Camán everybody – An Irishwoman’s Diary on the confessions of a hurley repairer’s wife

 Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Let me introduce myself – my husband is a hurley repairer, and my sons are hurling players with our local GAA club. I wasn’t born with the GAA spoon myself, but I am an occasional sandwich-maker, so I’m told that qualifies me also as a member of the hurling fraternity.

Just as well, as I live in a hurling-mad household. Each of the other occupants has, over time, turned into a hurling anorak.

The hurley repair shed (aka the man shed) is at the back of our garden. Most of our repair visitors are also hurling afficiandos. You wouldn’t think it, but when you meet them off the pitch they can be quite normal. Even likeable. Our pet rabbit, Roger, is another frequent shed visitor. She loves to watch as the hurley repairer works his magic on the assortment of damaged hurls that come his way.

My husband reminds me of the old woodworker Gepetto in the children’s fairy tale Pinocchio. It was a story I used read to my boys before the hurling bug got them. Gepetto breathed life into broken, bruised and abandoned pieces of wood. So much so he created Pinocchio, a bit of a fibster and a wild child that Gepetto used talk to in his shed.

I can’t claim my husband is either but, like Gepetto, he as good as talks to those wounded pieces of wood that he works his own magic on. Roger, the pet rabbit, and himself also regularly enjoy a quiet natter in the said shed. Just as Gepetto did with Pinocchio. The resemblance is unsettling.

The broken hurls are a sight to behold, lined up in rows hanging from the ceiling of the shed. They’re like broken legs lining up for surgery.

Most make it through the operation and are reattached to their grateful owners, while others end up as spare parts for the more seriously injured hurls.

The hurley repairer has a growing number of buckets full of odds and ends of hurls in his repair shed.

Most have been donated by the “clients” who frequent the shed.

Others are found discarded by the side of hurling pitches all over the county and beyond.

The repair shed clientele are made up of various species of hurlers – young and older and those in between. All at various stages of that uniquely Irish obsession. They tend to be relatively homogenous in that respect – even if they are yet too young to realise it.

I mellow when I answer the door to a parent/child combination. Cute and cuter, the little one usually gets distracted by Roger, our rabbit, while the elder talks hurling with the resident hurley doctor.

I wonder how these little lads can manage to break a hurl but they do, some fairly ferociously. A small but select few are repeat offenders. So these little lads have to comply with one house rule – they are not allowed to try out the repaired hurl with the rabbit present – as we’d like her to live a full life.

And then there are those that have been reared with the hurl in their hand – the seriously competitive older hurlers. These lads and lassies live their hurling. They talk matches and championships, leagues and training, players and mentors. They present courteous and polite everywhere but on the pitch. There they morph into warrior fighters. Their smashed hurls attest to that.

Yet most have a favourite weapon – sorry, hurl – which they fret over while it’s with the hurley doctor. It brings out their soft side when they collect it post surgery.

The repair process usually takes several days. The pinning and plugging, gluing and gripping, sanding and setting, banding and standing all take time. The hurley doctor usually stands back and admires his work when done – and invites the rabbit to do likewise. She chews away happily on his shoes and he knows then that she approves.

He’s been given a few bendy hurls to repair. They’re apparently not supposed to buckle but some do occasionally.

When that happens, he usually waits until I’m out of the house to start the repair process.

He then commandeers my fish kettle, a wedding present that I hold dear. He fills it with boiling water and steams the hurl on the stove for an hour or two (or until I arrive home and banish it – whichever the sooner). I discovered this strange ritual recently when I happened upon a hurley cooking with no sign of the chef in sight. I tell him he should get out more.