The 5 most popular sports in Ireland, RANKED

A traveller and a sports fan? Ireland is the place for you. You can watch worldwide talent and local sports all across the country.

Sport is woven into the fabric of Irish culture and Irish life. Its influence is visibly evident in any Irish village, town, or city. Over half of the population of Ireland participates in Irish sports at least once per week.

As a sporting nation, the Emerald Isle caters for global sports and international events, such as tennis and swimming. Meanwhile, many also enjoy the indigenous sports of Gaelic football, hurling, and camogie.

Competing at county level and professional teams at international events, sport has long been a favoured pastime in Ireland.

Others even follow the faraway games of American football, Australian rules football, and basketball. Amongst this rainbow of choice for sports attendances, here are the five most popular sports in Ireland.

5. Golf – for the summer swing

Golf is one of the most celebrated of all Ireland sport, there are many winners and athletes who hail from Ireland.

Rory McIlroy. Graeme McDowell. Padraig Harrington. You’ve heard of all those names, right? They are some of Ireland’s premier golfers and some of the very best in the world, proving the Irish success at the sport.

And with talent like that, it is no surprise that golf is well-followed across the Emerald Isle. Ireland has some of the world’s finest golf courses, with the Royal County Down course ranked amongst the top 100 courses outside the US.

Ireland also played host to the 148th Open at the Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim. It was won by Irishman Shane Lowry, one of the country’s most memorable events of 2019.

Golf Ireland is the national governing body for the sport in Ireland. The best time to play golf in Ireland is between May and September as weather conditions will be more suitable for the game.

With over 300 golf courses, including the famous K Club in County Kildare and Strandhill Golf Course in County Sligo, across the country to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

4. Athletics – for the fitness freaks

Athletics is one of the most popular sports in Ireland, the AAI makes up a big proportion of Irish sport.

One of the most popular sports in Ireland is athletics, whose national body in Ireland is the Athletics Association of Ireland (AAI).

Athletics includes track and field athletes, road running, race walking, cross-country running, mountain running, and ultra-distance running.

Athletics is popular from schools right up to elite athletes. There are many popular and well-attended marathons across the country, such as in Belfast or Dublin, the Connemarathon in Galway, and the Wild Atlantic Ultra in Mayo.

This enthusiasm for athletics has culminated in much Irish success at the Olympics, with athletes such as Robert Heffernan, taking home medals in their events at recent Games.

Irish athletes often compete against athletes from other European countries and further afield at global sporting events.

3. Rugby – the best of Ireland on offer

When talking about Ireland and Irish sport, you can't not mention rugby, one of the most popular sports in Ireland.

The Irish team has emerged as one of the best in world rugby over the last number of years, with the national team defeating the All Blacks on two occasions, two Six Nations’ titles in 2014 and 2015, and a famous Grand Slam in 2018.

The continued success of the national team has cultivated a love for the game in Ireland. It has garnered more interest in the public eye, with the Aviva Stadium in full voice when the Irish team takes to the field.

There are approximately 95,000 rugby players in Ireland, participating for 56 clubs in Ulster, 71 in Leinster, 59 in Munster, and 23 in Connacht, with the provincial team being the elite and professional team.

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) is the national body for the sport in Ireland. The national team competes in various international events, such as the Six Nations.

Due to its contact nature, rugby is often considered among the most dangerous sports in the world. However that does not hinder its continued success in Ireland.

Ireland has also produced some of the best rugby players of all time in the likes of former stars Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, or with the current crop that includes Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.

2. Soccer – the global game

Another of the most popular Irish sports in Ireland is soccer, a global game that has bred some remarkable Irish players.

Soccer, or football as it is known abroad, is the most popular sport in the world with over three billion followers. It is absolutely no surprise that it ranks as one of the most popular sports in Ireland.

The island of Ireland operates with two domestic leagues; one being the Irish League, which is played by teams in the north of the country, and the League of Ireland, which is professional and played by teams in the south, with the inclusion of Derry City.

Ireland’s national governing body of soccer is the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and the men’s soccer team rank 34th in the world, with the female team slightly higher at 32. In Northern Ireland, the national governing body is the Irish Football Association (IFA).

Soccer is accessible at a grassroots level and is regarded by 19% of Irish people as their favourite sport. Notable Irish players over the years include Robbie Keane, Roy Keane, Shay Given, and Damien Duff, who have all competed at the highest level in international events.

If there were odds on which is the most popular sport in Ireland, you might have guessed that the different betting sites in Ireland would have soccer down as the odds on favourite to the most popular sport, however, it ranks at number two.

1. Gaelic Games (GAA) – top pick for island of Ireland sports

Gaelic Games are one of the most popular Irish sports in Ireland, camogie and handball included.

Following the release of the Teneo Sport and Sponsorship Index (TSSI) in 2018, Gaelic Games surpassed soccer as the most popular sport across Ireland for the first time in nine years.

The Gaelic Games are Ireland’s very own indigenous sports. They include handball and camogie, and two of the most popular sports, Gaelic football and hurling. All four are part of the national body, known as the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).

Hurling dates back thousands of years and is living proof of the sporting heart that beats through Irish culture. Gaelic football was first played 135 years ago. With over 2,200 GAA clubs across the country, the sport truly does have a special place in Irish communities.

Both hurling and football play 15 a-side, the aim being to score the most points; a goal counts for three and a shot over the bar counts for one. The pinnacle of the sport is the All-Ireland Senior Football Final, hosted in Croke Park, County Dublin, every summer.

There you have it, our top five Irish sports that can be found all across Ireland.

FAQs about Irish sports

What is Ireland’s main sport?

Gaelic football, which is sometimes described as a cross between football and rugby, is Ireland’s main sport. The All-Ireland Senior Football Championship is one of the biggest sporting events in the Irish sporting calendar.

What is the oldest sport in Ireland?

Hurling is not only known as the oldest sport in Ireland. It is also recognised as the oldest and fastest field game in the world.

What are the four Gaelic sports?

The four games that come under the Gaelic Athletic Association are Hurling, Gaelic Football, Handball, and Rounders. The various GAA finals is the biggest multi-sport event held in Ireland.

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