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History of the Hurley

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

The game of hurling has a rich history that dates back several centuries. It is believed to have originated in Ireland, where it was played on a field with a ball and a stick. The game was originally known as "hurling" and was played by Irish warriors to train and sharpen their battle skills. Over time, the game evolved and became more popular, spreading to other parts of Europe and eventually to other countries around the world. Today, it is a popular sport that is enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels.


It is difficult to say with any certainty what kinds of hurley were in use a thousand years ago but when the mythology of old Ireland was first recorded in the TAIN in the 13th century, the heroes of ancient times, Cuchulainn and Fionn McCool, according to legend, used metal hurley of gold, silver and bronze. It is likely that the understanding of the storytellers of these terms passed on from remote ages, refers to hurleys banded and artistically decorated with metal hoops of gold, silver and bronze adornments. The implied value of these hurleys was always associated with Royalty. Stories abound of embroidered hurleys as jewels befitting a royal household that would be left as a legal inheritance.


Cuhulainn had three special hurling skills - to strike the ball again before it fell, to run the length of the field with the ball on the bas of the hurley and take on single-handed a whole opposing team which Fionn McCool also did the day he got his surname. That is probably why they both achieved immortality on the hurling field. While the third feat may have been the prerogative of the great Celtic heroes, the ball into the air time and time again, and carrying the ball on the bas of the hurley - soloing - is something schoolboy hurlers practice to this day. This shows that the arts and skills practised over generations still resonate with hurlers of today.


A wide number of hurley types were in use in Ireland in ancient times and varieties of play were associated with them until the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884 which adopted the bossed Hurley as the standard for the future.


Before that, each man had his type of hurley. In ancient times before the forests of Ireland were plundered by the aristocracy, there was no difficulty procuring timber for hurleys. In the early 1800s, millions of trees were felled by the landlords for the production of half caskets, hogs heads, and barrels which along with timber for the British fleet, were exported. This resulted in an ongoing game of cat and mouse with the landlords, their bailiffs and the hurlers as timber was stolen for hurley making.


From November to the following April, the making of hurleys was the topic of conversation every Sunday and holiday among the ordinary people. The young men would go to the woods by day and seek and mark a good stump of fresh ash with a fine natural curve. A judgement would be made as to how many hurleys it would yield. The tree would be cut on a moonless night in wintertime, as long ago amongst the Celts, certain trees including the ash tree were cut down during certain phases of the moon. There were also certain incantations linked to this work. The timber was then spirited away despite the watchful eyes of the bailiffs.


There were however certain places, where hurlers were greatly in fear of cutting ash for hurleys. These areas were known as “Nobel “ places, where “the little people', the fairies, had a residence or dwelling. Tales were widespread of juveniles or youngsters who ignored this advice and who did not get on well afterwards. If they wanted to win a match it would not be of help to cut a hurley in a place that had the name of being” Noble “.While fairies were associated with bringing good fortune, they were also associated with bad luck and even death. They were sometimes called The Hurlers of Death. That hurling stories were infused with the magical and the supernatural, shows how deep-rooted hurling was in Irish folklore.


Of the woods used to make hurleys, ash, furze, willow, oak, holly, elm, elder, white thorn, blackthorn larch, poplar and yew are mentioned regarding ash, three kinds of growth would be suitable for hurley material. The straight growth but with a twisted root, the growth itself to be twisted, or the growth to be completely straight so that it had to be bent after cutting. It was believed that there was no timber more suitable than ash, as it was light and strong and that it grew in the shape of a hurley. A dozen hurleys could be made from a piece of ash with the correct shape.


When the material for the hurley was cut, if there was insufficient turn in it, they used to immerse it in a pot and boil it for a couple of hours. It was then soft enough to bend to the correct shape. Other methods used to bend the hurley were to put it in a pigs-through, in the water of boiling turnips or to soften it with steam. Another strategy was to leave the hurley under a foot and a half of horse dung under the belief that hurleys should always be properly seasoned. Some applied linseed oil to the hurley which was then hung in an open chimney, taken down after a week and the treatment repeated. Others used the lard of a goose on the hurley, hanging it up the chimney, so that the smoke would rise under it, hardening and drying with the grease penetrating the timber with the heat.


So prized was the hurley in those days that any youth who had one had a special regard for it. It was said that many youngsters carried their treasured possessions to bed with them.

From this heritage, the CuHurl is born. From this constant evolution, the CuHurl has emerged to share our ancient sport with our most faithful friend. A refinement of the ancient game played by Fionn Mc Cool and his faithful dog Bran and Sceolang, hurling the ball, catching the ball, fetching the ball, actions as old as time, between man and dog. The CuHurl adapts to time and place, urban settings, parks and beaches, back gardens and communal spaces, fewer hounds, more small and medium-sized dogs, chasing and retrieving the ball to their hearts delight, giving exercise and playtime to dog and man in an unbroken cycle.


The magic continues.


Photo: Diarmuid Connolly with Darcy "Out and About" in #StAnnesPark


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