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EU > Ireland > Sligo

Irish sports

Sligo, IE (View on map)

Betting, sports and beer - a perfect Irish combination. I spent my second and last say in Sligo inquiring about Irish sports. I expected to hear about hurling, Gaelic football and rugby, but ended up attending the local horse races.

Irish sports:

..some people find the betting more exciting than the sport itself
Both soccer and Gaelic football are very popular in Sligo. Streets are decorated with black and white flags supporting the Sligo Rangers who ended high in last year`s soccer competition. However, no matches have been planned for today. I luckily happen to find out that people are heading for the horse races instead (photo). Contrary to the general dress codes, hardly any sports polos here. It`s stripes and diamond-shaped patterns on wool jumpers most of the time.

Dearmot (62) volunteers at the car park and he`s helpful in explaining me how things work in horse racing. August is a good month for horse races, with competitions held all over the country. While Dearmot teaches me the ins&outs of horse racing, the car park fills up. Telling from the number plates, the audience come from all over the country.

Most people come here not just to watch the races, but to enjoy placing a little bet. They have six races to choose from today. Five straight runs of about one mile and one hurdly version. The microphone emits all kinds of statistics about the horses and then all of a sudden horses start running from one end of the track. I am slightly disappointed by the short distances that are run and the length of the pauses between two runs. Thirty minutes of waiting for just over one minute of racing. The fans don`t seem bothered at all.

Hurling, Gaelic football and derivatives
Before I found out about the horse races, I already collected some information about the other popular sports in Ireland. The most typical Irish one of those, because it is hardly played anywhere else, is hurling. Hurling is a game that`s played on a field, with one ball the size of a baseball and sticks that look like giant flat spoons. Goals are like football, but with posts that stick out a lot further. Hurling is a very quick and rough game with chaos all over the place. Players can run with the ball for a maximum of three steps. Then they have to kick, throw or beat it towards the next person on a pitch that is easily twice the size of a soccer field.

Hurling is particularly popular in the southern province of Munster. Unfortunately for me, Sligo is not a major hurling town. That however doesn`t refrain Clare (23, working in a sports shop) from telling me about the way the hurling is organised. Each county has their own local team, that wears the colours of the flag of that county. Commercial transfers in the way they occur in soccer are rare. Hurling players stay in their own team, unless they move to another county but even then, it is not good fashion to start playing for another team. The main hurling competition is a knock-out cup system, called the All Ireland. Still running for this year title are only Waterford, Limerick and Kilkenny.

Much like hurling but without a stick, Gaelic football is the sport that enjoys the biggest popularity in Ireland. This game, contrary to Hurling, is not restrcited to Ireland alone. It is also played in Scotland and even in Australia, although under a different name. Gaelic football is played with a ball the same size as a football. Players can hold the ball in the hand but for no longer than three steps, They then have to bounce it or pass it on to a team mate. Much of the set-up of the game is the same as in football, including terminology and purpose of the game: scoring as many goals as possible.

Soccer is said to be derived from Gaelic football and comes third in the list. It is practised by the greatest number of people, but it`s less popular then the other sports. Soccer has regular competitions like the English premier league. Londonderry is the only Northern-Irish team in the league, while the other ones from that area play in a separate Northern Irish competition. The list of most popular sports ends with rugby. Rugby is in turn similar to Gaelic football but with an oval-shaped ball. Especially the national Irish team is very popular country-wide.

All for the county
For all of the above sports, most people will support their own local teams. In the case of soccer, it is very likely that people will support an English premier league on top of that. Celtic, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal are among the most popular. When counting shirts in the streets of Sligo, Celtic fans clearly outnumber the other ones in this region.

Whatever the sport watched or practised, people are more then likely going to a pub afterwards. Because after all, that is where everything in Ireland begins and ends.

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