There are several ways to describe the Irish sport of hurling. Some say it's like a combination of lacrosse and field hockey. Others tout its pace, calling it the fastest game on turf. But Tommy Frawley, a member of the Twin Cities Robert Emmets Hurling Club, perhaps best captures the game when he calls it a "rough sport played by gentlemen and gentlewomen."
A more clinical explanation would be: Hurling consists of two teams of 15 players each on a huge field. They use flat sticks, called hurlies, with a wide head at the end, and score points by getting a baseball-sized leather ball either into a soccer-type goal or between two uprights that rise above the goal.
Undeniably, the face of hurling in Minnesota is the Robert Emmets Hurling Club, a mixed group of Irish transplants, who grew up with hurling, and Americans who have learned the sport. The club plays on artificial turf at the McMurray Field facility near Como Park twice a week—its frenetic scrums wedged between the structured softball and youth soccer games favored by American families.
There, on the impossibly emerald, perpetually manicured artificial grass, the club carries out its mission to keep Irish expats and descendants in the Twin Cities connected to the game and to one another.
"It's trying to have a focal point in the Twin Cities where new people coming in from Ireland can find a ready-made organization," says Frawley, who hails from Limerick in southwest Ireland.
The hurlers also pride themselves on getting Americans to try the ancient sport. In a region where asking for hurling equipment at a sporting-goods store will get you quizzical looks and offers of curling brooms, the group has gained traction since its 2005 founding. The club now boasts roughly 50 members, composed mostly of American men and women drawn from a wide swath of the population. They include players too young to drive, middle-aged competitors, and even whole families like Jim and Sarah McFarland and their kids. While the elder McFarlands sweat it out on the field, eight-year-old Jaeden and six-year-old Connor entertain themselves by playing catch with a sliotar (the hurling ball) on the sidelines.
This summer, the hurling club is looking to grow even more. Youth camps are planned for August, a four-team league begins weekly games this month, and a Fourth of July potluck barbecue with two matches is scheduled. Always on the prowl for more participants, the club maintains an open-enrollment policy even after the league games have begun. Those interested in trying their hand at the sport can get in touch with the club through its website, www.twincities.northamerican.gaa.ie.