Field Events

Field Events at the Feis – Pádraic Ó Cléireacháin

The history of hurling

Hurling in some form has been known in Ireland for as far back as records go. Earliest references are in old Irish manuscripts that are mostly unknown to the public, but after about 1600 records are often in English. It would appear that there were two traditions of hurling in Ireland. One of these survives to the present day in Scotland under the name camánacht or shinty. It was played in the northern part of the country, especially in Counties Antrim, Down, Derry and Donegal. In a ruined fifteenth-century church at Cloncha in Inishowen there is a grave-slab with a representation of a camán and a ball. The camán is almost identical with the present day Scottish shinty stick.

Camánacht was played using a camán with a fairly narrow boss and a straight end. The ball used was made of wood and this fact, along with the narrow stick, meant it was played on the ground. It was a winter game often associated with Christmas and the New Year. In southern counties after 1600 several changes came in gradually. The boss of the camán became wider over the years and a softer leather-covered ball was used. The game came to be played mostly in the summer, and at some stage handling of the ball was allowed. It is of interest that rules of hurling covering the game as played in Trinity College Dublin in 1870 restricted the width of the boss to two inches but allowed catching the ball in the hand.

When the GAA was founded in 1884 rules were introduced on an all-Ireland basis, and were based mainly on the Southern summer game, since it was much more widespread than the older camánacht version in which Ireland had survived only in the Glens of Antrim and in the Ards Peninsula in Co Down. It should be noted that the early camáns were relatively narrow-bladed; the broad blade as we know it only became popular in the 1920s and the 1930s.

In southern counties hurling enjoyed patronage from the Anglo-Irish gentry. Rival landlords would arrange matches between teams from their estates, and bets were often placed on the result. This patronage gradually ceased after the Act of Union in 1800 but hurling matches still took place between neighbouring parishes. Until the 1950s and 1960s most parishes relied on the goodwill of a farmer to allow matches to take place on a reasonably flat field. Official grounds under GAA control were few and far between, and some counties had only one or two. However in the 30 years  following the Second World War most clubs acquired their own grounds complete with changing rooms as the GAA went from strength to strength.

Hurling at the Feis

Hurling was an important event at all Glens Feiseanna. Revered historian, Gaelic Leaguer and Protestant Nationalist F.J. Biggar commissioned a special trophy for the 1904 Feis – the Shield of the Heroes. A magnificent piece of work fashioned in copper, it is still in the possession of Carey Faughs, who in the final beat Cushendun (who had earlier defeated Glenarm). A Glenariff team was playing in 1905, but at that time Carey were unbeatable. In 1906 the first of the North v South Antrim matches appears to have taken place at the Feis. This contest continued as a feature of the Feis after its revival in 1928 until the late 1950s, when the North Antrim Board allowed the final of the North Antrim Championship to be played at the Feis. A cup was provided for this competition. The present Feis Cup is dedicated to the memory of Alastair McAllister, long-time treasurer of the Feis until his untimely death in 1994.

Over the past 30 years the finals of the North Antrim Junior and U16 championships have been played at the Feis. The U16 final for the McMullan Cup (in memory of Joe McMullan, long-term committee member) has proved to be very popular and rivals the senior final in public interest. Junior and senior camogie competitions have been taking place for a number of years, and in recent times U12 ground hurling competitions and minor seven-a-side as well as a football competition have been organised, with finals played at the Feis. This has meant field games at the Feis have expanded from the traditional Sunday games to a three-day event covering Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday. The Feis Committee are very appreciative of the help and support they receive from the North Antrim board and the Camogie Board in running these competitions.

Athletics at the Feis

Athletics does not seem to have been given much prominence in early Feiseanna, although there were usually field events for children. With the development of level pitches in the post-war era, several attempts were made to bring some sort of order to athletics. In the late 1950s field events in Glenariff were held under the National Athletics and Cycling Association (NACA) rules. This was the only athletic association operating on an all-Ireland basis. Strict rules had to be followed in measuring and marking the track, and entrants had to meet a certain criteria. There were entries from as far away as Armagh and most of the prizes went to members of organised NACA clubs. Since there were no such clubs in North Antrim, the local population was not too pleased.

Another attempt at organising athletics involved competitions for members of GAA clubs. Most North Antrim clubs participated, but a dispute arose when it was claimed that several winners of events were not registered GAA players. The County Registrar was later able to confirm that they were in fact registered. Since then athletics has been confined to children’s sports, which continue each year on an informal basis and are very popular.

Carey Faughs GAC – Pat McVeigh

Following the successful establishment of the Gaelic League in the Glens of Antrim, it was decided in the summer of 1903 to introduce the GAA to North Antrim. Hurling was introduced to the Carey area by the two schoolteachers in the parish at the time. Denis Maguire coached the men in the skills of the game and Kerryman Patrick Moore provided the backbone of the team in full-back. Moore was related to the Gillan family of Lossett, and held the position of North Antrim chairman between 1905 and 1908. The club won the first Feis trophy, commissioned by Francis J. Biggar, a magnificent copper shield which is still held by the club to this day; they were also successful in the Feis Cup of 1954. Carey Faughs has gone from strength to strength over the years and is today a thriving club with both a strong juvenile and senior membership.

Adapted from Phoenix, E., Ó Cléireacháin, P., McAuley, E. & McSparran, N. (eds) (2005) Feis na nGleann: A Century of Gaelic Culture in the Antrim Glens. Feis na nGleann & Stair Uladh.