Bring Back Memories – 13 Most Exciting Traditional Irish Games

Updated On: January 25, 2023

Irish games

Many traditional Irish games rule the roost. The Irish love to play sports known as Gaelic games. Ireland is Europe’s third-largest island, so there is plenty of space for various sports. What childhood games did you play in the garden or on the street as a child? Traditional Irish games are a set of games popular and favoured in Ireland.

There are Irish indoor games and Irish outdoor games as well. Indoor games include Ring and Croquet. On the other hand, Hurling, Gaelic Football and Rounders are outdoor games. Each game has specific rules to follow. Some games are suitable for the whole family to play.

Let’s check some of the most famous traditional Irish games:

Hurling- One of the Most Exciting Irish Games

Irish Games - Hurling

Hurling, Iomànàoch, can be traced back thousands of years to pre-Christian times when Celtic warriors invented it. Hurling was first mentioned in written reference in 1272 BC. It is the fastest grass game and the most skilled game in the world. Substitutions are permitted. The game is playable by both men and women. The game is played by two fifteen-players teams: one goalkeeper, six backs, two midfielders, and six forwards.

It is played with sticks called hurleys or camáns in Gaelic and a small leather ball, nearly the exact size as a tennis ball, called a sliotar. The pitch measures 130-140 metres in length and 80-90 metres in width. Many players wear a helmet, which may or may not have a faceguard. 

The primary objective is to score a goal by kicking the ball through or over the bar. Three points are awarded for the goal. The sliotar can be touched and carried for four steps at the most. The player can use his hurley to propel the sliotar forward, on the ground or in the air, or run with it on the hurley. The match lasts 70 minutes.

Rounders

Rounders is a game resembling baseball and cricket. The Rounders Council of Ireland, a division of the GAA, once organised the game. Then, the rules were formalised in the United Kingdom, where Rounders England governs the game. According to the earliest reference, the game was first played in 1744.

Rounders is a game between two teams, with a ball and a bat. The teams rotate fielding and batting. The game includes innings, each with three attempts, in which one team bats while the other team fields. A rounder is scored when a batting team completes a circuit without being declared out. The batter is declared out if the fielder manages to catch the ball.

Gaelic Football

Irish Games - Gaelic Football

In Ireland, Gaelic football is commonly referred to as ‘Gaelic’, ‘football,’ or ‘gah’. Teams of 15 compete on a rectangular grass pitch with H-shaped goals at each end. The rise is approximately 130-145 metres long and 80-90 metres wide. Adult football and under-21 match last 60 minutes, while senior intercounty games last 70 minutes. At halftime, there is a 15-minute break.

Points and goals are the two types of scoring. A point is awarded for successfully kicking and hand-passing the ball over the crossbar. Two teams of 15 players each play Gaelic football. The football, a spherical leather ball, can be carried, bounced, kicked, and hand-passed by the players. The ability to field a ball, jump high, and snatch a ball from the air is a skill that is highly valued.

There are two cornerbacks, a full-back, two wingbacks, a centre-back, two midfielders, two wing forwards, a centre-forward, two corner forwards, and a full-back. Finally, the team with the highest points is declared the winner at the end of the game. Mayo has many clubs divided into North, South, East, and West Clubs. County Mayo’s senior Gaelic football team competes in the Connacht Senior Football Championship, making it to the finals in 2012 and 2013.

Road Bowling

Road Bowling is a traditional and thrilling Irish sport. It has a long history, beginning in ancient Ulster in the Irish Cork. It’s similar to bowling, but you need space to run 10 or 15 yards. It is played with a small iron and steel cannonball, a “bowl,” tossed down a twisty road by the player. The standard ball size is similar to that of a tennis ball.

The competition aims to cover a predetermined distance with a predetermined number of throws. Throws can travel up to 300 yards. 

The player who makes the fewest throws to the finish line wins. They move along a 4 km long country road course. The twists and turns of a narrow country lane and the road surface angle provide a fertile ground for strategy and elicit heated debate among the thrower, his coach, and full-throated spectators.

Horse Racing

Irish Games - Horse Racing

Horse racing has an illustrious and long history in Ireland. It is a very deep-rooted passion in Irish culture and is often called “the sport of kings”. Racing is one of Ireland’s most beloved spectator sports, and the country is a significant producer and trainer of Thoroughbred horses. 

