The game of hurling, described as a mix of hockey and lacrosse, is as intrinsically Irish as they come, writes Harry Jones.

Hurling, and its counterpart Gaelic football, are played up and down the Emerald Isle but are a rarer sight on these shores.

But not at Father Murphy’s Hurling Club in Acton, which stands as a monument to its players’ roots, even for those who have never lived in Ireland.

Father Murphy’s was formed in the late 1950s by a group of immigrants from Wexford, in the south-east of Ireland. Then, it was exclusively for Wexford exiles, a way to create a home from home across the sea.

For Sean Howlin, who serves as club secretary as well as playing for the club, to hurl for Father Murphy’s is a family ritual - his father is chairman, one brother is manager, while another brother, a sister and a nephew all hurl for the Murphys.

A second-generation Irish immigrant, he speaks with an English accent but feels distinctly Irish, demonstrated best by his life-long commitment to what is considered a niche sport in the city he was raised in.

He said: “I’ve always grown up around Irish people - the papers in our house, the food we eat, the drinks we drink, they’re all Irish. It’s been bred into us.

“Hurling is something that’s held me closer to my roots, following in the footsteps of my dad, my family.”

When Mr Howlin holidayed in Ireland as a child, he would silence the locals’ dismissal of his ‘Irishness’ with his hurling skills - now 30, he’s played since he was a boy, even representing London at a tournament in Croke Park last year. 

He said: “They’d see us with a hurl and a stick and they would be amazed. They’d say: ‘Wow, I can’t believe this actually goes on outside of the bubble of Ireland.’”

Mr Howlin may be London-born, but the majority of Father Murphy’s intake is still made up of those who have moved from Ireland. In the old days, those thinking of moving would first contact the club, then find accommodation and work in London through them.

Although that doesn’t happen as frequently now, they still help a few members with one or the other each year. The Howlins aren’t the only family in the club with representation across the generations and they are keen to emphasise that the club itself is one big family.

For instance, they’ve had multiple marriages from the respective men’s and women’s teams. Mr Howlin works for the family construction business, which even employs some of his teammates.

However, a new problem they’re facing is political uncertainty and the London cost of living causing a decline in Irish immigration, subsequently shrinking their potential recruitment pool.  

Mr Howlin said: “It’s a worry, we’ve seen several teams cease to exist over the years and a lot of our players are moving to America or Australia. 

“Our senior squads are much smaller than they used to be, but the underage club is growing. That’s one of our big positives.”

Despite falling squad sizes, last year the Murphys enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in recent memory, making the finals in all but one of the competitions they played in. Their reward is promotion to the senior tier of the GAA, the top level of club hurling in England. The goal for next season will be survival.

Mr Howlin has now hurled for the Murphys for 15 years. His brother is 46 but continues to play. He’s unsure if he’ll make it that far, but his love of the team continues to consume his everyday life; he pours two or three hours each day into admin, often to his girlfriend’s dismay.

He said: “The lads coming from Ireland have already had a club where they had that boy to man transition. For me, it’s different. It’s my home club. 

“As long as the club wants me, I’ll be there. Sometimes I get the hump with hurling, but I keep coming back. It’s my passion and what I truly love to do.”