Hurling: Part of the intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

County Tipperary G.A.A. Annual Convention 2018 Handbook, Dec 18th 2018, page 143

The news that hurling has been recognised as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, has to be received with great satisfaction by all followers of the game in Ireland, but particularly in Tipperary, which has long prided itself as the ‘home of hurling’.

The decision was announced at the time of year when the game goes into hibernation for a couple of months as the darkness of December days and the sodden state of playing areas make the winter months least suitable for the playing of hurling.

The body responsible for conferring this status on one of the oldest stick games in the world is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). One of its bodies, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, held its meeting in Port Louis, Republic of Mauritius, from Monday 26 November to Saturday 1 December 2018. Over the six days, the twenty-four State Members of the Committee, elected by the General Assembly of the 2003 Convention, discussed a number of issues that are important for the safeguarding of living heritage around the world.

Representative List

One of its tasks was to add to the representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Irish Government, as was the case with numerous other Governments, made an application for the inclusion of hurling. The listing of such elements of a country’s culture ‘seeks to enhance visibility for the traditions and know-how of communities without recognising standards of excellence or exclusivity.’

Minister for Culture, Joseph Madigan, welcomed the announcement and thanked the G.A.A. and the Camogie Association for their work with her department in preparing the application.

She said the list was intended ‘to promote visibility, awareness and diversity in cultural heritage internationally. The inscription of hurling is a wonderful opportunity to share a cherished aspect of Irish culture with others.’

G.A.A. president, John Horan, said the decision reaffirmed the fact that hurling ‘was more than just a sport. It is a national treasure, an ancient tradition that connects us to our Celtic past and a part of our DNA.

‘At a time of unprecedented popularity for the game here, we owe a debt of gratitude to the generations of people who preserved, protected and promoted the game at school, club and county levels so that it would survive and thrive for our benefit.

‘All of us involved in the association are charged with ensuring the promotional work we undertake preserves hurling for future generations.’

What is an Intangible Cultural Heritage?

An intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is a practice, representation, expression, knowledge, or skill, as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts, and cultural spaces that are considered by UNESCO to be part of a place's cultural heritage.

Ireland ratified the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2015. The country’s first nomination, uilleann piping, was officially inscribed last year.

Hurling joins some interesting elements of Intangible Cultural Heritage on the representative list. Granted cultural status at the same time as hurling were Jamaican reggae music and Chidaoba, a form of wrestling practised in Georgia.

Already on the list is Horse and Camel Ardhah, a racing and riding skills festival in Oman, Traditional spring festive rites of the Kazakh horse breeders in Kazakhstan. Picking of iva grass on Ozren mountain in Bosnia and Herzegovina, As-Samer ritualistic singing and dancing typically at marriage ceremonies in Jordan, Avalanche risk management in Switzerland and Austria, to mention a few. I am firmly of the opinion that the addition of hurling to the list will increase its excitement an hundred fold!

How UNESCO Described Hurling

‘Hurling, or Camogie (a form of Hurling played by women), is a field game played by two teams which dates back 2,000 years and features strongly in Irish mythology, most notably in the epic saga of Cú Chulainn. It is played throughout the island of Ireland, particularly in more fertile agricultural areas, as well as overseas. Traditionally, the number of players in the game was unregulated and games were played across open fields. Nowadays, there are fifteen players on adult teams and the game is played on a clearly marked pitch. Players use a wooden stick (hurley), similar to a hockey stick but with a flat end, and a small ball (sliotar), with the aim being to use the hurley to strike the sliotar and hit it between the opposing team’s goalposts. The primary bearers and practitioners are the players, known as ‘hurlers’ (male) and ‘camógs’ (female). Hurling is considered as an intrinsic part of Irish culture and plays a central role in promoting health and wellbeing, inclusiveness and team spirit. Today, the skills are promoted and transmitted through coaching and games in schools and clubs. As the custodians of Hurling, the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Camogie Association, both volunteer-led organizations, play a central role in transmitting the skills and values associated with Hurling.’

No Cost involved

The addition of hurling to the representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage doesn’t cost anything or bring financial assistance in its wake. It doesn’t commit the G.A.A. or the State to any additional expenditure. Rather it is, in the words of President Michael D. Higgins a ‘global acknowledgement of the unique cultural significance of this part of our national culture and of the important role Gaelic games play in Irish society.’