The Sporting Irish

Originally published for the 2006 CIF programme

Ireland has a rich sporting tradition, it is home to Hurling, the oldest field sport in the world, and the Irish are enthusiastic about all of the sports that they play. From homegrown GAA to Soccer: “you’ll never beat the Irish” is a chant you’ll often hear at Ireland’s international sporting events.

Statistically, of course, this isn’t strictly true, but Ireland’s achievements in world sport over the years have been disproportionate to the size of the population. Amongst the most popular sports are the traditional games of Gaelic Football, Hurling and Camogie. GAA is played almost exclusively in Ireland. Games in the All-Ireland hurling and football championships attract huge crowds throughout the summer, culminating in the finals – the highlight of Ireland’s sporting year – at Croke Park, Dublin.

Soccer’s enthusiastic supporters have seen mixed fortunes. It’s popular at all ages and the island has produced more than its fair share of stars, from George Best to Roy Keane. The Republic of Ireland side has a legendary “travelling army” of friendly, enthusiastic supporters, and the team qualified for the 1990, 1994 and 2002 World Cups. Rugby Football is popular at club and schools level, with the Irish Rugby Union fielding teams in the Six Nations championship and Rugby World Cup. The Irish have began to play Rugby League and Brian Carney, a former Gaelic Footballer, became vice-captain of the British Isles Lions for the 2005 Tri-Nations.

Irish athletes have enjoyed notable successes in the Olympics, Special Olympics and Paralympic games. Our most famous athlete, Sonia O’Sullivan, won a silver medal in the 5,000 metres at the Sydney Olympics. Caitriona McKiernan is also one of the world’s leading marathon runners. In boxing, we have also punched above our weight (sporting cliché alert!), with the likes of Barry McGuigan (world featherweight champion in 1985) and Wayne McCullough (WBC bantamweight champion and silver medallist in the 1992 Olympics). In Golf, the Ryder Cup will be held in Ireland this year and it will be one of Ireland’s largest ever events.