Sunday 27 January 2019


In my first article "The cross between hockey and murder" I talked about mythological, historical and archaeological references to hurling which show that this Gaelic game could be over 3000 years old.

In my second article "The invasions of hurlers" I talked about the spread of hurling to other parts of North Western Europe and how this spread was facilitated by the Irish invasions of Scotland and Wales and the Irish settlement in Iceland. It looks like Hurling could be an origin of such games as  shinty in Scotland, cammag in Isle of Man, bando (bandi) in Wales, field hockey in England, choule in France, knattleikr in Iceland, Bandi in Scandinavia and in Russia and eventually ice hockey.

In my third article "The long puck" I talked about a version of Hurling which could be an origin of such games as kolf in Netherlands and golf in Scotland.

In my article "Pagan games" I talked about the origin of Hurling. 

This is the last article about the European "stick and ball" games. 

There is a whole series of folk stick and (loosely speaking) ball games recorded across Europe which can be described with these three sentences:

1. One person is throwing the ball towards another person who is trying to bat it away
2. One person is batting the ball away from himself, while the other person is trying to catch it
3. One person is defending the target (a stump of a tree) with a bat while another person is trying to hit the target with a ball

These folk games differed over time, place, and culture, resulting in similar yet variant forms. They had no standard documented rules and instead were played according to historical customs. They tended to be played by working classes, peasants, and children. These games were often associated with earlier religious ceremonies and worship rituals and became discouraged and even altogether prohibited by subsequent governing states and religious authorities.

I will here list the known variants of these games:


Stoolball is attested by name as early as 1450. Nearly all medieval references describe it as a game played during Easter celebrations.

In stoolball, one player throws the ball at a target while another player defends the target. Originally, the target was defended with a bare hand. Later, a bat of some kind was used (in modern stoolball, a bat like a very heavy table tennis paddle is used). "Stob-ball" and "stow-ball" were regional games similar to stoolball. What the target originally was in stoolball is not certain; it was possibly a tree stump, since "stob" and "stow" all mean stump in some local dialects.

There were several versions of stoolball. In the earliest versions, the object was primarily to defend the stool. Successfully defending the stool counted for one point, and the batter was out if the ball hit the stool. There was no running involved. Another version of stoolball involved running between two stools, and scoring was similar to the scoring in cricket. In perhaps yet another version there were several stools, and points were scored by running around them as in baseball.

When Englishmen came to America, they brought stoolball with them. William Bradford in his diary for Christmas Day, 1621, noted (with disapproval) how the men of Plymouth were "frolicking in þe street, at play openly; some pitching þe barre, some at stoole-ball and shuch-like sport". Because of the different versions of stoolball, and because it was played not only in England, but also in colonial America, stoolball is considered by many to have been the basis of not only cricket, but both baseball and rounders as well.


The history of cricket prior to 1650 is something of a mystery. Games believed to have been similar to cricket had developed by the 13th century. There was a game called "creag", and another game, "Handyn and Handoute" (Hands In and Hands Out), which was made illegal in 1477 by King Edward IV, who considered the game childish, and a distraction from compulsory archery practice.

References to a game actually called "cricket" appeared around 1550. It is believed that the word cricket is based either on the word cric, meaning a crooked stick possibly a shepherd's crook (early forms of cricket used a curved bat somewhat like a hockey stick)

Trap ball

In trap ball, played in England since the 14th century, a ball was thrown in the air, to be hit by a batsman and fielded. In some variants a member of the fielding team threw the ball in the air; in some, the batter tossed it himself as in fungo; in others, the batsman caused the ball to be tossed in the air by a simple lever mechanism: versions of this, called bat and trap and Knurr and spell, are still played in some English pubs. In trap-ball there was no running, instead the fielders attempted to throw the ball back to within a certain distance of the batter's station. Trap-ball may be the origin of the concept of foul lines; in most variants the ball had to be hit between two posts to count.


Lapta is a stick and ball game which has been played in Russia since at least early medieval time. Lapta accessories, such as wooden bats and felt balls dated back to the 14th century were found by archeologists in Veliky Novgorod. No festival or holiday in Russia could pass without Lapta.

Lapta is played by two teams of 5 to 12 players each on a level ground about 30 to 70 m long.  One team is considered to be “batsmen” and another stands for “taggers”.  One of the taggers throws the ball at the batsmen. A batsman tries to hit the ball as far as possible. While the taggers are trying to get the ball, the batsman runs across the field to the opposite side of the field and then back again. Once the taggers get the ball, they try to hit the running batsman who tries to avoid being hit.  Each successful run earns points points to the batsmen team. A team wins by either getting more points during the scheduled time or by having all its players complete runs.


