Kilkenny’s geasa

In 1366 the English attempted to ban hurling in a set of laws called the ‘Statutes of Kilkenny’. Kilkenny continues to give its response. At 10 am today a Garda escort with flashing lights and siren, led a convoy from the city. In the convoy, the finest hurling team that the country has ever known. They have headed to Croke Park for the All Ireland Senior Hurling Final in this manner for 14 of the last 15 years.

The population of the county is at one in the enterprise. In every village the club structures draw support and commitment from people of all ages and talents. Men and women dedicate themselves through every challenge to the year round rainy evening chores that go into developing new waves of young players to compete at every level in the artful game.

The Statutes came about because the Hiberno-Norman land owners were becoming too naturalized. The English Crown felt (correctly) that they could no longer rely on them as they were becoming rather native in their ways – becoming a ‘Nation of the utmost perfidy’.

The man put to sort this problem out was the ‘Duke of Clarence’. Actually, he didn’t ban hurling. He merely banned anyone who wanted to continue owning their lands from playing it. He also banned them from speaking Irish. He declared that they must stop living by the Irish Brehon Laws which most Norman families had adopted. He banned them from marrying ‘native’ Irish. And he ruled that they must cut off their beards! A beard and long hair was a mark of stature in the Brehon system.

So to those who wonder whether Kilkenny will ever tire of winning: I’d have to say the prognosis is poor. In the humble assessment of this blow-in only ten years in Kilkenny (after about four generations some here may regard you as a local), there is a geasa or spell on the inhabitants of this place. Like the famous Sweeney of mythology who was condemned by a geasa to live forever as a bird-like figure flitting in frenzy from tree to tree, the Cats are condemned to go on defying the Statutes.

A spell it is without a doubt. People you thought were normal, develop a mesmerized look when the subject of hurling comes up. You hear them talking with ferocity about a bad refereeing decision back in ’72. Or telling that they had to miss the brother’s wedding because it clashed with training the under 10s. And if you make the mistake of thinking the City clubs are dedicated, they say, ‘this is nothing, in the South of the county the mothers stop feeding them if they’re not hurling by the age of three.’

Clarence left Ireland a year after his failed parliament but the people of Kilkenny are left with the responsibility of forever breaking his law against ‘horling’. (Many of them bear deriviatives of Hiberno-Norman names, attesting also to the breaking of the inter-marriage law.)

As for the law against speaking English, the contravention of that may be entrusted to the people of Galway. It will be a consolation for them after the SHF replay on the 30th of September.

And I suppose we Carlow men could always grow our beards.

I have to admit, it’s hard to remain uncontaminated when you live here. The geasa gets into your head. Up the Cats!