

The Hurling Club now boasts more than 60 members who practiced three times a week inside Stepan Center during winter months. The club was founded by biology graduate student Gerry Quinn, a native of Ireland who hopes hurling will one day become a popular intramural sport on campus. He also launched a campus program in Gaelic football, another ancient Irish sport similar to soccer but which allows use of hands to bat the ball. The Gaelic football program would also be a first on a U.S. campus, Quinn says.

In hurling, two 15-player teams compete on a field approximately 1½ times the size of a football field. The goal is to hit the sliothar (a ball about the size and hardness of a baseball) through H-shaped goal posts. Players carry a 3-foot oar of brushed ash called a hurley, which they use to lift the ball and propel it toward the goal or a teammate. The action is similar to how a baseball coach tosses a ball in the air and then hits practice grounders or flies.

With hurleys swinging and players wearing a minimum of protective gear—this year’s players didn’t even have helmets (fund raising is ongoing)—hurling is a rough sport. But Notre Dame’s novice players said they liked trying something new, even at the cost of bruised knuckles and shins.