Documentary examines influence of hurling on ice hockey

Hurling’s influence on Canada’s national game, ice hockey, is documented in a new film by a Connemara production company.

Poc na nGael (Puck of the Irish), directed and produced by Éamonn Ó Cualáin and Sam Kingston of Fócas Films in Chill Chiaráin, makes its Irish premiere at the upcoming Galway Film Fleadh.

In the history documentary, former Galway senior hurling manager, and controversial television and newspaper pundit, Ger Loughnane, discovers the Irish links to Canada’s national obsession.

Éamonn Ó Cualáin produced Lón sa Spéir, (Men at Lunch) – a documentary about the human story of the iconic photo showing eleven workers having lunch break on the 69th floor of a skyscraper in New York in 1932 – which toured over 40 countries after its debut at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2012.

His wife Geraldine has a brother, John Coyne, from Maam Valley, living in Toronto so he was vaguely familiar with the connections between hurling and ice hockey, and jumped at the opportunity of delving deeper.

“I’m up to my tonsils in GAA and I love hurling. I had heard before of the connections but I hadn’t done any research on it. This gave me the opportunity,” said Éamonn, the chairman of Carna/Caiseal GAA Club.

The documentary gives an insight into how the Irish integrated into Canadian society through Canada’s national game, a game in which the Irish were essential in creating and developing.

“As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday this year, the documentary presents an opportunity to highlight the role of Irish immigrants in making Canada the country it is today. It’s about the Irish tenacity to succeed, both on the rink and in Canadian society.

“Without the Irish influence, Canada would not have the game it loves and enjoys so much today. That’s incredible really for a country of our size,” he said.

Éamonn worked with Ger Loughnane on TG4’s very successful Seó Spóirt programme, and felt he was a natural fit to front this film. “When Ger says something, people listen.

“Ger wasn’t 100% convinced about the connection between hurling and ice hockey at first. It’s like a story you’d hear in a pub – ‘ice hockey came from hurling’ – and not many facts but as the film shows, there are a fair amount of facts to back it up,” he said.

Éamonn added: “It will appeal to hurling people, people who love their hurling and GAA. That the sport of Cú Chulainn, our national sport, had such an influence on Canada’s national pastime. Like we are mad about GAA, Canadians are mad about ice-hockey. In Canada, they learn how to walk and then they learn how to skate. It’s just interesting that our biggest and best contribution to Canada was ice hurling, which evolved into ice hockey.”

What will surprise viewers most is that the hurling link is due to Irish Protestants/Ulster Scots who brought hurling across with them, according to Éamonn.

Ger Loughnane uncovers this link at the birthplace of hockey in Windsor, Nova Scotia. His journey across eastern Canada reveals that the sport the Irish helped develop also provided the Irish with the opportunity to grow in Canadian society.

The popular presenter also discovers the strong Irish heritage of leading Canadian teams such as the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs who originated as the Toronto St. Patrick’s.

As the NHL celebrates its 100th anniversary the film examines the Irish legacy and how it is remembered today.

It was cofounded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and TG4 and will be broadcast on the national Irish language TV station this autumn

■ Poc na nGael is showing at the Galway Film Fleadh on Sunday July 16 at 2.15pm in the Cinemobile beside Town Hall Theatre