There are 450,000 hurleys produced in Ireland every year and 80% of those are made from imported ash, according to Michael Somers Forestry Development Officer with Teagasc.
There are 22,000ha of ash in grown in Ireland with 75% of that privately owned with the remainder owned by Coillte, he said.
The majority of imports of ash come from Holland and eastern Europe; all of which has to be de-barked before it comes in to eliminate the spread of ash dieback.
Ash dieback is not major problem for hurley making in the short- to medium-term, Somers said.
According to the Forest Service, by 2018 Ireland will be self-sufficient in the amount of ash we produce for hurley making.
“It’s a big enough industry and not many people would know about it,” Somers said.
According to Teagasc, ash timber is strong and flexible with a good capacity for shock absorbency so, it is for this reason ash has been traditionally used in Ireland for the production of hurleys.
Irish ash is said to be the best ash for hurley making due to the mild damp climate and while there has been experiments with the timber of other trees but nothing has proven to be as good as ash, it said.
TJ Larkin and sons have been making hurleys in Killimor, Co. Galway for 125 years. Francis Larkin, one of the hurley-makers, said that they only use 100% Irish ash.
“We source it from a few counties, Offaly, Meath and a bit in Galway. We used to import ash but we found that Irish ash is better,” he said.
There’s a big difference, the climate here is much better for growing it.
Ahead of the All-Ireland hurling final this weekend Larkin said there has been a jump in sales.
“There’s been a big improvement in sales ahead of the All-Ireland, about 30%. If we win it should continue that way,” he said.
Tom O’Donoghue Hurls, based just outside Kilkenny City imports ash from a mix of places.
“It’s so hard to get ash now that you take it from where you get it. I get it off Coillte and use as much Irish ash as possible,” O’Donoghue said.
“I also import from mainland Europe and the United States. Next weekend will be the busiest weekend with the club championship (back in Kilkenny).
“It normally peaks at this time of year with back to school, the club championship and the colleges are back then. The last two weeks have been busy with back to school.
We do say down here that they go back to school with three things; a lunchbox, a schoolbag and a hurl.
Colm Foley of 65 hurls in Dublin said that they also use 100% Irish ash.
“We get it from different suppliers from across the country,” Foley said.
Foley said that he had once imported ash from Europe however, he said he won’t be importing ash again.
“It was ok, but it wasn’t as flexible and it was a bit heavier.
“Since everyone’s gone back to school sales have picked up, there’e definitely been an increase in clubs getting smaller hurls for kids,” he said.
Torpery Hurleys, based in Co. Clare, are a popular hurley-maker and Galway players such as Iarla Tannian and Cathal and Padraic Mannion will be using them at this weekends hurling final, Sean Torpey said.
“We’ve been importing ash from Holland since 1998. The main reason is the quality. It’s what matters to the customer and there it grows fast and it’s more flexible.
“There are pockets in Ireland we have sourced from, but we’re looking to keep the quality high.
“We’re busy all year round, this is the peak of the year,” he said.
Outside of hurley production, the demand isn’t there for ash when it comes to carpentry and joinery, Eugene Geraghty of Geraghty Joinery, Co. Galway, has said.
“It hasn’t caught on to any great degree, there’s not a lot of it being used. The demand isn’t there for it in houses.
“Oak is very popular at the moment, white oak, but there isn’t as much demand for ash,” Geraghty said.