It's 25 years since I took a week off work to commute to Mountrath in the the Irish Midlands for a chain-saw [care maintenance safety] course. I was the greenest chap there having acquired, and been terrified to use, my first Husky about a year previously. It was, of course, all blokes. The most experienced lads were a father and son team who had been twenty years a-felling ash Fraxinus excelsior for to make hurleys. They weren't exactly sulky about being there, but they needed the Course Cert so that they could enter land owned by Coillte, the state forestry quango, for to fell more ash. One of them pushed back against the course requirement to wear gloves - a prophylactic against vibration white-finger VWF - they maintained that gloves prevented them detecting that the saw was binding in the cut. My first [idiotic, PPE-free] chain-saw job was abruptly finished when the blade was seized by a settling beech Fagus sylvaticus trunk.ash die-back destroying the trees from within. Hurling is a corner-stone of local identity politics. It is a Big Thing when, like last Sunday, Kilkenny met Limerick in the all-Ireland ash-clashing final. But if, as seems likely, die-back kills 90% of ash trees over then next decade, then something is going to have to replace them. The making of hurleys contributes €5 million to the economy each year - that's about 2,000 cu.m of wood to make a third of a million sticks. 75% of the raw material is imported.
Oddly, it seems that in 132 pages [pdf] the GAA doesn't regulate the specs for hurleys except insofar as:
- 4.5 The bas of a hurley at its widest point shall not be more than 13cm.
- In Underage Hurling, up to and including Under 12 age grades, the use of metal bands on hurleys is prohibited unless the metal bands are taped over. (In June an injury sustained from an untaped hurley resulted in a €40K pay-out).