Hurling and poetry: Ó Bhéal’s word-clash of the ash

By John Tynan

IF EVER there was a field sport so poetic that words can only but strive to do it justice, it is hurling and its proponents, the Cúchulains of Croker, modern representation of our mythical heroes.

So, it should come as no surprise that this year’s Winter Warmer poetry festival in Cork city will feature an element dedicated to our national treasure.

Local poets will read hurling-related poetry to a backdrop of hurling footage from down through the years, featuring legends from Cork and beyond.

Paul Casey hosts Ó Bhéal’s Winter Warmer poetry event this weekend.

Paul Casey, director of Cork poetry group Ó Bhéal and organiser of the Winter Warmer event, decided on the hurling element, as he felt poetry and the world’s fastest field sport were ideal representations of the Rebel County for foreign visitors to the festival.

“The Winter Warmer will bring a lot of European visitors this year, thanks to partnerships with festivals in Italy, Spain, France and Portugal,” said Casey.

“More than 20 delegates from these festivals will be attending. We wanted to give them a unique taste of Cork culture.

“Also, 2018 is the European Year of Cultural Heritage, which we have been celebrating. As both poetry and hurling are interwoven throughout Cork’s local history and culture, I thought it would offer the right flavour for our guests’ first experience of Cork.

He said hurling provided frequent inspiration for Cork poets.

“A lot of our local poets would be great hurling fans, a few are even fanatics. We’d often hear of a sliotar or a hurley in a poem on the open-mic at our weekly Ó Bhéal gathering,” says Casey.

He adds that, while hurling has engendered fine words of praise and description down through the years, it still has a resonance for contemporary wordsmiths.

“The game itself, like poetry, is alive with progress, improvements, evolution. As an artform in itself, the sport of hurling is perfectly suited to poetry.”

He also feels the dearth of All-Ireland success on Leeside has not resulted in a lack of interest for local poets.

“Lack of glory will certainly reduce the amount of praise poems we associate with hearing during the golden years, but I don’t think the love for, nor belief in, the game diminishes, no matter the losses.

“If anything, that kind of prolonged frustration lends itself well to the making of new poems,” says Casey.

Importantly, the hurling poetry performed at the festival will be signed for the deaf.

“I gave the poems to Irish Sign Language interpreter Ray Greene to translate into sign language. We’re reaching out to the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities to join us at this event,” said Casey.

The poets performing include Bernadette Gallagher, Billy Ramsell, Colm Scully, Bernadette McIntyre, Daw Harding, Eugene O’Connell, and John Fitzgerald.

- The Winter Warmer Festival runs from today to Sunday, November 25, with the hurling-related element on the last day, from 3.30pm to 5.30pm, at Kino, Washington St, Cork

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