P.E.I. youth learn about Irish culture through sport

Hurling offers P.E.I. youth a lesson in Irish sport and culture.

Organizers happy with first Be Irish for a Day event turnout

Participants at the first annual Be Irish for a Day learned the basics of how to play hurling. (Stephanie Brown/CBC )

A rainy Sunday during Olympic season is the perfect time to curl up at home and watch athletes from around the world compete in different sporting events.

But that's not how about 10 P.E.I. young people and some of their parents spent their afternoon. They got active themselves, playing a sport that isn't in the Olympics but is gaining popularity in Canada.

The name of the game is hurling, a much-loved Irish game that uses a wooden stick called a hurley, a ball a bit smaller than a baseball, and a helmet.

Shane O'Neill hopes to grow the event in years to come and have groups across the Island playing. (Stephanie Brown/CBC)

It was part of the first annual Be Irish for a Day event held by the P.E.I. Gaelic Athletic Association and the Benevolent Irish Society of P.E.I.

There was music, some story-telling, and then lessons in hurling as well as Gaelic football.

'A lot of contact in the game'

P.E.I. Gaelic Athletic Association president Shane O'Neill, learned hurling while growing up in County Clare, Ireland.

"Hurling is 3,000 years old," O'Neill told the youth.

"There's a lot of contact in the game ... Unlike hockey, the ball is in the air. You can hit it. The player's in your way, you can hit him as well."

"Ouch," one of the boys reacted. 

Hoping for more female participation

Shane O'Neill's daughter, Sinead, is 13 years old. She's from Limerick, Ireland and now lives in Souris.

She got her first hurley when she was six months old, but she just started playing this year.

It's not a big deal, it's not that rough. You can be rougher than boys sometimes.- Sinead O'Neill

Sinead said she wants her friends to know they shouldn't be intimidated by the sport.

"We did it at school and they thought the boys are rough and stuff, but if you play soccer, if you play ringette, you can play this sport," she said.

"It's not different. It's just a little bit of tackling. It's not a big deal. It's not that rough. You can be rougher than boys sometimes."

Sinead O'Neill got her first hurley when she was six months old. (Stephanie Brown/CBC)

Shane O'Neill said his association is pushing to get more women involved on the Island. He hopes they can compete against existing female contingents from Nova Scotia, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec.

Many reasons to enjoy it

Eleven-year-old Connor McInnis of Souris has been playing the sport for about six weeks. His brother plays on the Gaelic football team on the Island, along with Shane O'Neill.

"I really like playing because it's a combination of sports and it's really fast paced."

I wanted my kids to understand my heritage, and love it like I do.- Catherine Marz

Sinead Marz and her sister Emma came from Moncton with their parents with their own equipment to play. The twins are seven years old and recently moved to Moncton from Ottawa where they played on a team there.

Their mother Catherine is from Cork, Ireland. She said it was worth the drive to get her girls playing again.

Catherine Marz brought her twin daughters from Moncton to play. (Stephanie Brown/CBC)

"Being Irish I wanted my kids to understand my heritage, and love it like I do."

Sinead said she likes that the game is Irish, and is happy to have the chance to play it again with other people.

Shane O'Neill said he was very happy with the turnout for the first year, and hopes to grow the event over the years.