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Most Popular Sports in Ireland

Like most countries around the world, Ireland is a nation of sport lovers. There are events that are idiosyncratic in these parts, while other games enjoy a greater global following.


For those looking to watch a game or to take part, there’s plenty to enjoy, but some will always have a greater following than others. Here are the most popular sports across Ireland.


The Home Favorite


The top sport in Ireland could be the subject of debate, but many residents would point to horse racing as the nation’s favorite. What is certain is that this has greater tradition than any of its competitors, with many of the major meetings here stretching back for over a hundred years.


Some of the most important horse races in Ireland include the Irish Derby, the Irish Oaks and the Irish 1000 Guineas. Each attracts a huge crowd, while the racegoers here also like to follow their best trainers and horses when they compete outside of the country.


A huge Irish contingent attends the Cheltenham festival every year, and that helps to underline the nation’s widespread love of horse racing.


Favorite Overseas Sport


Sports lovers in Ireland are always looking for something new and they are happy to take in sports from other parts of the world. In terms of an overseas favorite, American football is top of the agenda for many.


The games rank highly for many reasons. The sport is intriguing and action-packed, but it also has clear similarities to some of the Gaelic pastimes that are specific to Ireland. All of this combines to make this the most popular option outside of the country.


While there is no great tradition involved, American football is played across Ireland, both in the north and the south. Teams including the Dublin Rebels and the Belfast Knights compete in the domestic league.


Idiosyncratically Irish


Most countries have pastimes that don’t export too well and, in Ireland, that category is filled by the many Gaelic sports. Gaelic Football is, perhaps, the most well known outside of the country and it’s the one Irish sport that has more than a passing resemblance to American football.


There are key differences between the two sports, but the passion for Gaelic Football is a reason why so many Irish nationals follow American football and keep a track on their college football odds and follow NFL matches on a regular basis.


The roster of Gaelic sports also includes hurling which has elements of field hockey in its play. In total, there are six sports that come under the jurisdiction of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Along with Gaelic Football and Hurling, the list is completed by Camogie, Handball, Rounders and Ladies Football.


Completing Ireland’s Top Five


Other popular sports in Ireland include rugby union, boxing and conventional football (soccer). In all cases, Irish teams and athletes have enjoyed some success in each discipline. In the boxing ring, great national fighters of the past have included former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan and Steve Collins, who held world titles in the WBO Middleweight and Super-Middleweight divisions.


In rugby union, Ireland have yet to win the World Cup, but they are a competitive side who have claimed a number of Six Nations titles. In 2023, the team completed their fourth ever Grand Slam in this tournament with the series clinched on home turf in Dublin.


In football, Republic of Ireland teams have qualified for a number of World Cups and European Championships. They have yet to really challenge for a major title, but the team has completed some notable victories against the best nations in the sport.


The greatest achievement for Irish football came at Italia 90 where Jack Charlton guided the squad to the quarter finals.


Emerging Contenders


Of the many developing sports in Ireland, cricket may be the one to increase in popularity in the coming years. The country has recently gained full member status of the ICC and that makes Ireland, along with Afghanistan, one of the two newest test playing nations.


Irish cricketers are still finding their way in test cricket, but they have enjoyed greater success in the limited overs forms of the game. The team’s greatest moment came via an unforgettable victory over England at the 2011 World Cup. That kind of success can only help to build the game here.


There are other sports looking to break through, but that recent international recognition helps to make cricket the fastest grower. It will, however, take some time for cricket to catch up with other pastimes on this list.


While some options will always carry more support, it’s clear that Ireland is a sports-mad nation and there is a huge choice of games to get involved with, or to simply watch and enjoy.


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