Bandy/Hurling – Stick and Ball, Ice And All
By Brian G. O’Sullivan
Bandy, or Hockey on ice, may be largely confined to Scandinavia today. There was a time
however when the game thrived in Britain and Ireland. Historians place Bandy as the pre-
runner to Hockey or Ice Hockey. The fact it was played in ancient times could yet unravel
that Bandy may well have originated as Hurling on ice!
There are some amazing similarities between Hurling and Bandy. Both are Celtic cousins
who are family members of Shinty in Scotland. Which proves every ancient tribe had a stick
and ball game. The Roman Empire sadly crushed many of these. The fact they failed to land
in Ireland saved Hurling. However some people have a fantasy that Hurling would have been
the chosen game of the Romans. Had they found it their empire would never have fallen.
Bandy or Bando, as it was called, was first recorded as an ancient Welsh sport played in the
Vale of Glamorgan where the sandy beaches provided plenty room to play. Interestingly,
Hurling was often played on the beaches of Ireland, particularly in the south east of the
country. Hurling needed the tide to be out for a game to be played. Bandy needed ice, which
meant the participants had to wait for a harsh winter to get a game!
Hurling and Gaelic football were played as winter sports in the generations leading up to their
formalisation in 1884. There was a simple reason behind this. The Irish population was
largely rural as urbanisation was slowly setting into the Irish landscape. Being rural every
able bodied man was tied up in agriculture from March to October leaving the winter for
The Names Bond
There were varying rules and formations styling themselves as Hurling in the mid-1800s. The
standard hurling we know today was much different in certain areas. William Melville, the
man who established, the secret service, MI5 in London – and the inspiration for the James
Bond film series – was a noted hurler in his youth.
Nothing strange about that, bar the fact that hurling is alien to his native Sneem in south west
Ireland. Back in Melvilles youth a stick and ball game styled hurling was played using
narrow sticks cut from furze brushes. It was described in the seventeenth century as a form of
Bandy or ‘back and forth. When the GAA was formed in 1884 such sports disappeared from
the Irish landscape.
Like Hurling, Bandy, continued to be played in different forms for centuries. English outfit
Bury Fen’s claimed to be unbeaten for one hundred years. An astonishing fact, considering
the game was only played when the flooded water of the Fens froze. Which never went more
than twenty years according to legend.
William Shakespeare must have been an avid Bandy man. In his masterpiece Romeo and
Juliet he scripted a scene where Romeo stated to Tybalt and Mercutio ‘The Prince expressly
hath forbidden bandying in the Verona streets’.
Windsor Castle staged a Bandy exhibition match in 1853 when Prince Albert played in goal
as Queen Victoria cheered him on from the terraces. Ninety-nine years later Bandy featured
as an exhibition during the Winter Olympics at Oslo. Sweden defeated Finland and Norway
in a three way series on goal difference. Sadly it never returned.
The game went international in 1891 when James Tebbutt took the game east to the
Netherlands and in time to greater Scandinavia Today there are over 600 Bandy clubs in
Sweden alone, and many more stretching from the Netherlands to Canada and the USA.
Hurling and Gaelic Football are linked together under the same governing body, the Gaelic
Athletic Association. Both games are played on a pitch measuring one-hundred-forty metres
long by ninety metres wide. Each team must consist of fifteen players while a game is played
over thirty-five minutes halfs. Goals and points may be scored through an H shaped goal.
Bandy and Football have similar ties with each other. The playing area is exactly the same
–the size of a football field – with one notable exception it has to be frozen solid for a Bandy
game to commence. The game is played over two periods of forty-five minutes, both sides
line out with eleven players. Like Football, the team with the most goals scored wins.
Similar to Gaelic clubs today, Bandy and Football were blood relations. Many clubs had a
Football team and a Bandy team under the same banner. Nottingham Forest FC (England)
and Stromsgodest IF (Norway) were two notable powerhouses in both Football and Bandy.
Norwegian first division side Mjoindalen IF still strive for duel honours in both codes.
The term bandy legs originated through the connection between Football and Bandy. Thomas
Tobin’s legs were far from bandy. Legend has it that Tobin attained legendary status in the
game of Caid, a precursor to Gaelic Football in the 1870s. Football boots were almost non-
existed so the local priest bought him a pair, never to see Tobin or the boots in action.
He approached the young man’s father one day stating where was Thomas and the boots?
The team was had fallen asunder without him. The wily father replied ‘that man is too
valuable to be playing, but the boots were ideal in the garden!’
Experience the thrill of Hurling and Gaelic Football and immerse yourself in an ancient
sporting culture through Experience Gaelic Games.