I remember as a young(er) fella, being at field days in my native homeland (Carlow/Wicklow border) and there was always a tug of war match on at one point in the day.
You’d have these big hardy men from the Glen of Imaal in steel toe’d boots, chequered shirts and jeans with some oil stains on, carrying in this giant rope over their shoulders, through the stalls and attractions at the field day to set up and compete against their opposition on the day.
The opposition could take the form of a few lads from the senior hurling or football teams, hardy men themselves, and maybe a local big fella to go in as anchor, someone “sturdy”.
The games would take place with a huge crowd gathered around in a circle, sun beaming down, ice cream dripping from the cones and a whiff of sweaty men as they fought it out for bragging rights. It was great fun, you were right in at the action, veins popping from foreheads, sweat beading up on brows, and lads hands getting raw from holding on to the rope, which to me at that time was as thick as a drain pipe, sure how would you hold onto that?
Even the local ladies would get involved too, there would be teams picked and they’d have a go too, and the cheering was as loud as ever.
But that was it and Tug of War, I never seen it outside of field days, was it not promoted enough? Did it only happen up in the Glen? I don’t know, but if it became a thing i’d gladly go along and watch was I considered was a traditional sport.
Is the sport disappearing?
On Sunday Scoreline on the 17th of February, I interviewed Bill Kehoe who is the coach of Boley Tug of War Club in Wexford. He says the sport has “slipped a bit” in Ireland, “when we started there was nearly a dozen teams pulling in Wexford and now there’s only one” he said.
He feels that it comes down to the participants when it comes to publicity, “They should be promoting themselves more” he said.
They’re celebrating one of their own this month, James Kehoe is in the running to be the “World Games greatest athletes of all time”.
James has won numerous medals in international tug of war competitions, and was nominated by his international federation for the World Games awards.
The World Games is an organisation made up of non-Olympic sports and, now in its 40th year, is held every four years.
There have been ten World Games held over the years, James has taken part in nine of them, winning two gold medals, three silver and four bronze.
He has also won more than 100 national tug of war titles, with a record number of 25 gold medals, 22 silver and numerous bronze, with honours across the world and European tug of war championships spanning several decades.
The 63-year-old is still lining out on the rope to this day.
The club are appealing for votes for James up until the deadline of 1st of February.
You can check out how he’s getting on with the voting and vote yourself here.
Here’s the video trailer for him for voting.
Regarding Tug Of War nowadays, this the lay of the land.
Indoor Tug of War takes place in the winter while Outdoor Tug of War runs throughout the summer. Indoor Tug of War is contested on special rubber mats and competitors pull flat-footed wearing specially designed rubber-soled runners. Competitors in Outdoor Tug of War wear specially made boots with a steel-plated heel which is used to penetrate the surface of the ground. A
Army or skiing boots are commonly used as they offer good ankle support. Tug of War Ireland organise national championships at both indoor and outdoor levels. Competition weights for both national and international Tug of War range from 480kilos for women to 720kilos for men. The typical weight categories for men are 600kg, 640kg, 680kg and 720kg. The provincial boards organise provincial championships in Ulster, Connaught, Leinster and Munster, the provincial championships take place before the national championships. The provincial championships for indoor commence around October and the national championships usually begin in November.
The World indoor championships take place every second year in February. The outdoor season usually begins in April with the provincial championships while the national championships commence in either June or July. The World or European championships take place every other year in September.
Listen back to our full interview with Bill Kehoe below.