Skip to content

Ireland's Gaelic Games

Gaelic games are the most popular sporting events in Ireland and consist of three main sports: hurling, Gaelic football, and handball. Hurling is the oldest stick and ball game in the world with a history that dates back to 1000BC. The objective is to hit a ball through an H-shaped goalpost, or guarded net, with a wooden stick called a Hurley.

Much like hurling, Gaelic football is played on the same pitch, or field, and the object is to hit or punt a larger ball through the same H-shaped goal. It could be considered the grandfather to American football, soccer, and rugby. The last game, Gaelic handball, can trace its origins to the early 14th century. Many occupying forces have tried to ban handball and the tradition it represents, yet it survives to this day.

Gaelic athletes are born into their team and compete for the pride of their county. The games are played strictly by amateurs and the athletes’ names are not sewn onto the jersey, because the focus is not on the players but on the heritage of the sport.  Instead, the athletes are given numbers that correspond to their position. All profits from major and minor league matches are donated to local Gaelic athletic clubs.

Gaelic games are more than a sporting event in Ireland, they are a way for the Irish to remember their history and culture. Semester at Sea students had a unique opportunity to visit Na Fianna, a Gaelic athletic club in Dublin and learn first hand the history of the games and how to play them.

Gaelic football players may use their hands and feet to advance the ball upfield but may only take four steps with the ball. Students learn the art of soloing, which involves passing the ball to yourself by dropping it and kicking it back to yourself.
Meredith Schuver, of Marietta College, masters punting the ball through the uprights, in Gaelic football, to score a point.
Matthew Tallman of the Univ. of Western Ontario and Kacey Montana of Plymouth State University both dive for the ball during their Gaelic football game.
Laura Pastores of Westminster College, and her fellow SASers, learn how to properly hold a hurley stick (which is the opposite grip to holding a baseball bat).
Sara Cobern of Penn State University shows innate talents in how to hit the ball in Gaelic hurling.
The sport of hurling was a warrior sport to practice and condition how to defend oneself. Here, and below, SAS students Michael Dow of Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison (above) and Caitlin Emig of Univ. of San Diego (below) learn the art of defense in hurling.

Matthew Tallman and an Irish visiting player race for the ball during a hurling scrimmage.
John Jaicks, of John Carroll Univ., attempts to side check Kelsey Gunderson of Rollins College while Laura Pastores has an easy opening to the ball during the SAS hurling scrimmage.
True competition emerged among SASers during their hurling game. Here, Kimberly Takahashi of Chapman Univ. tries to block her fellow SASer, Colin McGaw of UC-Santa Cruz from scoring a three-point goal.
SAS students practice handball techniques.
John Jaicks prepares to return a serve during his Gaelic handball game.
SAS Gaelic Games team: Back row from (l-r): Matthew Tallman, Kacey Montana, SAS photographer Bryan Koop, John Jaicks, Michael Dow, and Colin MacGaw.  Front row (l-r): Kimberly Takahashi, Kelsey Gunderson, Caitlin Emig, Laura Pastores, Sara Cobern and Meredith Schuver
  • Life on Land

Related Articles

Who’s On Board? Meet Dorcas, our Tutu Ubuntu Scholar
Read More
Semester at Sea updates Fall 2023 and Spring 2024 itineraries with new destinations on three continents
Read More
Spring 2023 Voyage: By the Numbers
Read More