Thursday, November 26, 2015

When Hurling was Played in Lowell

1920 Tipperary hurling team that played in Lowell
Last week for the first time since 1954, the national Irish sport of hurling was played at Fenway Park.  Called the fastest sport in the world, two of Ireland’s greatest teams Dublin and Galway faced off to a crowd of 28,000.  The number who showed up exceeded expectations, though they were small compared to the 80,000 that may be at a game in Ireland.  The history of the game goes back to ancient times, over 2000 years, and has its origins with the Celts arriving in Ireland.  The great mythical hero Cu Chulainn was said to have played the game.  The field at Fenway was converted to a pitch where players using a hurley (a thin wooden stick-like bat) batted a hard leather ball (called a sliotar) attempting to get it in the opponent’s net or goal.  It’s sort of a mix of soccer and field hockey.  There are four quarters with few time outs.  Players are constantly on the move.   The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which sponsored the event, has a long history and promotes Irish sports in Ireland and internationally.

This led to an investigation to Irish sports in Lowell with some interesting finds.  The GAA was founded in 1884.  Just four years later, they sent 50 Irish hurling and other athletes across the US to gain support for the association and regain interest in the sport.  The athletes played in major cities and even spent time in Lowell.  Players marched through the streets of the city and were toasted at a banquet at the American House.  The players wore jerseys and green caps with the harp and shamrocks on them.  The games took place along the field by the river.  Many Lowellians welcomed the players into their homes.  It appeared that the game was already known in Lowell since teams were prepared to contest the “Gaelic Invasion.”  A notice appeared shortly after, that a team of young players was being formed at St. Patrick’s and practiced regularly on the North Common.

The greatest years of GAA sports in Lowell came in the early 1920s.  There was a great resurgence in Irish culture and language connected with the move towards Irish independence.  At that time there were 2 GAA teams in Lowell.  There was a Gaelic football team and a hurling team, named St. Enda’s ( a 6th century warrior-king from the Aran islands).  The team was made up of native and American-born players.  Most notable was William O’Reilly, who was a well-known player in Ireland before becoming a laborer in Lowell.  The Lowell team often played their rival, the Sinn Feiners from Lawrence at Spalding Field (Alumni Field).  The St. Enda’s team drew great crowds, over 2000 by newspaper accounts.  In 1921 they played a match of two 30 minute rounds against the Young Irelands of Boston.  The city had to offer special trolley cars on game day to service the crowds.  The matches must have gotten a little rowdy when a Lowell team played in Lexington.  The police told them to move on.  The players and spectators crossed the town line into Arlington.  The Arlington police told them to disperse and as the crowd fled an Arlington officer fired his pistol in the back of a fleeing Lowell player. 

By the 1930s interest had again waned and Gaelic football and hurling were no longer being played in the city.  Many in Lowell were former players who would still travel to Boston to watch visiting teams from Ireland and recount the old days of striking l’ash go leor (a strike of perfection).


2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this very informative blog post. Perhaps with rise of popularity of lacrosse. the Dublin-Galway match last week in Boston and recent posts on Lowell Irish FB page might inspire younger generation to form a new St. Enda's team to compete in the Northeast GAA?

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  2. Are you signing up to play, Tom? :)

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