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Updated on May 23, 2011

Hurling is the national game of Ireland, is the fastest of all field sports. It is played outdoors on a large field by two teams of 15 members: 6 forwards, 2 centers, 6 defensemen, and a goalkeeper.

Players use a curved stick, or hurley, to score points by driving or hurling a ball, called a slitter, into the opponents' goal. The game lasts 60 minutes, divided into halves.

The hurley is made of ash and about 3 feet long, broadening from the handle to the slightly hollowed blade, which is 4 inches wide at its widest part. The slitter is a fast, lively, leather-covered cork ball, 9 to 10 inches in circumference.

The field is 160 yards long and 100 yards Wide, divided laterally by a center line. Other lines are marked 70 and 21 yards from each goal line. The goalposts. 16 feet high and 21 feet apart, are connected by an 8-foot-high crossbar.

A net encloses the area under the bar. A ball driven into the net counts 3; over the bar, 1. In front of each goal is a parallelogram 15 yards wide and 5 yards deep, in which attackers may not precede the ball. If a score is disallowed because of this, the defending team is awarded a free puck (hit) from within the parallelogram.

On all free pucks, no opponent may be closer than 21 yards to the hitter.

At the start, players take positions on the field similar to those in Gaelic football. Then the referee rolls the ball between the opposing center players (two from each side). The ball may be driven in midair by the hurley, propelled along the ground, or bounced on the stick and then hurled. It may be caught by hand, but it must be struck with the hurley before the player completes three steps. It may be picked off the ground only with the hurley. Players may not trip, hit, or hold an, opponent. For these infringements a free puck is given where the foul occurred. If a player is fouled after delivery, he takes the free hit where the ball lands if outside the 70-yard mark, or on the 70-yard line if inside the 70-yard mark.

Hurling is a sport of ancient origin. The game is mentioned in pre-Christian Irish literature, with legendary heroes like Cli Chulain performing prodigies of skill with the stick and ball. A symbol of Irish defiance, it was banned by the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century and outlawed by the Black and Tans during the British occupation of south Ireland in 1921.

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), founded in 1884, controls the sport. From headquarters in Croke Park, Dublin, the GAA has conducted All-Ireland championships annually since 1887. The largest center for hurling in the United States is New York City, where a separate GAA was formed in 1914.


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