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Cornish hurling – strange games in Cornwall

Nestled into the northern coastline of Cornwall, down near the very end of Britain, is the sleepy little fishing port of St. Ives, famous throughout the country as a popular tourist destination and for its fishing industry.

Yet, on one day of the year the whole town gets swept up in the exitement of an ancient game that has its origins in Celtic times: that game is hurling. In St. Ives, hurling is played on the Monday after the celebration of the Feast of St. Ives, which is the nearest Sunday to 3rd February.

At 10.30 the mayor of St. Ives stands at the harbour and throws a silver ball which is the size of an orange, made from apple-wood and coated with silver, into the crowd of people waiting below on the beach. The aim of the game is to keep the ball and get it back through the town to the Guildhall. In something similar to a rugby match with no teams, the players in the game then try, by any means possible, to get the ball from each other so they can win the game and claim the prize. The winner of the game is the person who is in possession of the ball at the Guildhall at 12.00. The prize, usually a commemorative silver coin is, by tradition, always given to the youngest member of the family of the person who wins the game. For those who are not playing the game the mayor throws silver pennies into the crowd from Guildhall building. In another Cornish town, St. Columb Major, on Shrove Tuesday (5th February this year) a more violent version of Cornish Hurling is played between two teams, „The Townsmen“ and „The Countrymen“. The game has no rules and no referees and most of the shop-owners protect their shop-windows from accidental damage, which sometimes occurs.

At 16.30 a ball, made in the same way as the St. Ives ball, is thrown into the huge crowd of people gathered in the market square. The two teams then battle to get control of the ball and take it to the opponents’s goal.

What makes this game more physical is that the goals are two miles (3.2 km) apart. The „Town“ goal is a granite Celtic cross and the „Country“ goal is a stone water trough. Another way of winning the match is by taking the ball past the parish boundary; this is a 3-mile (4,8 km) journey.

Touching the ball is said to bring good health and fertility. This explains why the game can get very violent at times as hundreds of people all complete to get it.

The game ends when the ball reaches one of the goals or is taken out of the parish. All the competitors return to the start point and at 20.00 the winner is declared. After this the teams go to the local pub where the ball is dunked into gallon (4,5 litre) jugs of beer, which is then shared amongst the players.

If you want to know more about Cornish Hurling you can find further information at the website visitcornwall.com.

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