The Irish Hurley stick market
An early cash return?
Mick 0'Brien, RDS farm forestry judge on left with Mick Power, Coillte, holding an ash butt ready for hurley manufacture.
Few people realise that most of the ash used in
the manufacture of Hurleys is imported into
Ireland. We simply do not have enough native
ash of the right age and size to suit this market, so
Coillte import ash in order to keep our local
Without this service, many of our local traditional
Hurley manufacturers would be unable to source
enough material to keep their workshops going and
we would then be reliant on imported, finished
Hurleys. If this were to happen we would have lost
yet another valuable traditional craft and a further
vital source of employment and income in rural
Soon however, we will be self sufficient in ash as
thousands of acres have been planted under the
current afforestation scheme. Many of these
plantations are approaching the stage when suitable
butts can be harvested and certainly within 10 years
this market should be fully supplied with home
|The man in charge of ensuring that there is a continuous supply of Hurley butts available is Mick Power of Coillte and I met him recently in Kilkenny where he answered all those questions that everyone with young ash is asking.
Top of an ash butt showing how it is sawn to make full use of the timber.
Mick said that the first query he normally gets is “How much is a Hurley butt worth?” You cannot
really give a simple answer to this as it is a bit like
asking how much is a bullock worth. It all depends
on size, quality and finish. Hurley butts are very
much the same. They come in many shapes and
sizes. In some cases it might only be possible to use half the butt. The optimum size would be 28 cm
DBH or diameter at breast height. Breast height is
taken to be 1.3m from ground level so it is easy to
check the suitability of standing trees. The butt that
Mick showed me was 19cm DBH and when sawn
contained enough planks for six top quality Hurley’s
and a further three suitable for juvenile grade.
|When pressed to put a value on an average Hurley butt, Mick suggested that the one we were looking at would probably be a reasonable example of an average butt and sawn was worth app €42. Taking away the expenses of harvesting, transport and sawing would leave a price to the grower of app €20. This may not seem like much and I have heard higher figures quoted, but if youhave a well grown ash plantation, somewhere between year 15 and year 20 you will have a harvest of perhaps 500 butts per hectare as part of the thinnings. This is equal to €10,000 and is tax free with the final crop still standing!
Mick Power with ash butt spread out, following sawing.
Any ash tree with a straight stem of 1.3m will be
suitable for use in Hurley manufacture so most ash
has the potential to make it for this market. Many
plantations have fast growing trees that have forked
low down and these would make perfect Hurley
butts. It is advisable when carrying out first thinning
to remember that a fast growing tree with abundant
top branches that is forked at perhaps 2m is
probably the one that will reach the Hurley market
first. This tree should be marked for retention as a
Hurley butt and can be harvested during the second
or third thinning.
|Mick said that the market for Hurley butts has grown by 30% in recent years and is continuing to expand. There have been fears expressed that the market would be flooded once the current crop of ash reached the required size. Mick feels however that while the price may well drop somewhat it will still give a good return for quality material. The game of Hurley is increasing in popularity and happily, our sportsmen continue to break sticks enthusiastically.
The finished article. Note the sweep of the grain in the blank, which is essential for the strength and flexibility of the stick.
Other materials have been tried but none have the
resilience of ash or the flexibility to absorb the
shocks received during a game. It is nice to know
that here is a broadleaved crop that can produce
some cash early in its life and like everything else
we grow, the well managed crop will produce the
best and earliest returns.
But watch out for thieves. There are organised
gangs of thieves operating around Ireland and they can move in and take large quantities of valuable
butts in one night.
This is a serious problem and like the theft of
Christmas trees, vigilance is the only answer with
frequent visits to the woods and proper locks and
chains kept on gates.
I know I will be keeping a close eye on my own
ash from now on. Even €5000 per hectare would be
something to look forward to and indeed, I would
be happy with half that.
Joe Barry, “Crann”