On Fri., Mar. 17 thousands of University of Calgary students will hit local pubs and attempt to ingest as much Irish culture as they can. And while trying to turn one's urine green might be as close as most students get to the culture of the Emerald Isle, it's worth noting that Ireland has its own unique sporting traditions.
Gaelic football and hurling, both Irish sports, trace their roots back centuries and continue to be a huge part of Ireland's modern spirit.
Hurling, once described as "a mixture of hockey, lacrosse and armed robbery," is a game that needs to been seen to be believed. It's played on a field with rugby goal posts by two teams of 15 players. Players score by hitting the ball with curved wooden sticks either over the goal post or under it and into the net. One point is scored for an over and three for getting the ball into the net.
With "hurley" sticks being swung around at head-height and players wearing little or no protective gear, the game can be dangerous.
"A lot of boys don't get the proper training and they get a smack," chuckled Adrian Lagan, coach of Calgary's Gaelic sports club. "After that, they decide the game's not for them."
Gaelic football is similar to hurling but less dangerous and easier for new players to pick up, noted Lagan. It is played without sticks and with a ball the size of a soccer ball. Scoring is identical to hurling, but players use their feet and hands to play the ball.
"It's very much like soccer but it's played in the air," commented Lagan on hurling's gentler cousin.
In Ireland, Gaelic football is the biggest sport in terms of participation--more so than soccer or rugby. The ultimate honour for a Gaelic football player is to represent his or her county, with Kerry County winning the most titles over the years. All of the players are amateur, but many games draw crowds of up to 40,000 people.
Here in Calgary there are men's and women's teams, which play Gaelic football over the summer in Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto. The tournament in Toronto has several teams from Ireland attending and is apparently well-known by Irish enthusiasts.
With half of Calgary's players being Canadian, Lagan believes Gaelic football isn't a sport strictly for Irish folk. He's also hoping to see plenty of women try the sport this year and thinks that the popularity of women's soccer will help.
"Most of the girls who have played soccer are the better players, but any athletic person can do well," mentioned Lagan.
Anyone interested in trying Gaelic football this summer should visit calgarygaelicfootball.com. Lagan is even thinking about having a Calgary hurling team if there is enough interest this year.