Cabinet aims to get hurling on Unesco list

Sport to be put forward for list of world’s intangible cultural heritage

Ireland is to attempt to get an ancient practice included on the Unesco list of the world's intangible cultural heritage – the game of hurling. Unesco began drawing up the list in 2008, and hurling is expected to be included next year.

The Cabinet yesterday agreed to ratify the Unesco Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage on the recommendation of Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys, who brought a memo to Cabinet on the issue.

Few of the other items on the list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage are as well organised or as popular as hurling.

For instance, the most recent addition is the "coaxing ritual for camels" practiced in Mongolia. Another 2015 addition is the manufacture of cowbells in Portugal.


It is hard to see either of these cultural manifestations packing out a stadium the size of Croke Park.

One more popularly known recent addition is the classical horsemanship of the Spanish Riding School Vienna.

The GAA has expressed interest in getting hurling on the list while Na Píobairí Uilleann would like to see uilleann piping on it. The UCD folklore collection is another potential Irish entry.

Global showcase

Ms Humphreys told the Cabinet she believes Unesco recognition would provide a significant opportunity to showcase the uniqueness of hurling, uilleann piping and Irish folklore beyond our national boundaries. Interested parties must submit an application to Unesco by March 31st of next year.

Following the approval by Government, a copy of the Unesco convention will be laid before the Oireachtas Library and is expected to be ratified by the Dáil tomorrow.

Hurling is usually traced back to the mythical hero Cú Chulainn, who supposedly lived around the first century AD.

There is an even older story of a hurling match that preceded the Battle of Moytura between the mythical Fir Bolg and the Tuatha Dé Danann in 1272 BC. It is recorded in the Book of Leinster compiled in the 1150s AD, more than 2,000 years after the events it describes.

There is more concrete evidence that hurling was a popular game in Ireland the 17th and 18th centuries.

At that stage hurling was patronised by the gentry, as a spectator and gambling sport, associated with fairs and other public gatherings.

The Hibernian Journal in 1792 reported that a hurling match in the Phoenix Park was “honoured with the presence of Her Excellency the Countess of Westmoreland, and several of the nobility and gentry, besides a vast concourse of spectators”.

During the 19th century, however, hurling went into decline. After the Act of Union it lost the patronage of the gentry and after the Famine it ceased to be played over most of the country.

It was not until the foundation of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884 that hurling began to recover its old glory and evolve into the game we know today.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times