Caman, Hurling and other Athletic Games
7. Caman or Hurling, and other athletic games.
Hurling or goaling has been a favourite game among the Irish from the earliest ages; and those who remember the eagerness with which it was practised in many parts of Ireland sixty years ago can well attest that it had not declined in popularity. Down to a recent period it was carried on with great spirit and vigour in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, where the men of Meath contended every year against the men of Kildare. It still continues, though less generally than formerly, to be a favourite pastime; and there is lately a strong movement to revive it.
So far as can be judged from the old literature, it was much the same a thousand years ago as it is now. It was played with a ball (liathroid: pronounced leeroad) about four inches in diameter, made of some light elastic material, such as woollen yarn wound round and round, and covered with leather. Each player had a wooden hurley to strike the ball, generally of ash, about three feet long, carefully shaped and smoothed, with the lower end flat and curved. This was called camán [commaun], a diminutive from cam, 'curved': but in old writings we find another name, lorg (i.e. 'staff'), also used. The game was called iomán [immaun], meaning 'driving' or 'urging': but now commonly camán, from the camán or hurley. In a regular match the players on each side were equal in number. It was played on a level grassy field, at each end of which was a narrow gap (berna) or goal, formed by two poles or bushes, or it might be a gap in the fence. The general name for the winning goal was baire [bawre]. The play was commenced by throwing up the ball in the middle of the field: the players struck at it with their hurleys, the two parties in opposite directions towards the gaps; and the game, or part of it, was ended when one party succeeded in driving it through their opponents' gap. It was usual for each party to station one of their most skilful men beside their own gap to intercept the ball in case it should be sent flying direct towards it: this man was said to stand cúl [cool], or cúl-baire, 'rearguard': cúl meaning 'back.'
Various other athletic exercises were practised, some of them like those we see at the present day.