Wednesday, August 09, 2017

30 years ago today: We say goodbye to Ireland with hurling and Guinness on a Sunday afternoon in Rosslare.


Previously: 30 years ago today: It was about Cork, the Irish experience and U2 -- and the craic was lovely.

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Day 116 ... Sunday, August 9
Cork  → Rosslare. Bus mayhem, boat departure for France

Our Irish idyll was winding down, but bus mayhem?

I have no idea what I meant by this reference 30 years ago. Maybe thousands of Bulmers cider drinkers had spent sleepless nights in Cork after the U2 show, wandering the streets and waiting for the market pubs to open, before suddenly realizing on Sunday morning that they needed to get home.

Did we take the bus all the way to Rosslare, or hop another bus elsewhere, or stumble upon a rail head?

Your guess is as good as mine. I know for a fact we made it to Rosslare in one piece, because we sat for a long time in the little ramshackle pub that used to guard the harbor there, sipping pints of Guinness and watching the hurling championship semi-final between Galway and Tipperary on the telly.


We had enjoyed watching Gaelic football a few days earlier, back in Kenmare.

Background

The most widely played sport in Ireland is Gaelic Football, which along with Hurling is organised by the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA) and is the national sport of Ireland.

The Game of Gaelic Football

Gaelic Football is like a cross between soccer and rugby and is closely associated with Australian Rules Football.

While Gaelic football seemed vaguely familiar, hurling struck us as otherworldly.  It's worth a brief digression.

The Game of Hurling

Hurling follows the same scoring system and similar rules as the other major Gaelic Athletics Association sport, Gaelic Football, but the two games are played differently. Both games are played by 15 men a side and the object of each game is to score more points and goals than the opposing team. Each game has the distinctive H shaped goal posts; a goal is scored when the ball is put into the net, while a point is scored by hitting the ball over the bar but within the H posts.

Similar in shape to a hockey stick, the game of Hurling is played with sticks or hurleys, which are traditionally made from Ash wood and used to move the ball, known as a sliotar, which is a hard leather ball of 65mm in diameter.

When the sloitar is on the ground, it must be played by striking or lifting it off the ground with the hurley into the air where it may be struck again or placed into the hand for either four seconds or four steps, whichever comes first. However if the sloitar is caught, the catching player may not throw it or carry it using the hurley’s base for the shorter of four paces or four seconds, but is allowed to strike it with a stick or hand, or by kicking.

Arguably the oldest field team sport in Europe, Hurley was brought to the shores of Ireland by the ancient Celts some 2,000 years ago and the sport is chronicled throughout Irish folklore. It is also regarded as the fastest moving field team sport in the world. It's a tough game, very much a contact sport, where no quarter is given or asked for. You'll see sliothars and hurleys flying around at head height and though some players wear helmets, it isn't obligatory and the majority don't even where them!

In essence, this hurling match was our day. Men without padding or helmets dashed up and down a huge expanse, dribbling a little ball in a big ladle-like stick, periodically batting the ball through the uprights, and all the while swinging those sticks like baseball bats.

It was a sport made for stout.

The boat for France sailed around 5:00 p.m. Irish time, scheduled to arrive in Le Havre at 3:00 p.m. on Monday. From Le Havre, we'd find a train to Paris St. Lazare, ride the Metro to Paris Nord, and with luck, book a couchette for the overnight trip to Copenhagen.

Barrie flew into Copenhagen, and he'd fly out from there. My plane home left from Brussels, but with a Eurailpass, anything was possible. I'd changed my plans when I accompanied Barrie to Ireland, and I changed them again on my birthday evening in Kenmare, when we concocted a plan to surprise Kim Wiesener, our Danish tour guide in the USSR and Poland, with my presence in Copenhagen in Barrie's company.

For the second time, I found it strange and a bit disconcerting to be approaching the end of a lengthy period abroad. But a last epochal adventure lay ahead. We boarded the ship in Rosslare, and got on with it.

By the way, Galway won the 1987 hurling championship a few weeks later, in September.

Next: The Clash of the Titans.

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