Students in Elaine Weintraub’s Irish history class at the regional high school took their studies outside on Monday, trying their hand at one of the oldest sports in the world, the Gaelic game of hurling.

Hurling has been played in Ireland for more than 3,000 years. Players use flat sticks called hurleys (camán in Irish) to move the ball (called a sliotar) downfield, and can intercept passes using their hands. Sliotars have been clocked as moving at speeds of about 100 miles per hour after being hit with a hurley, making hurling the fastest field sport.

Ms. Weintraub’s students learn about hurling each year — in Irish mythology, it plays a key role in the formation of the Ulster Cycle’s hero Cú Chulainn. But, she said, “This is the first time we’ve said, ‘Let’s just go out and play it like it’s a proper game.’”

“It’s a very hard game,” Ms. Weintraub told the Gazette. “Not only is it a hard game for anybody to play, it’s really different from the games they know here. But everybody was willing to give it a shot.”

Joao Carlos Netto
Joao Carlos Netto. — Ivy Ashe

To the casual observer, watching the sport is the equivalent of hearing a foreign language with which one is only vaguely familiar — parts of it are recognizable, resembling a mix of field hockey, lacrosse and baseball, but overall it retains an air of uniqueness.

The class had just a week to prepare for a match, though students made the most of the limited time, watching YouTube videos of regional games and reading up on the rules. Senior Joao Carlos Netto led a group of building trade students in an effort to craft 20 hurleys in the high school woodshop.

Slight alterations were made to the original game — snowy conditions on the athletic fields forced the match to be played in the bus loop of the high school, and a tennis ball was substituted for a regulation leather sliotar, but enthusiasm nevertheless remained high as the Irish history students, joined by students from Ms. Weintraub’s Brazilian history and AP European history classes, donned red and blue pinnies and filed onto the pitch.

For the next 45 minutes, the modified sliotar flew across the asphalt, guided along by spray-painted hurleys and occasionally bouncing off-course into the snow. A few enterprising students made their best attempts at balancing the sliotar on the flat side of the hurley and carrying it downfield, one of the trademark features of the sport.

Seniors Jake Sudarsky and Chris Pitt kept up running commentary throughout the game, deciding midway through that using Irish accents would be more appropriate for the task.

The game ended in a 41-15 win for the red team. The object is to hit the sliotar into a goal, but since no goal structures were available, anything that got past the goalies counted as a score.

“It turned out pretty fun,” senior Mia Benedetto said after the match.

“It’s actually pretty brutal,” said junior Jack Wallace, noting that he crashed into several fellow players throughout the course of the game. “I was surprised how good my friends were.”

The novelty of hurling appealed to many of the players, including junior Tjark Aldeborgh.

“We’re introduced to American sports like football and lacrosse,” he said. “[This] really gives you an idea of what Irish culture is like.”

“It’s so good to actually experience something about the culture you’re learning about rather than sitting in a seat,” said Ms. Weintraub.