In County Mayo, there are numerous opportunities to see horses in action, including cross-country races, horse trials, and show jumping competitions. The first written record of horse races is a royal warrant from 1603. It gave the governor of Derry the authority to hold fairs and markets where horse races could be held.

Tip/Kick the Can

Kick the Can has been a popular game since the 1930s. For many years, it has been widespread. Tag, Capture the Flag and Hide and seek are all combined into one exciting game. The game’s goal is to “arrest” all the players by identifying them in their hiding places. Play Kick the Can with at least three and up to twenty players.

Whoever is ‘it,’ a player is tasked with finding everybody, stands at the Can, counting to 20, while the rest of the Olympians flee to hide. ‘It’ goes on the hunt once the counting is over. Everyone caught is sent to ‘jail,’ but if someone manages to ‘Tip the Can’ before being held captive, they can free one of their comrades. The last hider standing wins.

Heads and Volleys 

“Heads and volleys” is a high-risk game. All you need is at least three people, one of whom will serve as the goalkeeper. A rotating keeper with about ten lives begins the game, and outfield players cross or chip a ball to one another. The goal is to score with a header or volley from about 6 yards outside the box. Simply put, one player crosses the ball, and the remaining players try to score with a header or volley.

If an outside player hits the ball wide, over, or the keeper cleanly catches the ball, the ball is now in the goal. If a player scores and the ball bounces, he is also in goal. Another game rule is to shout a footballer’s name as you hit an audacious volley towards the goal. A goal shortens the keeper’s life; in some variations, a header counts for two. The game is over only when all the keepers’ lives are gone.

Camogie

Irish Games - Camogie

Camogie is a female-dominated Irish contact sport. It is the female equivalent version of hurling. Two teams of fifteen players each compete in the game. The game lasts 60 minutes. There are three clubs in Mayo, the most important of which is Na Brideogra Camogie Club in Tooreen, which has teams in all grades from under 6 to seniors. A goal equals three points; a team gets one point when the ball goes over the bar.

Positions in camogie are similar to those in other team sports, with one goalkeeper, six defenders, two midfielders, six forwards and a variable number of substitutes. These figures will vary depending on the available field size. In addition, Camogie goalkeepers wear the same colours as the outfield players. The Sliotar is thrown between all four midfielders in the centre of the field to start the game.

Conkers

Conkers is a traditional Irish children’s game made from horse chestnut tree seeds. The game is played by two players, one of whom keeps the conker perfectly still at the height chosen by the opponent. The opponent then retracts his one. The goal is to smash the chestnut of the opponent. You have seven consecutive shots to break your friend’s chestnut. Whoever smashes the other’s chestnut first wins.

Snatch the Bacon

Steal the Bacon is a high-energy game that requires two teams of players and a large open area, such as a playground or gym. The players are divided into two groups. Count the players so that each team member has the same number. The players sprint to the opposite inside tramline, then back to their inside tramline to retrieve the ball. Only those whose numbers have been called are allowed on the field. Play until one team has as many points as you set as the winning goal.

What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?

This game can be enjoyed both inside and outside. It is a simple chasing game that can also help children practise counting. Allow the children to choose which child will be Mr Wolf, the person telling the time, and have that child stand at one end with their back to the other children. “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?” the other players ask as they form a line behind the wolf. 

When the wolf says a time, such as “2 o’clock,” the children take two steps towards the wolf. The players get closer and closer to the wolf this way. However, the wolf may respond, “It’s dinner time!” If this is the case, he turns around and chases the other players attempting to reach the starting line. The player caught by the wolf transforms into a wolf in turn.

Blind Man’s Bluff 

Blind Man’s Bluff is a fun game, convenient for both indoor and outdoor parties. One kid is blindfolded while the other kids are scattered. They spin the blindfolded kid around several times to lose his sense of direction. Then, he must locate one of the other players and question them. If the kids can identify who he chooses, he wins. Then, the other players take turns.

Bulldog

It dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. It necessitates a large playing area for a large number of children. The game’s goal is for one player to try to intercept other players who must run from one designated space to another. The ‘bulldog’ is the person who stands in the middle of the field. When the players are captured, they are turned into bulldogs. The last player standing wins and becomes the bulldog in the next game. It is frequently regarded as violent, leading to its ban in many British schools due to injuries sustained by participants.

So, we have covered most of the traditional Irish games. What game did you enjoy the most when you were a kid? Do you want to know more about Ireland? You can read an exciting brief history of Ireland.