Four Courts Press, 2014 (384 pages)
Book Launch, €35.95
Irish History & Politics
I attended the launch of Sport in Ireland in the plush surroundings of the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street. The book was introduced by Anthony Tierney from Four Courts Press and the well known football pundit, journalist, and ghost writer, Eamon Dunphy. Dunphy’s introduction was full of warmth and good humour. He bemoaned the increasing influence of Sky Sports in the Irish sports market and extolled the virtues of playing sport for its intrinsic value.
Sport in Ireland is an in-depth academic study of the various sports popular in Ireland from 1600 until just before the Great Famine. About a third of the book is devoted to the equine sports of horse racing and hunting. The other sports covered are blood sports (such as cockfighting, bull-baiting, and dogfighting), team sports (hurling, commons, and football), fighting sports (boxing and wrestling), and minority sports (including bowling, cricket, handball, road bowls, and athletics). The book is illustrated with a number of black and white images as well as maps and tables.
Sport in Ireland demonstrates how sport was either sanctioned by the elite (as with horse racing) or else viewed as a potential source of trouble for the local authorities (as with football). Drinking, gambling, fighting, and desecration of the Sabbath were all reasons for the upper classes to be suspicious of lower class sports. Blood sports such as bull-baiting and cockfighting were brutal “sports” whose main function seemed to facilitate gambling. Shamefully fox hunting and hare coursing are still legal in Ireland whilst cockfighting is still popular in the Americas and Asia and bullfighting still acts as release of bloodlust for certain sections of Hispanic society in Spain and South America.
Horse racing is still hugely popular in Ireland but it is the team sports of the lower classes such as hurling and football (Gaelic, association, and rugby) that have endured as the most popular sports in the country. Sport in Ireland is a serious history which might not be for those seeking a more basic treatment of the subject. Nonetheless there is a sufficient supply of anecdotes and fascinating facts to interest anybody seeking to learn about the roots of Irish sport.