Gaelic games are the national indigenous sports of Ireland. Gaelic football and hurling are the most popular sports while camogie, handball and rounders also come under the auspices of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association).
The GAA was founded in 1884 as part of a cultural revival and it has had a nationalist ethos throughout its history. It has always been more than just a sporting organization and represents wider national and cultural aims. This has often proved controversial, particularly with the ban on members playing foreign games such as soccer, rugby, etc. This was eventually removed in 1971. However, the prohibition on members of the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) playing Gaelic games still continues. But in view of the current changes being made to the RUC, this ban may not last much longer.
The GAA is a thirty-two county organization and remains especially popular in rural Ireland where the clubs function as social centres and bastions of local pride. While other sports such as soccer and rugby are more popular in urban areas, Gaelic games have been enjoying increased popular interest in recent years, particularly in the case of hurling.
A hurling match is played between two teams of fifteen men representing a club or county. Sticks called camáns are used and the players must try to score goals (under the bar) and points (over the bar). One goal is worth three points and the team which scores the most is the winner. Hurling is played mainly in the central and southern counties. While there are other isolated hurling strongholds, such as the Glens of Antrim in Ulster, only eight or nine counties have aspirations to succeed in the All Ireland Championship, the most important competition.
Gaelic football is more popular throughout the whole country and most counties would hope to succeed at provincial level: there are four provinces in Ireland - Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht. In the last ten years, eight teams from all four provinces have won the All Ireland Championship. Gaelic football is similar to a combination of soccer and rugby; teams of fifteen players use their feet and hands, kicking and punching the round ball to score goals and points. In recent years International composite rule matches have been played against Australian rules teams.
Gaelic games have withstood open competition with other sports and have now got an international dimension. It is likely that they will prosper in the new millennium.