It’s not every day that Fairfield University hosts students from the University of Connecticut for a sports showcase. Fortunately for some, that changed last April 6 when the Irish Cultural Club organized an afternoon of Irish sports at Grauert Field with representatives from the Gaelic Athletic Associations at Harford and UConn. 

Four exhibition games were scheduled in 30-minute intervals, allowing participants to watch matches of hurling and Gaelic football between the two teams and Fairfield students.

Sophomore student Nolan Heffelfinger was at the forefront of the monumental effort to celebrate Irish culture and sports.

“Actually, I play on Hartford GAA [and] I have for two years. The guys brought the idea to me to have a showcase here at Fairfield because UConn has a pretty big presence on their campus,” said Heffelfinger. “I thought, ‘Hey,  Fairfield would enjoy having that.’” 

Indeed, the students who played against Hartford and UCnon enjoyed over four hours of Gaelic football and hurling. 

Cameron Palmer, a sophomore who played on various occasions during the afternoon, highlighted the joy and difficulties of the games. 

“It was very hard,” Palmer emphasized. “I got a bit of a scar from it because my leg gave out.”

However, for some of the participants, the showcase was not only a display but their first encounter with the sport. 

“It’s cool to play sports that I’ve never basically heard of before, you know,” said Kyle Scannell ‘26.

While it was his first time hearing and playing the combination of football and hurling, Gaelic football is not new to the United States.

According to the US Gaelic Athletic Association, hurling was first played in North America in Newfoundland in 1788, while the US first experienced Gaelic football in San Francisco in the mid-1800s.

According to Heffelfinger, both games are very active and engaging. He describes Gaelic football as a combination of rugby, soccer, and football, but in a simplified version, “it’s like soccer with your hands.” 

The USGAA describes football’s goal as advancing a leather ball to the other side of the field with “a combination of carrying, bouncing, kicking, hand-passing, and soloing.” Players then can kick or hand-pass the ball through a crossbar to obtain points and goals. 

Hurling, often touted as “the fastest field sport on grass,” requires players to use a helmet and a wooden stick to carry the small ball to the other side of the field. However, unlike Gaelic football, players can only carry the ball in their hands for no more than four steps.

“We are here to develop Irish sports, Gaelic sports, both hurling and Gaelic football,” said Eamon Ormseth, a player from the Hartford GAA. 

He also recognized Fairfield’s participation and the team’s ability to learn the game skills quickly. 

“From what I understand, the team is pretty new. Considering that, I think they played very well,” Ormseth mentioned. “They have some great players and they scored a good amount of points.”

More than St. Patrick’s Day

While the showcase served as a platform for Irish sports enthusiasts to gather and enjoy an afternoon of their sports, it was also a reminder that Irish culture and its influence are ever-growing. 

“The Irish community is so much more than St. Patrick’s Day,” said Heffelfinger, referring Americans’ association of Irish people with the March 17 celebration. “I mean, you have all the people coming together to play this awesome sport. It’s a huge thing over in Ireland.”

Eleanor Curley-Holmes is the president of UConn’s Gaelic Athletic Association and recognizes the sport’s growth not just here in Fairfield but around the country.

“As an Irish-American myself, I think it’s really nice that America has so many teams and so much accessibility to play, especially in the Northeast,” Curley-Holmes highlighted.

Here at Fairfield, that broadening of Irish sports and culture is at the core of Heffelfinger’s mission with the Irish Cultural Club. 

“It took a lot of convincing from them to do it, and I think they’re enjoying themselves,” he said about his friends and club members’ involvement at the showcase. “Hopefully, that means we can get more of this in the future.”