From The United Irishman, March 18, 1899.
I have been asked over and over again when the Hurling was first started in Ireland. I am unable to answer. It is certain that the game is of Irish origin. Lughaigh (anglicised Luy) of the Long Hand established the Tailtean games more than eleven centuries before the birth of Christ. They were funeral games, commemorative of his stepmother, Tailte, a Spanish princess, who nursed and nurtured Luy, who was perhaps the most dazzling prince of the mighty and cultured Tuatha de Danaan Race, who ruled in Erin in pre-Milesian years. Out of those three-thousand-years’ old games the Hurling was evolved. The most fascinating and absorbing tales of the Fenian cycle invariably finish up with a hurling match. All the descriptive powers of such a ranting English writer as Marie Corelli, in her ‘Sorrows of Satan,’ pale before the descriptions given us by the old storytellers of the Hurling in the days of Fionn and Oisin, and Oscar and Diarmuid O’Duibhne, Fionn, the Commander-in-Chief of the Fenian hosts, is believed by many to have been the greatest hurler of his time. We have it from Fionn himself that Oscar was the mightiest champion when the conflict of heavy blows set in. But we have sufficient evidence to justify us in believing that Diarmuid was the surest and most reliable hurler of that brilliant period of Irish history. Long, long ago when I was a little fellow, I listened to the centuries-old stories of the hurling, and those now forty year old doting descriptions which enchanted my boyhood’s years, are as fresh with me to-day as they were at the close of the fifties. My mind was as impressionable as molten wax where Ireland was concerned. I inherited an attachment to our race which no misfortunes or misadventures could overcome, and which no bruising or corroding hail could efface from my heart. Having a mind to make up, I made it up. I resolved to be a Fenian. To be a Fenian I should be a hurler. I became a hurler and a Fenian. This was the beginning of my manhood. I liked the game because it was Irish. But I liked it above all other forms of amusement because of its distinctive and magnificent grandeur that no other race could ever hope to rival.
I desired that the wholesome ones of my fellow-countrymen should join me in my advancing years to resuscitate the languishing centuries-old hurling game of Ireland. I was not disappointed. The despicable and knavish West-Britons, with the aid of a slavish press, were demoralising and degrading the youth of our country. Those wretched knaves were startled out of their security by the flashes that lit up the Irish sky in the year 1885. The hurling came along like a heather-clad hill-side on fire in mid-summer. The lightning struck Rathonane Paddock, outside Tralee, on the 17th June, in that year. While the hurling was in full swing, I asked the late Father MacMahon, P.P., Boherboy, what he thought of the game. At the time he was wiping the perspiration and the tears off his face.
‘It is a game for men,’ said Father MacMahon; ‘an inferior and sluggish race could never have thought of such a game.’ My shoulders shook a little. I wiped my face for reasons not unlike those which compelled my reverend friend to wipe his. I moved away to observe the hurling at my leisure. I saw what it was like. It very nearly approached my ideal.
Later on I saw a blind man going out to see the hurling at Thurles. He had been a hurler in his earlier years. While being led by the hand, I heard him remark to his guide how the game was progressing. He saw it, psychologically as a blind man sees his friends. This set me thinking, and it largely helped to confirm me in the estimate I had formed of the indescribable attachment which Irishmen have for the most sublime game of their race.
To the observant and analytic mind, trifles light as air are confirmation strong as proof of Holy Writ. I saw that hurling was the very soul of Ireland—physically speaking—and I kept comparatively quiet. Not long after I swung round by Holy Cross. It was on a scorching summer’s day in ’87. There was a hurling match, I looked round and listened. When not more than half-a-dozen players were slashing at the ball in a furnace of their own, I heard a lieutenant warning out: ‘Ye ought to warm yourselves boys.’ And I thought that the game of the Fenians of ages old still suited what was too often insolently regarded as a degenerate race.