Knives and ball games in a ‘Land of War’ – Is this the origins of Irish soccer?


While football has a long history, it has changed a lot over the centuries. In the medieval period as supporters waited for flares to be invented they had a more hands on approach to the sport, resulting in a slightly less than a beautiful game. In what may be the earliest reference to a game of football in Ireland, a ball game was recorded in the Norman colony in Ireland in 1308. However it was a dangerous pursuit for at least some involved. When one player fell to the ground clutching his leg after clashing with a spectator, it was not a case of diving but a large knife wound.

The game dates from June 1308 when a man called John McCorcan had been watching men from Newcastle Lyons ‘playing at ball’. During the game, the ball had come in John’s direction and though not playing, he chased in pursuit. His friend William Bernard who was playing, followed and they ‘met so swiftly’ that the two clashed. According to the court records William was seriously injured with large knife wound to his upper leg.

ronaldocriesIn the 14th century, Newcastle Lyons was located near to what was known as the ‘land of war’ in Wicklow. This was more or less a constant warzone where the Gaelic Irish and colonists battled for control. It was no great surprise therefore when it emerged John McCorcan had been armed during his encounter with William Bernard.  Wearing a sheathed knife this broke through the scabbard when the two had clashed, slashing William Bernard’s upper right leg. The wound was significant, being valued at five shillings. However the jury found there had been no malice involved as the two were friends. While John had to pay damages to William he received a pardon.

If you are interested in hearing more stories like this from the world of our medieval ancestors , I am organising two tours in July looking at what remains from medieval Dublin from the city’s earliest days as a Viking slave port to its later medieval history of sieges and revolts. You can find out more here or book a place by filling out the form below

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Please specify a preference for one of two following dates - Sat August 8th and Sat August 22th

Source Cal. Jus. Rolls. Vol III page 101



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