Sports in Ireland are extremely popular, both in terms of playing them and watching them. The most popular sports in Ireland are listed below, with a little information about each. While you are in Ireland, if you are a sports fan, catching a live match of any of the country’s most watched sporting events can be a great way to get to know the culture and have a memorable time. Alternately, if there is an important match being televised, find yourself a seat in a cozy Irish pub and you are sure to be surrounded by lots of fans cheering for their side. If you are rooting for the opposing side, just be sure to keep your cheers to yourself!
- Gaelic Football – By attendance records alone, this is Ireland’s most popular sport. It may look similar to football, but using the hands to carry the ball, pass to teammates, and get the ball into the goal is not forbidden.
- Hurling – Hurling is native to Ireland, and is incredibly popular. It is somewhat similar to field hockey, although the ball is usually played in the air rather than on the ground.
- Football (Soccer) – Even though most of the world calls this sport “football,” it is sometimes called “soccer” in Ireland to avoid confusion with Gaelic football. It is one of the most accessible sports, easily played by children the world over and at the most professional levels.
- Rugby Union – Known simply as “rugby” in most of the rest of the world, it is called “rugby union” in Ireland because it was traditionally played predominantly by Unionists. Today both Unionists and Nationalists play the game, however.
- Hockey – Often called simply “hockey,” it is similar to ice hockey only it is played outdoors on a pitch.
- Camogie – This is the women’s version of hurling, with a few small rule changes from the men’s version.
- Gaelic Handball – This is similar to racquetball, except the ball is struck with a gloved hand instead of a racquet. Interest in this sport has waned in recent years.
- Road Bowling – While this game has an incredibly long history (dating back to the 17th century) and a set of rules, it can seem like a sport that is being played illegally. It involves the players throwing a ball along a pre-set road course (usually using roads which are in active use by cars during the game), and the one who gets to the appointed finish line with the least throws wins. Crowds often gather and follow the game as it progresses down the course, sometimes up to four kilometers long, and people often bet on the players as well. For a video taste of road bowling, scroll to the bottom of this page.
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When Ireland is called upon to play a national squad for an international competition, it depends on the sport whether the players are from the entire island or separated by Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. For Gaelic football, hurling and rugby union, players come from the whole island and represent Ireland. Football (soccer) is separated into Republic of Ireland and United Kingdom (of which Northern Ireland is a part). During the Olympics, athletes from Northern Ireland are given the choice whether they want to represent Ireland or the United Kingdom.
For a peek at what road bowling can look like, see this video. And get out of the way.