Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Irish ash woodlands still a hit with hurley makers

It is estimated that up to 30pc of hurleys being used in Ireland have been manufactured abroad in countries including Poland, Slovakia, China and Pakistan. In addition, up to two-thirds of all the ash required for hurley making here has been imported.

These facts show the challenges that hurley making -- one of our last true cottage industries -- faces to survive.

So the relief that the tending and thinning grant has been reinstated is considerable. Without the aid of this scheme, much of our ash woodlands would lie untended and the potential resource of quality ash timber, along with many thousands of hurley butts, would be lost.

Shane McEntee, Minister of State for Food, Horticulture and Food Safety, has kept his word and has ensured that farm forestry continues to be given proper recognition within his department, and has also acknowledged the importance of hurley manufacturing and its dependence on the scheme.

Hurley making is estimated to sustain at least 400 full-time jobs, the majority of whom are members of the Irish Guild of Ash Hurleymakers. The guild was formed in 1998, and one of its principal aims is to ensure the survival of this ancient craft and to fight back against the threat of foreign imports.

Self-sufficiency in hurley ash is forecast from 2018 onwards, and with proper promotion, clubs will hopefully support and give preference to the Irish product which, though scarce right now, is, I am told, infinitely superior to the imported alternative.

Each county has its own distinctive shape and style of hurley and this has continued to evolve with the game itself.

Nowadays, the hurley tends to be much shorter and lighter and the width of the bas is greater than before.

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Here at home we have been harvesting ash butts, and my son has decided to do the work himself rather than have it done by contract. Most of the butts would have been better left alone to increase in girth, but with the need to re-space and thin the woods, we have marked about 40 that have reached at least 22cm diameter at breast height.

The remaining material from each harvested tree will be stacked for processing into firewood.

Cutting butts is not as easy as it might appear but experience will hopefully improve our technique.

Once the forestry premiums end, our woods will need to be able to produce an alternative income, and harvesting the butts independently and having them planked in a good sawmill does -- provided they are free of blemishes -- add greatly to their final value.

There is a video available on the internet covering all aspects of hurley manufacture. It is produced by the GAA, Teagasc and the Irish Guild of Ash Hurleymakers, and is called 'From Ash to Clash'.

Even if you have only a passing interest in hurleymaking, this 24-minute film is well worth a look.

Joe Barry

Indo Farming