Map of Ireland

Sport in Ireland

The Irish Sports Council regulates all sporting bodies in Ireland

Sport on the island of Ireland is popular and widespread. Levels of participation and spectating are high, but as in other western regions participation has been dropping due to the increasing popularity of other activities such as watching television and playing computer games. Throughout the country a wide variety of sports are played, the most popular being Gaelic football, hurling, rugby, soccer and field hockey. By attendance figures Gaelic football is the by far the most popular sport in Ireland.

In Ireland many sports, such as rugby, Gaelic football and hurling, are organised in an all-island basis, with a single team representing Ireland in international competitions. Others sports, such as soccer, have separate organising bodies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. At the Olympics, a person from Northern Ireland can choose to represent either the 'Ireland' or 'Great Britain' team.

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1 Traditional Irish Sports

1.1 Gaelic football
1.2 Hurling
1.3 Gaelic handball
1.4 Rugby
1.5 Greyhound racing
1.6 Equestrianism

2 Other sports

2.1 Athletics
2.2 Basketball
2.3 Combat sports
2.4 Cycling
2.5 Field hockey
2.6 Golf
2.7 Soccer
2.8 Snooker and pool
2.9 Triathlon
2.10 Racket sports
2.11 Water sports

3 Competitions and events

3.1 National
3.2 International

4 Stadia
5 Media coverage
6 References
7 See also
8 External links

Traditional sports

Gaelic football

The GAA logo; GAA disciplines dominate the national sporting scene.

Though it has existed for centuries in Ireland, Gaelic football was formally arranged into an organised playing code by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in the late nineteenth century. Gaelic football is the most popular sport in Ireland, attendance at matches in the senior championship in the summer can reach 70,000 or more. The game is played at underage, minor and senior levels. Unlike in soccer, where the biggest crowd drawers are club matches, Gaelic football's biggest drawers are always county matchs. All players are amateur (they are not paid to participate) but they often train just as often and hard as professionals in other sports. There is great pride associated with playing for a county team in Ireland. The main national competitions are the Senior All-Ireland Football Championships and the Senior All-Ireland Football League. There are many rivalries within the game in Ireland - an example is that between Meath and Westmeath.


Hurling is a sport native to Ireland. The game is similar to hockey, but is played on a large pitch and is considerably faster. Hurling is especially popular among the young, and most primary and secondary schools have hurling teams. On a senior level, teams are organised by parish, and players of different parishes form the county team. All counties aim is to win the All-Ireland Hurling Final, held in September of each year. The most recent winner of the final was Cork. Hurling is managed by the GAA.

Gaelic handball

Handball, once very popular in Ireland, has lost much of its popularity over the years to other sports such as Gaelic football and soccer. Ireland still produces top class handballers, but, lacking any international competitive level (except against the United States), the sport has not gained much media coverage in recent years. The sport is governed by the GAA.


Rugby is common throughout Ireland, but is especially popular in Munster (County Limerick is known as the home of Irish rugby), Ulster and south County Dublin. Rugby is played on club, province and national levels. The Ireland national team is composed of players from both Northern Ireland and the Republic and the Irish Rugby Football Union governs the sport throughout the island. School rugby is generally only played at secondary level. Notable rugby schools include Clongowes Wood College, Belvedere College, Blackrock College and PBC. Recent success at international level has increased interest in rugby as a spectator sport in Ireland.

Greyhound racing

Greyhound racing is very popular in Ireland.

Greyhound racing began in Ireland in 1927; there were greyhound races in Celtic Park in Belfast on 18 April of that year and the Shelbourne Park greyhound stadium opened in Dublin four weeks later. Hare coursing was already a well established sport in the country and greyhound were bred for racing in Ireland from the very start. The great Mick the Miller, winner of the English Derby in 1929 and 1930, was an Irish greyhound and Ireland continues to export greyhounds.

There are now twenty licensed greyhound stadiums in Ireland. There are seventeen in the Republic where the licensing authority is Bord na gCon, the Irish Greyhound Board which is a semi-state body and was established by the Irish government in 1958. The three stadiums in Northern Ireland are licensed by the Irish Coursing Club, which also organises hare coursing throughout the Island.

Once seen as a sport in decline, the popularity of greyhound racing has surged since 1995 and several million euro are now bet 'at the dogs' annually. Bord na gCon has invested substantial amounts of money in developing and marketing the sport, prize money has increased and greyhound stadiums have been refurbished, helping the sport sell itself as a social event. It is now common for families and groups of friends or collegues to go for 'a night at the dogs' instead of to the cinema, pub or a nightclub. Dogs are generally owned by syndicates. Prize money ranges from a few hundred euro to several thousand for top dogs. The annual Paddy Power Irish Greyhound Derby run each year in August at Shelbourne Park is one of the richest greyhound races in the world.


The various equestrian sports have a sizeable following in Ireland. Thanks to generous tax treatment, many of the worlds best race horses retire to Ireland to stud. The local industry produces many top race horses every year. Irelands top track is Fairyhouse. Horse jumping also has quite a good following in Ireland, however the exposure of Cian O'Connor as a drug-cheat at the 2004 Summer Olympics has deeply damaged the sport.

