Early Irish-American Athletes
Hurling, which is considered the world’s oldest field game, was introduced to New York in 1763 by Irish soldiers in the British army. The game’s popularity died off after the war as the troops returned home. The game became popular again in the mid nineteenth century as a result of the Irish Diaspora. Mass migration spurred the formation of hurling clubs, as players were now settled in the United States rather than temporary stationed. These clubs, organized under the Gaelic Athletic Association, allowed for the preservation and celebration of Irish culture and connected the Irish-American community.
Male participants in the Gaelic games enacted a glorified image of “the Celt.” This manifestation of “Muscular Christianity” linked devotion to Irish Catholic culture to the attainment and display of individual strength through sports. Michael Cusack, founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland, was a proponent of this ideal. The games of hurling and Gaelic football were considered fitting for the idealized Irish man. The demand for skill, strength, and speed (as seen in the videos below) demonstrates the call for Irish immigrants to enact these positive traits and train as if they were preparing for battle.
Learn more about the Gaelic games and see players in action:
Click below to hear stories of Irish Americans regarding the religious aspect of Gaelic games. This content is provided by Boston College's © GAA Oral History Project.