By Raisa Bruner
July 11, 2018

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex may have only been in Ireland for a whirlwind visit of two days, but they packed their tour with plenty of traditional activities and sporting experiences. (Harry’s a big sports guy, after all.) At one point during their second day, the royal couple stopped by Croke Park, home of Dublin’s Gaelic football association. While touring the pitch and chatting with officials, they also took in some local games: hurling, camogie and rounders.

Hurling, according to the Gaelic Athletic Association, is a “distinctly Irish field invasion game.” It’s played with a stick, which they call a “hurley,” and a ball called a “sliotar,” which is similar in size to a field hockey ball.

Like in field hockey, two teams (each consisting of 15 players) attempt to score on each other into opposing goals, moving the ball across the field. They’re allowed to use both their stick and their hands, although you can only carry the ball for four consecutive steps. “Shoulder charging” is also allowed in order to mess up an opponent’s control of the ball, suggesting elements of lacrosse.

Hurling is considered one of the oldest field games in the world; apparently, literary references trace it back to at least 1272 BC, although its popularity across Ireland has fluctuated — and regional differences in rules were once common. In its early days, hurling “thrived as a wild and often violent practice,” the GAA suggests. But today it’s a more civilized sport, although given the high number of players needed to field full teams and the fact that the regulation-sized pitch is larger than a typical football field, some barriers to its growth outside of Ireland remain.

But thanks to Meghan and Harry’s eager spectatorship, perhaps we can expect to see hurling find its place on the world stage. (Both royals reportedly tested the sport out during their visit.) Then again, it’s hard to compete with the supremacy of the World Cup and Wimbledon.

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