It has been the most exciting GAA Hurling Championship ever. A young, talented, and enormously skilful Clare team, emerged in 2013 like a force of nature to replace the great Kilkenny four-in-a row team as All Ireland champions.
The Dublin hurling team finally emerged as a team worthy of All Ireland ambitions, winning Leinster for the fist time in decades; and Cork played their part in one of the most exciting ever All Ireland Finals that was not decided until the final minutes of a magnificent replay, living up to the brilliance of the drawn final.
In Munster, Limerick hurlers took their righful place after years in the wilderness as provincial champions – and Waterford, Tipperary and Galway, have talented teams anxious to put the disappointments of 2013 behind them as we look forward to what promises to be another memorable hurling season in 2014.
Mayo has never been known as a traditional hurling county and for decades a few clubs, Ballyhaunis, Tooreen and Ballinrobe, kept the hurling flame alive.
Thankfully, now the sport is flourishing with hurling clubs emerging in Castlebar, Westport, Ballina and Belmullet.
It’s timely, therefore, to discover that Mayo’s links to the game of hurling go back to ancient times.
A sliotar found in the 1940s by Joseph Wilson of An Chrois village while cutting turf in a bog in Talach, Erris, features in an exhibition entitled, “Hair Hurling Balls: Earliest Artefacts of our National Game”, at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar.
The exhibition features 14 hurling balls made from matted cow hair with a plaited horsehair covering.
The Mayo hurling ball is in very good condition with thirteen vertical ribs and dates from circa 1483. Its dimensions are 5.36cm x 5.92cm and it weighs 46.47g.
The earliest was made in the second half of the twelfth century –800 years ago! The Museum’s oldest-known hurley, from Co. Offaly, is also on display.
Finds from Kerry, Clare, Tipperary, west Limerick and east Sligo also feature in the exhibition. All were found through hand cutting turf in bogs over the past 100 years.
These balls are the predecessors of the modern leather-covered sliotar. The exhibition also includes examples of hurleys from our recent past and sliotars from our hurling legends of today.
Cú Chulainn played hurling and we have always known that hurling was part of our ancient past.
This exhibition examines these bog finds in relation to where in the country they were discovered, how they were made and how they measure up to the modern ball.
New research on these balls revealed radio-carbon dates of the earliest to 800 years ago! The exhibition also centres on the scientific research used to untangle the mysteries of these balls.
This exciting new exhibition firmly establishes the antiquity of our national game of Hurling.
The exhibition will run until May 2014.
Pictured above: A sliotar found the 1940s by Joseph Wilson of An Chrois village while cutting turf in a bog in Talach, Erris, Co. Mayo, is part of an exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar. Photo: Photographic Department, National Museum of Ireland