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the origins and roots of hockey

How it all began

Until the mid-1980s it was generally accepted that ice hockey derived from English field hockey and Indian lacrosse and was spread throughout Canada by British soldiers in the mid-1800s. Research then turned up mention of a hockey-like game, played in the early 1800s in Nova Scotia by the Micmac Indians, which appeared to have been heavily influenced by the Irish game of hurling; it included the use of a "hurley" (stick) and a square wooden block instead of a ball. It was probably fundamentally this game that spread throughout Canada via Scottish and Irish immigrants and the British army. The players adopted elements of field hockey, such as the "bully" (later the face-off) and "shinning" (hitting one's opponent on the shins with the stick or playing with the stick on one "shin" or side); this evolved into an informal ice game later known as shinny or shinty. The name hockey--as the organized game came to be known--has been attributed to the French word hoquet (shepherd's stick).

Historical Facts about ice hockey

The term rink, referring to the playing area, was originally used in the game of curling in 18th-century Scotland. Early hockey games allowed as many as 30 players a side on the ice, and the goals were two stones, each frozen into one end of the ice. The first use of a puck instead of a ball was recorded at Kingston Harbour, Ont., in 1860

Rules were set by students at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, in 1879, and several amateur clubs and leagues were established in Canada by the late 1880´s. The game is believed to have been first played in the United States in 1893. By the beginning of the 20th century the sport had spread to Great Britain and other parts of Europe. The modern game developed in Canada, and nowadays is very popular in North America and East Europe.

The NHL is the most important league in the world; this National Hockey League comprises teams from the United States and Canada, but for many years almost all NHL players were natives of Canada. The winner team of this competition is awarded the Stanley Cup trophy. Ice Hockey was added to the Olympic Games in 1920, being one of the most popular events at the Winter Olympics.

The Game of Hurling.


Hurling is one of the fastest and most skilful field games in the world. It is an ancient Gaelic sport, played long before the coming of Christianity. The earliest written record of the game is contained in the Brehon Laws of the fifth century. The first great hurling hero was Setanta whose legendary adventures are known to most Irish children. The game was banned by the Statutes of Kilkenny because of its popularity with the Normans.

The 18th century was known as the 'golden age' of hurling. Landlords promoted the game; inter-barony and inter-county games were played. These matches were very well organised; teams lined out in set positions (21 a-side) and the behaviour of each player was controlled by a strict code of honour. Events from 1790 to 1800 caused the gentry to withdraw their support for the game of hurling. This, together with the effects of the Great Famine, severely damaged the development of the game.

A successful revival of hurling commenced in 1884 with the founding of the G.A.A. The Gaelic games are organised on a local level - the parish being the basic unit of organisation. Hence, the national games have become interwined with community spirit and local pride.

The Legend of Cuchulainn.


It was foretold that Setanta, a nephew of King Conor Mac Neasa of Ulster, was destined for greatness, and as he grew older it became evident that this prophecy was to be fulfilled. The boy had gained knowledge and performed feats unusual for one of his age. At the age of five years he decided to join the Boys` Corps at the court of his uncle, King Conor. He set out for his uncle`s court at Emain Macha on foot, taking with him his hurling stick of bronze and a silver sliotar. He shortened many a mile by hurling the sliotar and throwing the hurley stick after it. He would run like the wind after them and catch them before they landed. In this way he soon arrived at Emain Macha. King Conor and the boys of the corps were astonished by his prowess on the hurling field. He could score with ease and when it was his turn to guard the goal, not one shot did he let in.


King Conor was invited to a banquet at the house of Culainn and he asked Setanta to accompany him. Setanta was playing a game of hurling at the time and told his uncle he would go to the banquet after the game. His uncle agreed to this and went on his own to the house of Culainn. When the guests were seated at the feast, Culainn asked the King if all the expected guests had arrived and the King replied that they had, forgetting all about Setanta. Culainn then unchained his magnificent hound to guard the house. Setanta arrived at Culainn`s house and the hound bayed like thunder and immediately sprang at him. Setanta, who had only his hurling stick and sliotar with him, hurled the ball with colossal force at the hound. The ball went into the gaping jaws of the huge animal and down into its throat. The hound was forced back by the pain of the blow. Immediately Setanta grabbed the hound by its legs and smashed its head on the stone courtyard. When Conor heard the hound baying he remembered Setanta and he rushed outside expecting to find him torn to pieces. He was overjoyed to see him unharmed.


Culainn was sorrowful at the loss of his hound which had guarded his home so well. Setanta consoled him and said he would find a young hound and train it to guard Culainn`s house. He volunteered to guard Cullain`s house and property himself until a worthy successor to the slain hound was found. King Conor decreed this to be fair. Thus, Setanta became known as Cuchulainn - the hound of Culainn.