Other sports


Basketball is growing in popularity in Ireland, but still is small in comparision to the game in the USA

Athletics in Ireland is governed by Athletics Ireland ( The various track and field events tend to be supported by local athletics clubs rather than schools. Athletics has been one of Ireland's best sports at the Olympics, with several Irish Athletes preforming exceptionally well at the games over the years, most notably Eamonn Coghlan, Ron Delany and Sonia O'Sullivan. Despite these past successes, the sport suffers from low media attention and dropping interest due to the sheer popularity of other sports and past underinvestment.


Basketball is an emerging sport in Ireland. Basketball Ireland ( is the governing body and organises the main competitions such as the SuperLeague. The main basketball arena in Ireland is the ESB Basketball Arena in Dublin. The sport receives small amounts of media attention, with a few games broadcast on television annually - usually when there is no gaelic football or soccer on. Basketball is mainly driven by school, college and club support.

Combat sports

Combat sports have had mixed fortunes in recent years. Boxing, once one of the most popular sports in the country now gets little media coverage and struggles to attract new participants. Taekwondo and Karate on the other hand have had hugh success in recent years, with several new clubs being founded throughout the country. The All-Ireland Taekwondo Association ( has worked in recent years to promote the sport in the country and to organise more competitions. Boxing had a brief resurgence in interest in 2004, when Cork boxer Andy Lee looked like winning a medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics; however he eventually lost and interest in the sport receded.


Cycling retains a strong following in Ireland. There are several regional clubs throughout the country and several competitions are organised regularly such as the Rás (Rás is the Irish for race). The main governing body is Cycling Ireland ( which is responsible for cycling throughout the island. Ireland's most famous cyclists are Stephen Roche, who won both the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia in 1987; and Sean Kelly, who won the Vuelta a España in 1988, the sprinter's green jersey in the Tour de France four times, and numerous single-day classics.

Field hockey

Field Hockey is quite popular as a participative sport in Ireland. It is played throughout the country, particularly in secondary schools. There are many hockey clubs throughout the country. The main body in Ireland is the Irish Hockey Association (


Strandhill Golf Course in County Sligo, just one of the many coastal golf courses throughout Ireland

Golf is very popular in Ireland, with several hundred clubs throughout the country. Golf tourism is growing rapidly. Golf is regularly televised in Ireland, with both domestic and international events broadcast. Irelands most famous golf club is the Club ( in County Kildare, which will be the venue for the 2006 Ryder Cup. Ireland has produced several top golfers in recent years, with Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke all achieving significant success internationally.


Association football, or soccer, is one of the most popular sports in Ireland. Despite low match attendance at domestic league games, many people have an passionate interest in the FA Premier League. Soccer is played at all levels, with kids playing it on the street, teenagers playing in local clubs, and even middle aged men playing it with co-workers on a regular basis. The national body in the Republic is the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) while the national body in Northern Ireland is the Irish Football Association (IFA). The domestic leagues are the Football League of Ireland (in the Republic) and the Irish Football League (Northern Ireland). Some of the major teams in Ireland include Shelbourne FC and the Bohemians in the Republic and Linfield FC in the North. Due to the small size of the domestic game, most of Ireland's top footballers, such as Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and Roy Keane, play in the leagues of larger European countries, particularly in England and Scotland. This is one of the reasons why Irish people tend to support foreign clubs such as Manchester United, Glasgow Celtic and Chelsea. On the international stage, the Republic of Ireland - despite never winning a major tournament - have had many successful games in recent years - notably drawing with Brazil and Portugal. However Northern Ireland's international team has fared less well, with many losses in recent years.

In Ireland soccer enjoys regular television coverage and high participation levels.

Snooker and pool

Snooker and Pool hold some interest in Ireland, with significant media coverage of most major international tournaments. Despite being home to one of the world's most successful snooker players (Ken Doherty), both snooker and pool are in decline in Ireland as major sports. They retain popularity in pubs, but many of the country's snooker/pool halls have now closed.


The Triathlon, and indeed the Duathlon, Pentathlon, and Decathlon are rapidly gaining interest in Ireland. The national body for the triathlon is Triathlon Ireland ( which organises competitions between various clubs throughout the country. Many participants are members of clubs that specialise in swimming and cycling aswell as Triathlon clubs. Althought the Triathlon remains the most popular multi event sport in Ireland, the other sports such as the pentatlon are gaining popularity. The Modern Pentathlon Association of Ireland ( was set up in 2004.

Racket sports

Tennis, badminton and squash are quite popular in Ireland. Tennis has a growing following, with Tennis Ireland, the governing body running several competitions between the some 200 clubs throughout Ireland. Badminton in Ireland is run by the BUI. Squash, which exploded in the 1970's and 1980's has been in decline for several years, but despite this there remain several clubs throughout the country.

Water sports

Water sports practised in Ireland include canoeing, swimming, surfing, diving, water polo, sailing, Kayaking, and scuba diving. Whilst many people participate in these, few do so comptetively. Ireland has had only one Olympic medalist in swimming and her (Michelle Smith) medals have since been tarnished by drug allegations. The National Aquatic Centre was opened in Ireland in 2003 and held the European SC Championships in December 2003 - the first time the country hosted such a competition. At the competition, Ireland won its first medal at the European SC Championships ever, a silver in the 200m breaststroke by Andrew Bree. Swim Ireland is the national governing body of swimming in Ireland.

