A Great Game - 2nd Sept.1950


A Great Game: Text Version

2nd September 1950


The first Sunday in September is, perhaps, the greatest day in the Irish sports year. It is the day of the All-Ireland hurling final. Surely, hurling must rank as our greatest and most distinctive national pastime, the game par excellence of the Gael. It seems strange that football should have a greater following; but this is due to the fact that Gaelic football, to a certain extent, caters for lovers of rugby and soccer, as well as lovers of the native code. Hurling enthusiasts point back to Cuchulainn as the first exemplar of their art, and still recall how he hurled all the way from the palace of Emhain Macha to the fort of Culann on that famous day when hew slew the great hound that guarded the fort, and then offered to take the place of the hound himself until another was reared. That was the occasion when he changed his name from Setanta to Cuchulainn. Some hold, however, that Cuchulainn was not a hurler, but a golfer!


Before the coming of the G.A.A., with its rules and regular pitches, hurling was a far different game from what it is now. It was a cross-country game then, with unlimited participants who played abhaile, as it was described -– that is, played home. When two parishes met in contest in those days, the ball was thrown up between the players at some landmark, such as a hill, castle or cross-road, that was half way between the rival districts. Each group tied with all its might to bring the ball home with it, and so secure a well-merited victory. It is on record that swift-footed hurlers, from time to time, got away with a flying start at the commencement of the game, and hurled away, Cuchulainn style, never being overtaken by an opposing player, until the ball was struck to the final goal – and to victory.


I have often wondered why those who play our national games should so frequently be referred to as Gaels. A man is often described as a noted Gael when he should be properly described as a noted hurler or a noted footballer. Gael is a noble Irish word with a special meaning, and its appropriation by sports writers is much to be regretted. So much has the word been abused in recent years that soon it must become meaningless. In our history the words Gael and Gall have very special meanings for us. When we think of the word Gael we think of the type of the race; of men like Colmcille, and Red Hugh and Egan O Rahilly; of Gaels by race and tongue and tradition. When Pearse uses the word Gael he does not use it carelessly; neither does any one who has a regard for Ireland's past. In the interests of history, accuracy and language itself, a hurler should be called a hurler, a footballer a footballer -– and a Gael a Gael


We have little colour in our national life. The day of the All-Ireland Final is one of the few occasions on which we make good this deficiency. The pageantry of Croke Park on Final Day lingers long in the memory. The sight of the waving flags, the kilted pipers, the endless throngs streaming into the field; the stirring music of the bands, the community singing, all these cause pulses to throb and hearts to glow. Leaders of Church and State and foreign diplomats, add to the impressiveness of the occasion by their presence. A great moment comes when the parade of the teams begins. There they go, thirty players, giants of the playing fields, the cream of Ireland's manhood, while Croke Park holds its breath in admiration. The band plays the National Anthem and the thousands spring to their feet; and then, as the last note dies away, comes that never-to-be-forgotten Croke Park cheer, the roar of old Ireland resurgent.


Crawford Neil, wrote a fine hurling song, and I think I cannot do better than to give it to you to-day, on the eve of the greatest match of the year.


Oh! Cut me a hurl from the mountain ash,

That weathered many a gale,

And my stroke will be lithe as the lightning flash

That leaps from the thunder's flail:

Oh! My feet shall be swift as the white spin-drift

On the bay, in wintry weather,

As we run in line through the glad sunshine

On the trail of the whirling leather.

Oh! Give me the field on a Sunday noon

When gay spring-winds are swinging

Through copse and boreen to the merry tune

The lads of the South are singing:

Give a rose to a maid, or a silken braid,

Give a singer his song's full measure

But give to a lad whose heart is glad

The width of the field for his pleasure,

Oh! To dart to the wing, and twist again

With a puck that is swift and burning,

Or to swing out the line in attack, and strain

Every nerve till the tide is turning-

To weaken the swirl of a Wicklow hurl

With a good ash bred in Kerry,

And press for the goal with all your soul,

Or lose with a heart as merry.

I have seen the children of other lands

At games of down and feather

Applauded by dames with delicate hands

In the mild, midsummer weather-

But such poor sport is a weary sort,

With never a thrill to quicken

Like the flash and flame of the Gaelic game

When the hot strokes swarm and thicken.

So, fashion a hurl from the fine young tree,

And give it the grace of your blessing-

'Twill fare right glad in the whirl of play

When the southern lads are pressing!

The honour bestow on the dead below

The meadow our heels are spurning,

Who fought for the fame of the Gaelic game

When the fire of their youth was burning!


All Ireland once knew the songs of Brian O Higgins. That they are rarely heard now is not to our credit. Why should our young men of the G.A.A. not learn this fine song that he wrote to the air of "Clare's Dragoons"?


Who say our country's soul has fled?

Who say our country's heart is dead?

Come, let them hear the marching tread

Of twice five thousand Hurling Men.

They hold the hopes of by-gone years,

They love the past-its smiles and tears-

But quavering doubts and shrinking fears

Are far from Ireland's Hurling Men.


Hurrah! Hurrah! The stout caman

Not English steel can match its blow;

Hurrah! The arms of might and brawn

And hearts with Freedom's flame aglow!

They sing the songs their fathers sung,

When to the breeze the Green they flung-

They speak their own sweet Gaelic tongue,

That fires the blood of fighting men.

When all around was dark as night,

With scarce a gleam of cheering light,

When traitors fled their country's fight

She still had hope in Hurling Men!


On Irish fields where heroes died,

And foemen thronged on every side,

Our leaders' joy-their hope and pride

Were gleaming pikes-and Hurling Men!

And if God will that war's red train

Shall sweep once more o'er hill and plain,

Our land shall call-and not in vain-

For fighting lines of Hurling Men.


But meanwhile, let each true heart toil

The foeman's every plan to foil,

And raise, like strong plants from the soil,

New hosts of Irish Hurling Men,

To guard their name and love their land,

With her thro' gloom and joy to stand,

And each one's gift-a heart and hand

And will to strive with Irish Men.


When comes the day-as come it must-

That England's rule of greed and lust

Shall lie, all broken, in the dust

We'll still have Irish Hurling Men.

Then here's to her, the land we love,

Each grand old hill, and glen and grove-

Her plains below, her skies above,

And best of all- her Hurling Men!

previousPrevious - GAA and Foreign Dances - 10th Jan 1948
Next - Trips Abroadnext