Territorial Allegiance

Irish rural life was essentially local life. Hurling was quintessentially a territorially based game teams based on communities, parishes, counties, pitted one against the other. The painter Tony O'Malley has contrasted this tribal-territorial element in Irish sport to English attitudes:

"If neighbours were playing like New Ross and Tullogher, there would be a real needle in it. When Carrickshock were playing, I once heard an old man shouting 'come on the men that bate the tithe proctors' and there was a tremor and real fervour in his voice. It was a battle cry, with hurleys as the swords, but with the same intensity." Similar forces of territoriality have been identified behind the success of cricket in the West Indies and rugby in the Welsh valleys. The GAA tapped this deep-seated territorial loyalty.

The territorial allegiance and communal spirit have died hard in Ireland. GAA club colours, for example were often drawn from old faction favours and, even now, an occasional faction slogan can still be heard. Lingering animosities can sometimes surface in surprising ways: it is not unknown, for example, for an irate hurling supporter to hurl abuse at Kilkenny, recalling an incident that occurred in Castlecomer to indignant Wexford United Irishmen: 'Sure what good are they anyway? Didn't they piss on the powder in '98?' A possibly apocryphal incident occurred after a fiercely contested Cork Tipperary match. Cork won but in Tipperary eyes that was solely due to a biased Limerick referee. When the disgruntled Tipperary supporters poured off the train at Thurles, they vented their frustrations on the only Limerick man they could find in the town by tarring and feathering the statue of Archbishop Croke in the Square!

With the notable exception of Cork, the game has not been successfully transplanted into the cities. In Cork, close-knit working-class neighbourhoods like Blackrock and Gouldings Glen (home of Glen Rovers), and the strong antagonism between the hilly northside and the flat southside of the city, nourished the territoriality and community spirit so important to the game's health. In Dublin, however, the modern suburbs, based on diversity, newness and mobility, have not proved hospitable receptacles of the game. Brendan Behan, brought up in the shadow of Croke Park, commented: "At home we played soccer in the street and sometimes a version of hurling, fast and sometimes savage, adapted from the long-pucking grace of Kilkenny and Tipperary to the crookeder, foreshortened, snappier brutality of the confines of a slum thoroughfare."

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