Competitions and events


The various GAA discipline finals are easily the largest sporting events regularly held in Ireland, in both terms of attendance and media coverage. The biggest national sporting event in Ireland is the final of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, held annually in Croke Park, usually in September. It usually attracts somewhere 60,000 and 70,000. Many of the matchs in the championship attract crowds of 50,000+, obviously depending on who is playing.

Ireland has produced ten Olympic medalists.

Aside from the GAA, the biggest multi-sport event held in Ireland regurlarly is the Community Games. The games are organised every year from a local level, where hundreds of thousneds of young people compete indifferent disciplines such as athletics, swimming, cycling etc., in the first half of the year. Winners progress to county level, and then to the Community Games finals. The finals are held over two weekends in the summer where over 3,000 children sleep over at a campus facility such as Mosney (which was used until 2004.)


On an international level, Ireland has had mixed fortunes. Ireland has been particularly successful in recent years in rugby, horse racing, showjumping, snooker, and golf. However, several scandals have arisen in recent years which have tarnished Ireland's international participation. In 2002, Roy Keane, one of Ireland's top international footballers, quit the national squad during the run-up to the World Cup after a bitter and public falling-out with coach Mick McCarthy. Ireland's main swimming body, Swim Ireland, has been involved in damaging child sex abuse claims and a legal battle with the new CEO, Sarah Keane. There was widespread criticism of the lack of infrastructure and poor resources available to top athletes at the time of the Olympics.

Ireland has done well in showjumping in recent years

Ten Irish people have won Olympic medals, most recently Cian O'Connor who won a gold for showjumping. At the 2004 Summer Olympics, Ireland had one of its smallest contingents in its history at the games, with only 106 individuals participating. This was due to the strict policy followed by the Olympic Council of Ireland of only allowing A time athletes and swimmers to attend the games. This stopped several sportspeople from competing.

One of the biggest international events in Ireland is international soccer. The Republic's national team has punched above its weight in recent years, qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, and performing well against such teams as Brazil and Portugal. In rugby union, Ireland's national team has been ranked in the top five teams regularly over the last few years, and has produced major stars such as Keith Wood and Brian O'Driscoll. In golf, Ireland is home to several top golfers such as Padraig Harrington.

In 2003, Ireland hosted the Special Olympics, which was the biggest sporting event ever held in the country. In 2006, Ireland will host the Ryder Cup Matches. In December 2003, Ireland hosted the European SC Championships 2003.


Ireland boosts the fourth largest stadium in Europe, Croke Park in Dublin can seat in excess of 70,000 people. Until recently it was only used for GAA games. Soccer and Rugby are played at Lansdowne Road which can accommodate approximately 35,000 people. There are several facilities throughout the country capable of accommodating between 10,000 and 25,000 people. Ireland currently has three Olympic sized swimming pools - two of which are open to the public, the largest; located at Sports Campus Ireland, is the National Aquatic Centre. Ireland has several large horse and greyhound tracks such as Fairyhouse.

Media coverage

  • Newspapers: All major newspapers dedicate significant amounts of space to sports coverage. These pages are usually dominated by soccer, Gaelic games and equestrian events. The most popular newspapers in Ireland for sports coverage are the Star, Irish Independent and The Sunday World.
  • Television: Gaelic games and soccer receive most of the sports coverage on domestic channels. RTE Two and TG4 currently hold the right to broadcast Gaelic games in Ireland. TV3 and RTE Two have joint rights to the various European soccer tournaments and foreign leagues such as the FA Cup. Setanta TV launched in early 2005 with the aim of offering a dedicated service to Irish sport. Satillite and Cable subscribers have access to many other foriegn channels such as Sky Sports, Eurosport and Attheraces.
  • Magazines: There are relatively few Irish based magazines apart from GAA ones such as the Hogan Stand. However many foreign sports magazines are widely available.


  • Croke Park: Cathedral of Sport by Micheal O'Muircheartaigh, first printed September 2004 - ISBN 1903464544
  • The Ras: Ireland's Unique Bike Race 1953-2003 by Tom Daly, first printed October 2003 - ISBN 1903464374
  • Golfing in Ireland: The Most Complete Guide for Adventurous Golfers by Rob Armstrong, first printed May 2000 - ISBN 1565547268
  • The Fighting Irish by Roger Anderson, first printed October 2004 - ISBN 1840187557
  • Michael Fortune (2002), Greyhound racing in Brian Lalor (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Ireland. Dublin: Gill and Macmillian. ISBN 0-7171-3000-2

See also

  • Culture of Ireland
  • Ireland at the 2004 Summer Olympics

External links

  • Irish Sports Council (
  • Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism (
  • Olympic Council of Ireland (
  • Sports Insititute of Northern Ireland (
  • Sports Council Northern Ireland (
  • Sports Campus Ireland (
  • Irish Sports News (
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Map of Ireland