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Hurling and the Hollywood link goes way back in time

People and Places
Hurling and the Hollywood link

People and placesMichael Commins
Michael Commins

AS hurling mania sweeps over Waterford and Kilkenny and around the country in the countdown to Sunday week’s All-Ireland Final, starring roles in Hollywood for John Mullane, Tony Browne, Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin are surely the last thing on their minds. But strange as it may seem, Hollywood has long harboured a fascination with the most Irish of all games.
It could be said that hurling made its Hollywood debut in a short film made for Warner Brothers in the 1930s. Sports Thrills was narrated by the seminal CBS broadcaster Ted Husing who is still regarded as the leading trend-setter in the style long associated with American sports presentation. Subsequently, in 1936, MGM commissioned a short series on hurling which was directed by David Miller.
Cavan man, Dr Sean Crossan, from the Huston School of Film and Digital Media, believes that the violence with which the game was depicted in the early years lent itself in a special way to the Hollywood psyche. “The film reel from 1936 depicts the game of hurling as bordering on savage. It was filmed at Bakersfield University pitch and features a Cork 11 v a New York 11. It has all the Hollywood stereo-type images of the Irish back then, short of drinking on the field. Yet, some of the actors clearly had some of the basics of the game. The final scene has all the players lying unconscious on the ground after hammering each other and then being stretchered off the field.
“For cinema audiences, this also had a comedy appeal. However, the GAA back home saw very little humour in it and Padraig Ó Caoimh, who was then secretary general, led a delegation to the Irish Film Censor in an effort to get it banned or heavily cut. The distributor voluntarily agreed to cut out some of the more offending parts of the film.”
One of the most famous references to the game of hurling in a Hollywood classic is contained in The Quiet Man, one of John Ford’s masterpieces, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and filmed in Cong in 1951. While there is no actual scene featuring the game, and certainly no clip of John Wayne hitting over a point from long range, there is a boisterous part of the movie with the famous line: “Sure don’t you know the Mayo hurlers haven’t been beaten west of the Shannon in the last 20 years.” Enough to drive all Galway hurling fans to distraction almost 60 years down the line!
The Hollywood fascination with blood and violence manifested itself again in 1956 in another John Ford-directed film, ‘The Rising of the Moon’. Sean Crossan explains: “It was shot in Kilkee, Co Clare and there’s a famous sequence which showed the local hurling team returning victorious but heavily bandaged and some on stretchers.
“At the time it was being filmed, word got out to the Irish Press and Irish Independent about images of players being stretchered from the field. Again, Ó Caoimh saw red and issued a statement expressing deep concern about the portrayal of the national game by Hollywood film-makers.
“A delegation from Clare GAA expressed shock that hurling was being compared to a clearing station on a battle field. The famous newspaper columnist Flann O’Brien became involved in the argument and saw some humour in the row.”
The game of hurling was the subject of a short film commissioned by Paramount Studios in 1955 and directed by Justin Herman. It received an Oscar nomination at the time. “This was a fascinating depiction of hurling and it was facilitated by the GAA and Bord Fáilte and featured the legendary Jim Barry from Cork as well as most of the Cork team of the 1950s with the strange exception of Christy Ring.
“It was clearly an attempt by both the GAA and Bord Fáilte to work with Hollywood to give a more authentic depiction of the huge appeal of the game rather than the one that had previously been portrayed by the studios in America,” states Sean Crosson.
An astonishing take on the game of hurling can be found in the film ‘Rooney’, which is celebrating its golden jubilee this year. Made in 1958 by Rank Studios in London, it is highly influenced by the Hollywood style. And it has an extraordinary link to the counties of Waterford and Kilkenny who contest this year’s massive showdown All-Ireland Final on September 7.
“Rooney was a Dublin dustman with ambitions to play in an All-Ireland Final. The directors of the film actually got the GAA to agree to the actor John Gregson (Rooney) to run out onto Croke Park with the teams during the 1957 All-Ireland Final between Kilkenny and Waterford. He can clearly be seen sporting a Kilkenny jersey and taking part in the pre-match parade close to Paddy Buggy and other members of the team. They were probably all wondering who he was. It is probable that Gregson never saw a hurl in his life but he is being portrayed as being a DJ Carey or Henry Shefflin in the film,” comments Sean.
One of the earliest pieces of footage of hurling available on film is in ‘Knocknagow’, based on the book by Charles Kickham, featuring Matt the Thrasher and set in Tipperary. It was made by the Film Company of Ireland in the 1920s.
The Fergus Tighe production of ‘The Clash of the Ash’ in 1987 has a special place in sporting history while hurling was also to the fore in the recent screening of ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’.
 In advance of the All-Ireland Hurling Final between Waterford and Kilkenny, and in conjunction with Heritage Week, the GAA Museum at Croke Park will host a talk on ‘Hurling and Hollywood’ on Thursday, August 28 at 7pm. Dr Sean Crosson will present an informative talk on how Hollywood studios have used hurling in films in American cinema.
Dr Paul Rouse (UCD) will chair the evening. More details can be had from Joanne Clarke, manager, The GAA Museum Croke Park Stadium, at 01 8192323.