Ireland may be a small country with a population of only 5 million , but there's no shortage of sporting talent and interest on the Emerald Isle. Men, women and children take great pride in their team whether club, county or country and the Irish people have been known to wear it all on their sleeve on match day. Here we'll take a look at some of the most popular spectator sports which peak the interests of the Irish people.
1. Gaelic Football & Hurling
Established in Thurles, Co. Tipperary in 1884, the Gaelic Athletic Association is the governing body in control of the countries national sports. Gaelic football and hurling matches are contested by 2 teams each consisting of 15 players. The aim of both games is to score more points than the other team. Points are acquired by putting the ball either in the goal which is worth 3 points or over the bar which is worth 1 point. These traditional sports are uniquely exciting and provide a great spectacle for both players and fans. Gaelic football is played with a leather ball about the size of a soccer ball but quite a bit heavier. Players use their hands and feet to work the ball up the pitch while the opposition try to disposes them without using excessive force which will result in a free kick. Hurling is similar in principle but different in practice - the ball is much smaller, closer to a tennis ball size, and players use hooked shape sticks called "hurleys" to hit the ball. The combination of stick and ball allows players to complete passes that are almost the full length of the pitch resulting in hair standing excitement. The ball constantly soars from one end of the pitch to the other making it the fastest field sport in the world. Communities take pride in their local clubs and support teams of all levels. Even children’s matches can draw a crowd! Counties gather their best players to compete for the ultimate bragging rights as best team in the world. The All Ireland final takes place for both sports in Croke Park, Dublin, and the stadium is packed full with over 80,000 fans watching the two teams battle for the prestigious honor of becoming All Ireland champions.
Rugby is a massive part of the Irish sporting culture. In some regions, rugby is even more popular than both Hurling and Gaelic football. The passion the Irish have for rugby has translated marvelously to international success – Ireland now considered among the best in the world when it comes to the international game. Currently ranked 3rd worldwide, the Irish national team achieved their highest position in the 2018/2019 season as the 2nd best team in the world. Rugby in Ireland is split into the 4 provinces, Ulster, Munster, Leinster, and Connacht. Provincial matches tend to generate incredible atmospheres and it's highly recommended for visitors who enjoy the game to get to one and experience the electricity of the atmosphere for themselves. If you happen to be travelling in Spring time be sure to check out the six nations tournament played every year; whether it be live in Dublin or in bars around the country, you will feel the fans rallying in support. On match day for important international and club games you will see droves of people sporting their team colors and heading to the local pub to cheer on their side.
Golf in Ireland continues to be one of the countries most revered pastimes, producing some of the best players ever to grace the game such as Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, as well as some of the finest courses in the world. Irish golf courses are known throughout the world for their magnificent holes and beautiful surrounding landscapes. A large number of golfing’s finest have expressed their love for the courses around Ireland such as Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Ireland's influence on the golfing world was finally recognized and rewarded by being gifted the accolade of hosting the 2019 open, the oldest professional golf tournament in the world. The best golfers on the planet flocked to Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland to compete on one of the world’s finest courses, and it's only fitting that Irish man Shane Lowry took the spoils on the final day of competition. Travelers journeying to the Emerald Isle are encouraged to experience the world’s greatest links firsthand, and we can help you with that, of course. Some of the courses open to visitors include The K Club, Adare, Lahinch, Watervile, Portmarnock, and Royal County Down.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and although not Ireland's most popular, the country still takes great pride in their teams. Over the years Ireland has produced more than a handful of world class players who have played in some of the biggest leagues in the world. Most of Ireland's club teams act as feeder clubs to the bigger English Premier League teams. Nevertheless, the Irish national team has been known to give top teams a run for their money and even pull off the occasional upset, as happened in the UEFA Euro qualifiers in 2015 when Ireland pulled off a miraculous 1-0 win against the world champions of Germany, clinching that all important qualification slot for the European championships the following summer. Perhaps more famous than the national team are the notorious Irish fans. At the European Championships in the summer 2016, Irish supporters received the City of Paris medal from the mayor of the French capital for their "exemplary sportsmanship" and behavior throughout the championships. Irish fans changed tires, soothed babies and charmed locals during the countries run to the last 16, which was said to bring happiness to a country much maligned in the previous year. For travelers crossing the Atlantic we cannot recommend enough that you join in with the fantastic atmosphere of our countries soccer teams and fans.
5. Horse Racing
Horse racing has always proved to be a popular sport across Ireland, producing some of the best jockeys in the world such as AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh. The country has a number of race courses across the land with annual events such as those at Leopardstown, Punchestown, and the Galway races. Horse racing is unique to the other sports as it is more of as business and a showcase than a pastime. Across the country people watch the live races and almost every town will have at least one betting shop to help boost interest in the races. Horse racing has something for everyone, even those who just need an excuse to get dressed up - Lady’s Day at the Galway Races draws crowds of men and women dressed to the nines. Horse racing is a great backdrop to a leisurely day of drinks and Irish "craic".
As Irish sport grows it's no wonder sports related tourism is on the rise in the country. If you're thinking about visiting Ireland, one of our travel experts can help you plan a custom tour to soak up all that the Irish sporting calendar has to offer. Follow the link below to request a quote and we will get back to you with a detailed sample itinerary.