Travel: Exploring Gaelic Sports Traditions at Croke Park, Dublin

The epicenter for Ireland's native sports, Croke Park offers both a history lesson of Gaelic competition and amazing views of Dublin.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

While Dublin and Ireland embrace major international sports like rugby, boxing and soccer, Irish culture developed two of its own unique sports that remain an immense source of pride for their players and fans. While both creative competitions are centuries old and rooted in the traditions and skills of ancient warfare, they manage to pack enough action and excitement to keep modern crowds coming back year after year.

The traditions of Gaelic Football and Hurling find their practical, historical and culture home at Croke Park, Dublin – HQ of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The 80,000+ seat stadium is home to the annual championships of both sports, a museum documenting the past of Irish athletics and The Etihad Skyline Tour (a walk around the room of the massive complex to behold views of Dublin and the surrounding countryside).

IMG_9448

As for the sports themselves, each feature familiar elements in unique combinations. For example, Gaelic Football is played on a pitch similar to dreary soccer, while also employing a net and goals. But, the Irish amp up the excitement level with throwing and catching, dribbling by hand or foot, goal posts for additional scoring and (thankfully) more contact.

Also: Travel: Visiting Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse for the Holidays

While the world’s wispy soccer players will flop on a tackle and roll around on the grass like they were shot by some invisible sniper to oversell an injury, Gaelic football combatants and check and shoulder block opponents out of the day or to the ground. The players hit would have every reason to roll about a bit in pain, but this is Ireland. They get up and play immediately.

 

IMG_9465

Hurling is reminiscent of lacrosse or field hockey. Also played on a pitch using goals, players use their hurleys (resembling a thin club) to control and propel the Silotar (a small, white, knitted sphere resembling, but slightly smaller than, a baseball). While players can catch a flying Silotar, it must be immediately dropped and transported or hit by the hurley.

And, again, there’s unavoidable contact. While open tackling is not allowed, there’s plenty of jostling and knock downs along the way. One glance at the game and it’s clear how Hurling grew out of ancient warfare training. You have men with wooden sticks reminiscent of war clubs or swords running in an organized mass to confront the enemy. They’re all lucky there’s a ball out there.

IMG_9459

Off the pitch, there are multiple daily tours of Croke Park that explore the modern operations and facilities of the stadium along with its history. The highlight of any tour is the Etihad Skyline – a specially constructed pathway and series of observation platforms offering overhead views of the pitch as well as 360 degree, 17-story views of Dublin.

Croke Park is open year round for travelers to explore, however tours are obviously not available during game events.

All photos by John Scott Lewinski