It is the first Monday after February 3rd, and there is a tangible air of expectancy in St Ives. Crowds gather all around town, with many people vying for a position near the beach. Two groups of men gather and face each other with grim determination. You are about to witness an age old battle. This is Cornish Hurling.
Hurling is a custom dating back at least a thousand years. Two teams – usually the townsmen and countrymen of the parish – will fight it out to win a silver penny from the town’s mayor. To win the prize, they must be the first team to return the hurling ball, which is cricket-ball-sized, and made of apple wood with silver plating, to the mayor on the town hall steps.
Hurling is a game with a lot of rough and tumble, and participants have been known to dive into the sea in an attempt to keep the ball away from the other team.
The game takes place on St Ives’s feast day which begins with a traditional well blessing, and ends with the custom of the town council giving pennies to children outside the Guildhall.