Generation Emigration

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Hurling on the rise across America

The Irish American historical cannon had neglected to tell the importance of Gaelic Games for generations of Irish immigrants in the US, so I decided to write a book about it, says returned emigrant Denis O’Brien.

Thu, Jul 5, 2012, 01:00

   

The Irish American historical cannon had neglected to tell the importance of Gaelic Games for generations of Irish immigrants in the US, so I decided to write a book about it, says returned emigrant Denis O’Brien.

Denis O'Brien

I am one of those emigrants who decided to ‘come away’ home. I had lived in New York and Boston for 18 years, and in 2007, I felt it was time to return.

While in the states I worked in the restaurant and hotel business – which I had done in Ireland prior to departure – and wanting to pursue journalism put myself through college in Boston over a long seven year period. During and after college, I freelanced for Irish American papers and also started off my own website/blog circa 2001-2005 – BostonIrishzine.com, long since faded into virtual memory. As part of that and freelancing, I covered Boston GAA happenings at Canton Massachusetts on my site and for an Irish paper in New York.

Spending a day at Canton (approximately 30 miles outside Boston) was akin to being in Ireland. Irish in every corner, in every shared word. Images of Ireland cried loud in goalposts and nets, colorful sideline flags, lined pitches, blended with crowd banter, curried chips, and of course the Games – hurling, mens and ladies football and camogie. It was like spending a Sunday at home.

When in New York, I never stepped foot in Gaelic Park as I wanted to get away from the Irish and immerse myself in the new place and culture. Years later, journalism had led me back to the games. Back to that part of Irishness that means so much to so many.

In Boston I came across many Americans who were particularly intrigued by hurling. They had never seen anything like it in their life. At the time also, there were more and more GAA Clubs in America creating web presences. I heard stories of how Americans were taking up hurling and this fascinated this Kilkenny emigrant.

Hurling USA: "Telling the story of the rise of hurling in America beyond the Irish pale"

The idea for writing a book on the GAA in America took hold as I felt the Irish American historical cannon had neglected to tell the importance of Gaelic Games for generations of Irish immigrants in the US. There’s not a word about the games in the very good ‘Out of America’ and the ‘The Irish in America’ PBS TV series. Something had to be done.

The book’s focus changed to telling the story of the rise of hurling in America beyond the Irish pale and after further freelancing in Ireland, a good job at the Leitrim Post – now kaput like so many other regional papers – it was time to write. So from the summer of 2009 research in earnest began and thereafter the slow process of writing took hold. In between, I maintained and strengthened ties to the GAA in America and around the world in weekly Podcasts covering Gaelic sports worldwide.

On June 26, 2012, I published the ebook on Amazon.com called Hurling USA: America Discovers an Ancient Irish sport.

The book is primarily written for an American audience but it offers plenty to stimulate the Irish reader as it explores the history of old stick ball games, hurling’s ancient legacy, early American years and current on the ground US happenings.

Readers follow a trail to Mesopotamia, Egypt, across Europe and Canada. Hurling’s Irish roots are traced in myth, law, iconography, history, lecture and fascinating first-hand accounts of old matches. In the middle of the 19th century, hurling arrives in America with emigrants and prospers in the big cities until squabbling, assimilation, depression, war and exclusiveness see it fade into the background of ethnic entertainment in place to this day.

Americans are told about the nature of the high scoring, fast paced physical game – all aspects that Americans love in sport – and of its importance to Ireland and Irish identity. The book goes on to explore how, where and why hurling is spreading to American towns that until recently never knew the sport existed. Hurling is hooking Americans young and old, and the ebook reports on why Americans are ‘blown away’.

It is necessary also to bring into focus the hit-and-miss Irish summer player model adopted by older expat clubs in big cities in comparison to steady growth at new hurling clubs. In the final chapter, I write about what hurling’s growth could mean for the Gaelic Athletic Association, Irish emigrants and Americans.

Having interviewed numerous American hurlers and broken stories in Ireland about several of these new players to the Irish game, the prime aim of the work is to document how hurling has spread beyond the Irish communities in the USA.

American players can’t get enough of hurling. It is the game they were always meant to play. They will drive it on in America and this author thinks that’s a good thing.

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