Every year, among the Irish mountains, the sporting practice of an ancient semi-god comes back to life

In order to explain Poc Fada it is necessary to go back in time, in history, in literature. It is necessary to go back to the ancient Irish epic, to Gaelic mythology, to the protagonist of the so-called Ulster Cycle: Cù Chulainn, the demigod born Sétanta.

An episode related to this young and invincible warrior, famous for his unstoppable frenzy on the battlefield, is the inspiration for the competition that takes place every year in the mist of the Cooley Mountains. Participants, members of local communities, re-enact Sétanta’s exploits in the game of hurling. To do so, they hit a ‘sliotar’ (ball) for five kilometers around Clermont Carn, one of the highest peaks in this remote Irish area.

The goal is to cover the distance with as few shots as possible. The ‘sliotar’, flying between rivulets of water and notes of bagpipes, tries to retrace the same trajectories created by Sétanta in an undefined past: amazing aerial lines described in the book ‘Táin Bó Cúailnge’.

According to the ancient Gaelic text, Sétanta traveled this natural route to reach a dinner after being invited by King Conchobar. During the lonely journey, the hero able to defend Ulster alone at just 17 years old decided to launch and take back the ‘sliotar’ in every possible way. In 1960, this episode led Father Pól Mac Sheáin to hypothesize the modern Poc Fada, giving way to a tradition still respected today.

If the Hurling, whose origin is also traced back to Sétanta, in contemporary Ireland has become a top-level sport, the Poc Fada continues to be a form of historical commemoration, an evanescent practice, which appears and disappears in the course of a dreamy summer day, year after year.

Hurling and Poc Fada, for this common genesis and for the enormous cultural influence, have recently been identified by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage. Thanks to this investiture, Poc Fada will most likely continue to be played among the faded and evocative bumps of the Cooley Mountains, creating legends to be passed down from generation to generation, from player to player.

IG @freddie_macgregor

Text by Gianmarco Pacione