Croke Park

15 Nov

Hurling is said to be the world’s oldest field game, and Croke Park is where the professional Irish games have taken place since 1913, however the stadium was recently renovated in 2004. Unlike in American sports, where players can be traded from team to team, in Hurling, you play to represent the county you’re from. Inter-county games, as well as games games on the national level against other counties are played. The national, or All-Ireland games are held at Croke Park.

“It’s everyone’s home here.”

Those were the words the tour guide said to us, as we walked under the flags representing each team that plays there. Every team is equally represented, all able to call the stadium home. There’s no bias, no home-team advantage. Just one stadium to bring two teams, and up to 82,000 people together together to either play, or root for, their national sport. The history of hurling is long, and the passion for the sport and one’s home team is tangible no matter where you travel in Ireland.

Just like in America, sports stars are celebrities- seen as larger than life figures to be rooted for, or screamed at from a stadium seat or through a TV screen. But there is one major difference in particular that struck me and I believe that it illustrates a beautiful aspect of Irish culture. The rugby players are not paid to play. They are school teachers, businessmen, and farmers, they work for their living and play the sport they love in their spare time.

The tour guide also asked us who we thought the most decorated player in the history of Gaelic Games is. No one in the group knew the answer, and he said that if you asked many followers of Gaelic games, most would list multiple male players and give up after being wrong about the first few, only to be surprised to hear that the player is actually a woman. Kathleen Mills of Dublin is the most decorated player, winning a record of 14 All-Ireland medals during her 20 year inter-county career.

With the mass emigration that has taken place in the last two centuries from Ireland, it is not surprising that the cultures and customs of Ireland have spread with it’s people. Included in these customs are the Gaelic games. The first game outside of Ireland took place on the Boston Common in 1886, only two years after the GAA was founded. Hurling and football also spread to Britain and Australia, as well as Argentina and in some areas of South America. From the strongholds of Britain and America, the GAA continues to spread throughout the world, and today there are over 300 affiliated clubs overseas.

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