St Columb Hurling, CornwallThe small town of St Columb Major , which sits in the centre of a triangle formed by St Austell on the east coast of the county, Newquay the west, and Wadebridge in the north, is the scene of an annual Cornish Hurling match. This game is played with a ball about the size of an apple, fittingly made from applewood with a silver case about it. Rather rougher than the St Ives version of the game, in St Columb the day before the Shrove Tuesday event the shops are boarded up and breakables removed, as the sport here resembles the rough football games found elsewhere in the country in terms of numbers and being played in the town centre, at least at the outset. The contest begins when the previous winner of the silver ball, or a local celebrity nominated by them, climbs a step ladder in the market square and lobs the ball up, shouting 'Town and Country do Your Best. But in this Parish I must Rest."The ball is passed or thrown to fellow team members, one side representing the town, the other the country, with opponents tackling the ball carrier with vigour, at least once the game proper develops - in the early stages it can be a somewhat symbolic match, with spectators, the elderly, children, and favoured girlfriends, passed the ball to throw back again. The aim is to score in the opponent's goal, or failing that - if say the route is impassable - by working the ball over the parish boundary. The goals are about two miles apart, so the scoring of a goal is not achieved without considerable effort.
The winning team can celebrate, but more importantly the person who manages to score is a local hero, carried aloft back to the town. The new hero can opt to keep the ball, but has to pay for the making of another. Local craftsman Colin Roscorla makes the balls, a very skilled task, as they are things of beauty as well as intended for rough sport.
Games with neighbouring Newquay took place until shortly before WWI, but now St Columb and St Ives are the only places where Cornish Hurling takes place. Some see in the silver ball an offering to the sun, and believe the game has ritual and religious origins. It seems to have Celtic roots, and is a proud part of Cornwall's identity as a unique part of Britain.
As with any decent British sporting tradition the thing should end in the pub. The ball winner traditionally dips the silver object in big jugs of beer at various hostelries in the town, turning the drink magically into 'silver beer' to be shared among the players and their friends, though what happened when recently the youngest ever scorer, and 11-year-old, made his mark is not known.
More British Folk Customs?