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Cornish hurling


Hurling or Hurlin' (Cornish: Hurlian), is an outdoor team sport of Celtic origin. It is played with a small silver ball. It is not to be confused with the Irish game of the same name which allows the use of sticks.

Once played widely in the Duchy of Cornwall, the game has similarities to other traditional football or inter parish 'mob' games, but certain attributes make this version unique to Cornwall. It is considered by many to be Cornwall's national sport along with Cornish wrestling.

Cornish Hurling is noteworthy for providing the earliest reference to a team ball game with goals, and passing of the ball from player to player ("dealing").


The game as played at St. Ives

  A silver hurling ball which is the size of an orange, made from apple-wood and coated with silver, flies through the village streets of St. Ives on Feast Monday in February (the feast is on the Sunday nearest to February 3). At one time the game was played by the men of the village. These days it is played by the children.

The game at St. Columb Major

At St. Columb Major on Shrove Tuesday a much rougher and traditional version of the game is played. The game involves a physical battle on the streets, between two teams of "Townsmen" and "Countrymen", with the shops in the town barricading their windows and doors to protect from accidental damage, which sometimes occurs. The game starts with a large scrum at 4:30 p.m. The ball is thrown to the crowd at the market square and the objective of the game is to control its possession in the town with deliberate passing and tackling. Game play in the town normally lasts no longer than one hour after which the ball may be carried towards respective goals that are set about two miles apart. Very often if a route to the goals is unpractical players may carry the ball into fields that surround the town, with the aim of carrying the ball across one of the Parish boundaries.

At 8:00 p.m., a winner returns to declare victory for Town or Country. This is followed by a visit to the public houses of the town where the ball will be dunked into gallon jugs filled with beer. Each gallon will be 'called up' and the 'silver beer' (as it is known), will be shared amongst the hurlers.

Hurling trivia


Most of the following pertains to the game as it is played at St. Columb Major.
  • There is no referee.
  • There are no rules.
  • There is no organizing committee.
  • The teams are not even in size. The Town team has got larger as the town has grown in size. Before the 1940s country team was stronger in numbers due to the number of people who were employed in agriculture.
  • There are 2 goals but no goal keepers.
  • The goals are made of granite. One is an old Celtic cross base (town goal) and the other is a shallow stone trough (country goal).
  • To win you must carry the ball to your own goal.
  • Another way to win is to carry the ball out of the parish, which can be up to 3 miles.
  • As soon as the ball is goaled or carried out of the parish, the game finishes.
  • The game takes place mainly in the street where cars still pass up and down. The game can also extend onto private property including gardens and fields and sometimes through houses or pubs.
  • The game can stop at any time so that members of the watching crowd can handle the ball.
  • Touching the ball is said to be lucky and can bring good health and fertility.[1]
  • Serious injuries are very rare.
  • The ball is made from sterling silver which encases a ball of apple wood.
  • There is only one maker of the ball.
  • The winner of the ball has the right to keep it, but must have a new one made in its place for the next game.
  • The price of a new ball is secret but is said to be around £300.
  • The ball weighs just over a pound.
  • The origin of the game is known to be over 500 years.
  • There are only 2 games a year.
  • The first game is always on Shrove Tuesday.
  • The second game is on the Saturday of the following week.
  • The game is always started at 4:30 pm.
  • The game can last anything up to 2 hours.
  • After the game the ball is always returned to the start point.
  • The game attracts visitors from miles away but most watchers are local to the area.
  • The parish of St. Columb Major is the world's largest pitch for any ball game.
  • In the last 100 years there have been 2 lost balls.
  • A group of stone circles on Bodmin Moor are known as The Hurlers.


Game terminology (as used primarily in St Columb) includes:

  • Deal - passing the ball
  • Call up - The start of the game where the previous winner holds up the ball before the game starts. The ball is 'called up' for a second time at 8 p.m. by the new winner.
  • Silver Beer - Beer which is served after the game. It is served in a gallon jug with the ball in the jug.

Early written evidence of hurling in Cornwall

  • C.1584, Topographer, John Norden who visited Cornwall writes:
The Cornish-men they are stronge, hardye and nymble, so are their exercises violent, two especially, Wrastling and Hurling, sharpe and seuere actiuties; and in neither of theis doth any Countrye exceede or equall them. The firste is violent, but the seconde is daungerous: The firste is acted in two sortes , by Holdster (as they called it) and by the Coller; the seconde likewise two ways , as Hurling to goales, and Hurling to the Countrye.
  • 1602, In his survey of Cornwall historian Richard Carew wrote about Cornish hurling. It is interesting to note the rule about no forward passing:- this rule still applies to the modern sport, Rugby[1]
That the hurler must deal no foreball, or throw it to any partner standing nearer the goal than himself. In dealing the ball, if any of the adverse party can catch it flying ... the property of it is thereby transferred to the catching party; and so assailants become defendants, and defendant assailants.
  • 1648 At Penryn, following a Royalist uprising to support the King; the victorious Parliamentarians passed through the town in a triumphant manner; viz:—first, three soldiers, bearing on the points of three swords (carried upright) three silver balls used in hurling. [2]
  • 1654 At Hyde Park, London. - The Protector, (Oliver Cromwell) however, was present on that May-day, and appeared keenly to enjoy the sports, as we learn from another source. In company with many of his Privy Council he watched a great hurling match by fifty Cornish gentlemen against fifty others. 'The ball they played withal was silver, and designed for that party which did win the goal.' Report in the Moderate Intell. 26 Apr.-4 May, 1654 [3]
  • 1705 (13 August) Camborne Parish burials register.
William Trevarthen buried in the church. A margin mote in the churchwardens accounts explains "Being disstroid to a hurling with Redruth men at the high dounes the 10th day of August".

Dates for future games at St Columb

  • 2008 - Tuesday February 5 and Saturday February 16
  • 2009 - Tuesday February 24 and Saturday March 7
  • 2010 - Tuesday February 16 and Saturday February 27
  • 2011 - Tuesday March 8 and Saturday March 19

Further reading

  • Hurling at St. Columb and in Cornwall by Ivan Rabey, 1972, Lodenek P, ISBN 0-902899-11-2
  • Survey of Cornwall' by Sir Richard Carew, 1602, New York, 1969, pp. 147-149.
  • Cornish Hurling: The Popular Origins of a Magical Ritual, by R. D. Greenaway, reprinted (2004) Published by Oakmagic, ISBN 1-904330-62-2


  1. ^ a b Hutton, Ronald (1996). Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford University Press, 163. Retrieved on 2007-08-18. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ ]
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Cornish_hurling". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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