A distinctive Irish sport is hurling or camogie (the female version). The sport, which was invented about 4,000 years ago, has similarities to hockey and lacrosse. A leather ball, about the size of a tennis ball, is kicked or hit with a curved stick called a hurley. Another traditional sport is Gaelic football. The rules are almost the same as those of hurling, but no stick is used. A round ball is kicked, punched or carried across the field. Irish children enjoy hurling and Gaelic football and play these games for fun or in community competitions. The annual finals for both sports take place at Croke Park in Dublin and attract up to 70,000 fans.

Road bowling is another traditional Irish game. The object of the game is to bowl a ball along a two- or three-mile-long course. The winner is the one who completes the course in the fewest number of throws. Bowlers use metal balls called "bullets," and some can roll the ball more than 200 metres at a time.

Ireland is a centre for horse breeding and equestrian sports are popular throughout the country. Show jumping is a favourite spectator sport, and horse racing and steeplechasing attract large crowds. The most famous races are the Irish Derby, held each June in Kildare, and the Irish Grand National, held during Easter week near Dublin. Fishing and golfing are also popular pastimes. The lakes and rivers of Ireland are excellent for salmon and trout fishing and there are more than 250 golf courses. Along the coastline, many people enjoy sailing and windsurfing.

Irish teams compete in international soccer events, and Ireland has several amateur rugby teams. Cricket is popular in some areas. In international events, the Irish excel in boxing, cycling, rowing, running and swimming. At the 1996 Olympic games, Michelle Smith won three gold medals and one bronze medal for swimming. In the 1996 Paralympic games, Bridie Lynch won both gold and bronze medals in track and field events and the Irish team won 10 medals overall. In the 2000 Olympic games, Sonia O'Sullivan won a silver medal in the 5,000-metre run.

The Irish love to meet their friends in pubs, where they chat, sing songs and tell stories. There are more than 11,000 pubs in Ireland. Although the legal drinking age is 18, anyone over the age of 14 may enter a pub.

   Did you know?
The Irish invented steeplechasing-a cross-country event in which horseback riders race across country towards a distant landmark like a steeple, jumping over hedges, ditches, banks and walls on the way. The first race, held in 1752 in Cork County, started at Buttevant and ended at Doneraile Church steeple.