Well this is utterly fascinating. It's come to our attention on this All-Ireland Final day, that an international hurling match of some sort took place in London in 1814 between a team of Irishmen and what were believed to have been a group of Russians.
This is extraordinary. 200 years ago Ireland played "Russia" in a Hurling Match in London (Limerick Gazette, 1814) pic.twitter.com/mYvjsttZtp
— Liam Hogan (@Limerick1914) September 6, 2014
The report from the Limerick Gazette claims that the match was organised by members of the Irish nobility (who were known to finance matches around that time) and "Russian officers of distinction". Both groups, on meeting in London, would have been on friendly terms given that they were allied in the fight against Napoleon.
It's likely that the game bore a slight resemblance to what we'll see this afternoon, but with marked differences such as the number of players and the 18-ounce (510 g) ball, which would have kept play firmly on the deck. It's also worth noting that the teams were distinguished by their headdress, as the idea of wearing distinctive shirts was some years away. The fact that "Ireland's" opponents were wearing bearskin caps would add some credence to the claim that they were indeed Russians.
The location of the game, Kennington Common, is also interesting in that it was the site of one of the oldest cricket grounds in London. The modern Oval ground stands on a part of the old Common, so it's possible that the ground that hosted the first England v. Ireland rugby match in 1875 also hosted the country's first 'international' in any ball game.
As sceptical as the Limerick Gazette is as to the true nationality of the 'Russian' team, it's likely that many Russian soldiers would have been familiar with bandy, which is quite similar to ice hockey and would have easily transferable skills to 19th century hurling.
Here's the full report, spelling left unchanged:
Hurling match - Monday a grand match on hurling was played on Kennington Common, between 21 Irishmen, and 21 (said to be) Russians. The Irish were distinguished by read caps; the Russians, by rough bear-skin caps. The hook was placed on both ends of the common, and the ball weighed 18 ounces.
The match, according to report, was made by the Irish nobility, and several Russian officers of distinction. A vast number of spectators attended, and the play on the whole was remarkable for skill and activity, -
Hurling is a game little known in England, but of ancient origin. It was long in use among the Celtic nations
On this occasion the Russians, if they really were Russians, had the advantage.