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Mon 27-Nov-2006 11:58
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How hurleys are made
The process of making hurleys begins with the harvesting of ash butt logs, which must be undertaken by hand. This important task cannot be satisfactorily achieved by a machine.
The ash butt log must be manually sawn a minimum of six inches below ground level to prevent the creation of microscopic hairline fractures, which would eventually weaken the finished hurley. One traditional hurley maker is adamant that the ash butt logs must be sawn into planks prior to storing and seasoning. This contention is the direct opposite of the established practices of competitors in the sector. He readily provided an itemised list of costs of hurley making inputs, which conclusively prove that the economics of producing modern hurleys make it almost impossible to earn a living as a full time manufacturer.
The modern art of producing hurleys to suit individual tastes is not an exact science. An examination of modern hurley making practices and procedures unearthed widely differing interpretations of “what characteristics constitute the best hurley?” Asking what constitutes the best hurley is the same as asking “what is the length of a piece of string”?
Hurley makers are agreed on two aspects of their craft, namely that native Irish ash is scarce and that imported ash is definitely not of the same quality as its Irish counterpart. After that, there is a wide divergence on the manner of making hurleys. Hurley making is a unique Irish cottage industry, which has survived attempts in the past to mass produce hurleys. In the late l980’s, the renowned Connolly Brothers and Galway hurlers decided to mass produce hurleys for a new generation of aspiring All Ireland medal winners. After some initial success, the business venture failed and individual hurley makers breathed a sigh of relief.
The hallmark of a good hurley maker is the ability to make a product in accordance with the individual tastes of his local club hurlers. In addition to making new hurleys, he must be in a position to repair damaged hurleys in return for a reasonable monetary reward.
Modern hurley making falls into two categories: production by means of a lathe, a template and ancillary electric equipment or alternatively by hand with the assistance of band saw and an electric sander. A noteworthy aspect of the art of modern hurley making is the distance that hurlers travel to secure hurleys from their favourite manufacturers with defined special features. These special features are a constant topic of discussion among under age hurlers from the age of ten years.
It is now acknowledged that it is a waste of time, material and effort to turn out middle of the road hurleys – no self respecting hurler uses them anymore. There is a direct link between playing the game to the best of one’s ability and possessing a number of individually crafted hurleys, which are produced by somebody that is personally known and trusted. Invariably, hurley manufacturers are former club and inter county players. There is a direct supply chain link and personal relationship between individual hurley makers in Munster and hurling clubs in Dublin.
Costs, Sustainability & Profitability
In l995, the profit margin on a hurley was £4/€5. Today, a hurley maker is extremely lucky to end up with a profit of €4 on a hurley. It is reasonable to assume that a hurley maker can produce on average one hundred finished hurleys in a forty hour week; this works out a gross weekly income of €400.00. Hurley making lathes are available at prices of between €20,000 and €80,000. It is reasonable to speculate that a new hurley making enterprise would require a sum of €100,000 for a new modern structure, equipment, storage facilities to comply with health and safety and planning regulations.
There is a strong belief among hurley makers that their crafted products should retail at €35 (based on current costs of production) to provide a proper profit margin to compensate for the high costs of labour and ash raw materials. One established full time hurley manufacturer summed up the current dilemma as follows “Hurley making is once again approaching a critical phase; it is no longer sustainable at the current ridiculously low prices we get for new hurleys”.
It is apparent that the modern hurley making sector is in urgent need of reform to achieve long term sustainability. It may once again take the threat of the manufacture of a synthetic hurley to highlight the precarious and haphazard nature of producing hurleys, which are used in what is unmistakably the world’s greatest, most skilful and most exciting field game. The extraordinary aspect of the fastest, most exciting, most entertaining field game in the world is its dependence through the hurling club structure on a network of individuals with the skill, patience and undying commitment to unique characteristics of the craft of hurley making.
Key Influences in Selection, Purchase & Manufacture of Hurleys
· Peer power among under age hurlers is a key element in the selection of hurleys to suit individual personal tastes
· The manufacturer’s stamp on hurleys provides the personal key contact in the modern hurley supply chain sector
· There is a discernible mutual advantageous relationship between underage hurlers and hurley manufacturers
· Purchase of Brand X hurleys by underage hurlers is not a feature of the modern hurley supply chain sector.
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