Friday 28 July 2023

The clash of the ash

 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.

Those 20thC hurley-makers couldn't have imagined that Ireland would run out of this omni-present, multi-purpose tree species. But hey, sorry, here's 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).
In times past ash was was ash was ash although doubtless folk knew a secret source of local ash that was stronger, flexier, longer-lasting, more accurate . . . than was available to them feckers from Co Nextdoor. But already we're seeing bamboo and composite hurleys about the place. These surely have to be regulated lest a team takes the field with stainless-steel trade-tools. It is standard gamesmanship in hurling to attack "open him up" the feller you're marking early in the game so that they will tackle you only with circumspection later.

No comments:

Post a Comment