Sunday evening, August 7, 2022
Now it was time to have some fun. Croke Park is home to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Ireland’s largest sporting organization. Croke Park Stadium, with a capacity of 82,300, is the 3rd largest capacity stadium in Europe, demonstrating the importance of the GAA. GAA athletes are all amateur, similar to US college athletes.
Several sports are played in the GAA. Gaelic Football is also a team sport, played between two teams of 15 players. Players can move the football (round like a soccer ball, but smaller) by carrying, bouncing, kicking or hand-passing the ball. In Gaelic Handball, players hit a ball with a hand or fist against a wall, similar to the US version of handball. Rounders is played with a rounded end bat and small, hard, leather-cased ball. There are similarities to US baseball, but the bat is smaller, and it’s usually swing one-handed.
The fourth Gaelic game is Hurling, an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic origin, that is played with a wooden stick (hurley) and a small ball (a Sliotar). It is considered the fastest field sport in the world. Imagine watching tennis played across a field that’s twice the size of an American football field.
The women’s version of the game is called by the name of Camogie, based on the Irish word for a hurley, “camán.” Women use a shorter version of the stick, a camóg. The women’s game was established in 1904 in Dublin. Participation by women in sports was frowned upon. Women often hid their hurls (sticks) under their coats to avoid harassment from the public. The uniforms must have been hard to play in at the time, with “skirts to be worn not less than 6 inches from ground.”
Tonight’s game was the final in the All-Ireland championships of Camogie. The teams are made up of young women who play for local community clubs; the best players are chosen to represent their counties in the All-Ireland championships.
Kilkenny was pitted against Cork in this important game. Ireland’s President, Michael D Higgins, was in attendance, and greeted the players before the game. The stands were full of young fans, both boys and girls, wearing their team’s colors, and yelling for their favorite teams and players. I’d estimate the decibel level to be as high as that made by any group of fans at a Minnesota Vikings Game. I was rooting for Cork, since I have ancestors from the area. Alas, Kilkenny edged them out by one point at the end. Exciting!!
Sean toured Croke Park a few days later, and took some more photos of the field, stadium and museum.