What could be more exciting or excitable than an Irishman with a club? Answer: 30 Irishmen with 30 clubs—and a leather-covered ball. When it's like that, they call it hurling. It's the fastest field game in the world, and it's as near to war as you'd want to get. It's played on a huge (160 yards long, 90 yards wide) field with goals at each end and plenty of heads to bang in the middle.
There are 15 men (and they'd better be men) on a hurling team: a goalkeeper, six backs, two midfield men and six forwards. Each of them carries an ash stick called a camàn in Irish or a hurley in English. The object of the game is to hit the ball with the camàn over the other team's goal, as in football (one point) or into the other team's goal, as in hockey (three points). Beyond that, there are almost no rules to hurling and practically no quarter of any kind. In an hour-long game there is one 10-minute intermission.
Each September the two top teams meet in Dublin to club the ball and one another for the All-Ireland championship. This year 68,000 fans, including President De Valera himself, jammed into Croke Park to watch Tipperary take on Wexford. Since Tipperary is the center of hurling (down there time is reckoned by the interval between matches), no one gave Wexford much of a chance. But the boys from Wexford were unimpressed by Tipperary's great power. Far from paling, they scored in the first 20 seconds and took the lead. In the second half Tipperary made a desperate effort for victory, but Jimmy Doyle, brilliant right-half forward, got his head bashed in and had to leave the game. Wexford won, two goals and 15 points to Tipperary's 11. Mused proud Nick O'Donnell, the Wexford captain: "We were a certainty to win after the first 10 minutes of the second half when the Tipp lads appeared to lose heart."
An ancient game, hurling is now ruled by the Gaelic Athletic Association, which has long served as a rallying point for Irish patriotism. The GAA bars its 300,000 members from playing (or even watching) such "foreign" games as Rugby and cricket, and in the days of "The Trouble" the hurling field was the birthplace of many an anti-British plot. The British forbade crowds in streets or halls but they couldn't stop 30 men from getting together on an open field for a bit of sport, and where Irishmen gathered, plots were hatched. In 1920, in reprisal for one plot, King George's hated Black-and-Tans went to a Gaelic football game at Croke Park and—the way they tell it there today—"murdered, yes murdered 12 spectators and one player, Michael Hogan, the very man after whom this grandstand is named." That terrible day still lives in local memory as "Bloody Sunday."
Neither that Sunday nor the game of hurling, however, is much bloodier than another Irish game called bowls, or scores. Here the fan, not the player, is likely to suffer a cracked skull. In essence, bowls is a simple game. Two players throw a 28-ounce cast-iron ball over a two-mile course. The man who takes the least number of throws, usually around 30, wins. It so happens that bowls is illegal, but that's the result of one of those old English laws so no one pays any mind.
Each September the All-Ireland bowls final is played in Cork. The term All-Ireland is a bit of an exaggeration because practically no one outside of Cork plays bowls, but no matter. In former times, the course was set between two pubs. At this year's final, however, there wasn't a pub in sight when Johnny Creedon, 30, met Donal Lehane, 22, for the senior All-Ireland championship. The temperance movement had caught up with bowls, and now, mourned one oldtimer, "The fun's gone out of it."
Even without spirits there was plenty of excitement at the halfway mark when Lehane began to catch up with his challenger. Then Creedon's ball missed the road. Lehane's backers claimed a dead throw, but the officials ruled it a fair ball and Lehane didn't even bother to finish. "I'm the new champion," crowed Cree-don after two more throws, and Lehane's supporters left in disgust. More than likely, only the temperance buttons on their coat lapels caused the crowd to leave things that way with no further argument at all.
No head is broken as Tipperary Midfielder Theo English swings for ball in All-Ireland hurling final, but the man from Wexford playing opposite is taking no chances.
Celebrating victory, jubilant Wexford supporters hoist Center Forward Padge Kehoe aloft after hurling win. Kehoe always does extremely well against Tipperary.
Agile bowler Lehane flings iron ball through legs of confident fan who obligingly serves as a marker so his man can get proper spin to send ball around corner.
The score (Wexford 4, Tipperary 1) is posted in Gaelic for patriotic reasons but, since few can read it, most important announcements are made in English.
Throwing body english into the All-Ireland road bowls championship, Challenger Johnny Creedon sends iron ball hurtling down the road to victory as fans with temperance pins watch soberly.