Palant is a Polish stick and ball game which dates back to the Middle Ages  Palant is played by two teams of 8-15 players, for 10 or 15 minutes twice. The players select priority to start the game by, for instance, throwing coins. The playing field is a rectangle, 50 metres by 25 metres. Players of one team take their places behind the nest line, while the players of the other team stand in the field and behind it. Points are scored only by the team inside the nest. One by one, the team members hit the ball from the nest with the palant (a wooden bat) aiming to strike it as far as possible into the field and then run, ideally to come back to the nest to score. The striker gains points if he can do this before the “field players” (catchers) catch the ball and throw it back behind the nest line. The player can do it in four parts reaching particular bases (points A, B or C) and stopping if necessary, or at a time. If the ball hasn't left the field yet, the striker can do it at a time. The higher scorer is the winner.


The game "šore" (batting) was once played all over Banat region of Serbia. The game is played in the same way as Russian Lapta. It was originally only played for Easter...


Oină is a Romanian traditional sport, similar in many ways to baseball and lapta. The oldest mentions  of the game come from the 14th century.

The game begins with the team at bat, with one of the players throwing the ball while another player of the same team has to hit it with a wooden bat ("bâtă") and send it as far as he can towards the opponents field. After that, if the ball is caught by the opponents, the player has to run along the marked lanes on the field to reach the end line without being hit by the opponents.

What is very interesting is the etymology of the name "oină". It was originally "hoina", and is derived from the Cuman word oyn "game" (a cognate of Turkish oyun). Why is this interesting will become obvious soon. 


This game, otherwise unknown, was described in an unpublished 17th-century monograph on games by Francis Willoughby, which included rules for over 130 pastimes including stool-ball and stow-ball. It is significant in that it involved both a bat and base-running, although it was played with a wooden cat rather than a ball and the multiple "bases" were holes in the ground: the batter reached safety by putting the end of his bat in a hole before the fielders could put the cat in it. This has echoes in cricket's manner of scoring runs by touching the bat to the ground across the crease before the fielders can hit the nearby wicket with the ball.

Finally there is a game which is played from England to India under various names: Tip cat (England),  Tchizh/Siskin (Russia), Gulli Danda (India), Klis (Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia)... All these games are played with two sticks: a small one 10 to 15 cm long pointed on both ends, and a stick 60 to 80 cm long.

This is the most primitive stick and "ball" game inasmuch that it is played with a sharpened stick and not a ball. 

Tip cat

This is an English game, also called cat, cat and dog, one-a-cat, pussy, or piggy. 

Using the stick, the player shouts "Catty" and shoots the catty (short pointy stick) as far as possible from the base. The base is a small hole over which the catty had been placed. The stick placed under the catty helps shoot it forwards.

The fielders try to catch the catty as it flies through the air. If the fielders catch the catty the player is out and the fielder who makes the catch then becomes the player.

If a clean catch is not made, the stick is laid across the "catty hole" and the fielder who retrieves the catty throws it from the spot where it landed to try and hit the stick. If the catty hits the stick the player is out and the fielder becomes the player.

If the catty does not hit the stick the player then strikes the catty on one of its pointed ends with the stick. This causes the catty to shoot up in the air - when it is up in the air the player tries to strike it with the stick and drive it forward.

This is repeated three times - if skilfully done the catty should be sent forward 20-30 yards. Fielders again try to catch the catty.

The stick is then laid across the catty hole and the player estimates how many strides are needed to get from the catty hole to the stick.

One of the fielders tries to cover the distance in this number of strides. If he succeeds the player is out. If he fails the estimate is added to the players score. The player tries to make his estimate large enough to gain a good score, but not so large that he will be out.

