Thanks to the effort of a handful of Butte residents, the Mining City can now call itself home to its very own hurling team.
Meet the Wolfe Tones, a hodgepodge of Butte residents who came together to form the team just in time to play in the first-ever Mile Deep Sevens hurling tournament in Butte.
The tournament, which begins at 11 a.m. at the Jeremy Bullock Memorial Complex south of Butte, is being organized by Missoula's Thomas Meagher Hurling Club and the University of Montana's hurling team. According to a news release, teams from Montana, Oregon, Washington, and even as far away as Ireland are traveling to Butte for the event.
Wolfe Tones player Matt Moore and team leader Ryan Mulcahy said the team would not have come together if it wasn't for the persistence of Myles Maloney, a Butte native and one of the founders of the Thomas Meagher club in Missoula who has seemingly been on a junket to promote the sport.
In addition to being one of the founding members of the Thomas Meagher club, Maloney has given presentations in Butte on the history of the sport, whose origins go back over 3,000 years to Ireland.
Last year, he and others from the club helped put on a St. Patrick's Day exhibition game at Montana Tech. The team has also hosted multiple hurling clinics in Butte.
"I went to Myles's clinics, and it was just really fun," said Mulcahy. "And then he kept sending us emails," — and more emails, he added, describing how Maloney repeatedly followed up to see if Mulcahy and others could get a team going in Butte.
Maloney, who has a degree in history from UM, said hurling as a long history in Butte.
The first reference that he's found of the sport being played in the Mining City goes back to the 1880s.
The game is one of the cornerstones of the Irish culture, he said, and was a reminder of home for the immigrants who came to Butte. He added that Irish immigrants in Butte often played the game during special events like Miners Union Day, the Ancient Order of Hibernians' grand picnic, and more.
The Wolfe Tones came together officially in September, attracting around seven members.
They chose the Wolfe Tones name in honor of Butte's former Gaelic football team and also in honor of the Irish revolutionary Theobald Wolfe Tone.
"We decided to kind of run with the tradition of our own native-born team and rekindle the name," said Moore.
For hurling newbies, here's how the game is played:
• Players play with a stick called a hurley and a ball called a sliotar (pronounced SLIT-uhr).
• Players are able to play the sliotar with either their hands or the hurley, and they have the option of passing it to another player. Meanwhile, there are a variety of rules governing how the sliotar can be moved forward on the field.
• Scoring occurs when a player puts the sliotar over or under a crossbar.
So far, the Wolfe Tones have practiced a mere 10 times, but Moore and Mulcahy say they're not nervous for Saturday's tournament, though it will be the first time they've faced defenders in a game
But the new Butte players won't be hung out to dry. Experienced players will have their backs during the tournament, which will feature mixed teams.
Moore, meanwhile, is a board member of the Butte Celtic Sports Association, which has helped the new hurling club get up and running.
The nonprofit came together in 2016 to promote Celtic sports and this summer hosted an An Rí Rá tournament of Irish road bowling — a sport in which players see who can take the fewest throws to propel a metal ball on a course of roads.
The association has also put on two iterations of the annual Butte Scottish Highland Games, which Moore said involves throwing various objects, similar to track but without all that troublesome running.
Moore said the Butte Celtic Sports Association was able to help the Wolfe Tones with some of the team's startup costs, including money needed to purchase hurleys, sliotars, and jerseys, which the team had to order from Ireland.
Acquiring the equipment, as it turns out, isn't as simple as one would think.
"You can't just go down to Walmart and buy it," said Moore.
In the months ahead, Moore and Mulcahy hope to recruit more players, raise money for the club, and join the northwest division of the United States Gaelic Athletic Association, the governing body for the sport in the United States.
Mulcahy said he's played rugby before but hasn't really been interested in more mainstream American sports. There's something about hurling, he said, that's right up his alley.
He said he likes the fact that hurling is a club sport and isn't over-professionalized like mainstream American sports. In fact, he said, there aren't any professional hurlers, even worldwide. He added that if you join a hurling team, you get to learn as you go along and don't have to worry about being a pro.
All of these things, Mulcahy said, add up to a culture of camaraderie that seems to permeate the sport.
"When you get done with a hurling match or a rugby match, you end up at the Dublin (bar) with the team that you just beat the crap out of, and you laugh together and you drink together."