Tchizh (Siskin)

This Russian game is played with “tchizh/siskin”, i.e. round stick 10 to 15 cm long and 2 to 3 cm over, pointed on both ends, and “lapta” – a stick 60 to 80 cm long, with one end squared to make it more convenient to hold in hand. A square (“home”) up to 1 m large is drawn on a playground and put tchiz in the middle. One player is a batsman and others are catchers that stand in line at the edge of the playground. The batsman strikes tchizh to go up in the air, and with the second blow tries to beat it off far away. A catcher tries to catch it. If he is success with that, he gains one score and the right to replace the batsman, who stands in line of catchers. If the catcher fails to get the flying “siskin”, he has to throw it from its falling place into “home”, whereas the batsman beats it off with lapta. In Ukraine the game is known as chizhik (чижик)

Gulli Danda

This Indian game is played with two sticks: a large one called a danda, which is used to hit a smaller one, the gilli. Gilli Danda is known by various other names in India. Standing in a small circle, the player balances the gilli on a stone in an inclined manner (somewhat like a see-saw) with one end of the gilli touching the ground while the other end is in the air. The player then uses the danda to hit the gilli at the raised end, which flips it into the air. While it is in the air, the player strikes the gilli, hitting it as far as possible. Having struck the gilli, the player is required to run and touch a pre-agreed point outside the circle before the gilli is retrieved by an opponent. This aspect of the game is similar to runs in cricket or home-runs in baseball.

In Azerbaijan, a similar game is called Çilingağac (Chilingaghaj).
In Galicia (Spain), a similar game is called billarda.
In Catalonia and the Valencian Community, a similar game is called bòlit.
In Italy a similar game known as "Lippa", "Lipe", "Tirolo"
In Poland a similar game is known, called Klipa
In Slovenia a similar game is known as pandolo

In Serbia this game is known as "Klis".

This game has been played all over Balkans specifically in areas inhabited by Serbs. 

To define which team starts first, two players (one per team) stack their hands up one after another, bottom-up on a vertically positioned stick. The team whose player’s hand covers top of the stick begins the game. This exact same rule exists in Lapta, Šore and Oină.

The game starts by batter tipping "klis" (a tip-cat) up into the air with "pala" (a stick, bat), while the opponent tries to catch it before it hits the ground. If the opponent succeeds, the roles are changed. If not, the attacker defends the trunk with his stick from the opponent who throws the tip-cat from where it fell on the ground at the trunk. If the opponent hits the target, the attacker who tipped the tip-cat is out and his teammates have the right to throw the tip-cat.

If the tip-cat falls close to the trunk (up to the length of the stick), the game continues and the player who was throwing the tip-cat, throws again. If the tip-cat falls on the ground farther than the length of the stick, then the player who was defending the trunk measures the distance from the trunk to the tip-cat in stick lengths. The number of stick lengths represents the awarded score. The team whose player manages to defend the trunk and hit the tip-cat gets points and the right to throw the tip-cat again.

The game is played till one of the teams reaches the agreed number of points.

Now here is, to me, the most interesting bit about this game. In Serbian parts of Balkans this game is called "klis". This word has no meaning or etymology in Slavic languages. 


In the Irish-English Dictionary - University College Cork we find this:

cleas, -a, pl. id. and -anna, and clis, m., a play, a game, sport; a feat, device, trick; craft; art,
science; cleas do dhéanadh, cleas d'imirt ar, to play a trick on; an cleas céadna do
dhéanamh leis, to do the same thing with it, to treat it in the same manner.
cleasach, -aighe, a., tricky, wily, playful; ingenious.
cleasacht, -a, f., sport, pastime.
cleasaidheacht, -a, f., playing, pastime, illusion, sleight-of-hand, frolic, subtility, trick.
cleasradh, -aidh, m., device; sport, game, amusement, sleight; acting. juggling
cleasuidhe, g. id., pl. -dhthe, m., an artful man, an actor, a juggler, a quack, a mountebank; a
tugger (Om.).
cleasuighim, -ughadh, v. tr. and intr., I sport, play, gambol, perform feats.

And in Focloir gaeilge bearla O Donaill we find that: 

clis is the plural of cleas

Now remember how Romanian game "oină" was originally "hoina", a word derived from the Cuman word "oyn" meaning "game"? 

It seems that the Serbian word "klis" is of Gaelic origin and literally means "games, sports, feats, tricks". 

How old is this word? According to official history, Celtic languages were last time spoken in the Balkans in the 4th and 3rd century BC when Celts invaded Balkans on their way to Galatia. Did they bring this game with them and somehow both the game and the name survived in the mountain of the Balkans until this day? Preserved by the descendant of the Scordisci? 


  1. Klis "ball" resembles a fishing gorge, a fire drill, a part of a deadfall trap, a spindle of a sort and some other uses outside of sports. Maybe a useful combination tool in the past?

  2. ...The team whose player’s hand covers top of the stick begins the game. This exact same rule exists in Lapta, Šore and Oină...

    The same rule is used in American baseball to determine which team bats first.