Hurling in Ireland [Rogue Nomads]

This is part 23 of Dee’s grey nomad adventure around Europe. To read her previous instalment, click here

When we first started driving around the Republic of Ireland, I said I didn’t think it was much different to England. Now I can say, although there’s no leprechauns leaping out to greet us, there are differences. They have the Guardian, the Mail, Telegraph, etc., all tweaked to lean towards Irish interests. They have Tesco, Aldi, Burger King, Marks and Spencer’s etc. The police look the same, but the name on their back is GARDA, not “Police”. It’s kilometres, not miles. Post boxes are green. Traffic crossings emit a screeching sound. Top speed on the motorways is 120kph. There are NO lay-bys. No rest stops, or very few. On some highways they have a hard shoulder but if someone wants to overtake you, you pull into the hard shoulder to let them by. Parking inspectors are actually council police, and they only check the meters on two days each week (you have to be a local to know which days). They still have lots of small local shops, butchers, green grocers, ironmongers, which seem to survive against the supermarkets. They have “soda bread”, which might be similar to damper – tastes okay…ish. It’s Euros, not Pounds. Oh and there’s no National Health/Medicare scheme – costs you €50 per visit to see a doctor, and €20 for a prescription. And you see lots of place names that you can’t pronounce!

We were staying in Athlone, and we had been to Clonmacnoise; oh and I forgot to mention that at Clonmacnoise, the cathedral has a whispering doorway still standing….it works too. The last place we saw one was at Colditz Castle, so they are rare.

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Athlone (pronounced “atlone”; no “th” sound) is another tourist area with a castle, which wasn’t open as it closes in September. Looks impressive, though. We left the following day for Adare, in County Limerick. Driving around we couldn’t help seeing flags flying from every available spot, even churches. We had arrived the weekend of the All Ireland Hurling Final, between Limerick and Cork. What’s hurling?

“Hurling is believed to be the world’s oldest field game. When the Celts came to Ireland as the last ice age was receding, they brought with them a unique culture, their own language, music, script and unique pastimes. One of these pastimes was a game now called hurling. It features in Irish folklore to illustrate the deeds of heroic mystical figures and it is chronicled as a distinct Irish pastime for at least 2,000 years”. Having read the description I can only liken it to AFL with a funny shaped hockey stick!

Adare is quaint, has some cottages with thatched roofs, and the requisite castle, plus the remains of a monastery, now a church. All worth a look if you can squeeze by the American tourists. We did a self-guided walk, but the crowds started to be cringe making; lots of pushing and shoving.

So we went to Lough Gur nearby. The whole area is dotted with megalithic remains and is one of Ireland’s richest archeological sites. When the lough (lake) was drained in the 19th century, many artefacts were revealed; now housed in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, so we won’t get to see them this trip. We had a walk around what was once a megalith dwelling, and then on to see a megalithic tomb, which at one time an old woman lived in, it was so big. On to the Grange Stone Circle, dating from 2000 BC, consisting of 113 standing stones, with a diameter of 150 ft (big!). It is thought to have had a ritualistic function as the Irish name for it means “Stones of the Sun”. I noticed that some stones had little messages of love and tiny gifts on them. We had the place to ourselves; not a bit like Stonehenge…better (no £13 charge to see it, for starters).

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The following day, Sunday, we spoke to a neighbouring caravanner and mentioned that we thought being a Sunday it would be a good day to go into Limerick. Oh no, he said! Granny is coming to Limerick! It’ll be really crowded.

Granny? We discovered that (only in Ireland), Limerick Council paid €1,000,000 for a giant “granny” puppet, 6.4 metres tall, a French puppet no less, to parade the streets of Limerick. This was the culmination of the year when Limerick had been designated the first Irish Centre of Culture. If you are interested, this is a video.

So we missed out on Limerick. Instead, we took a drive along the coast road, checking out the various little towns and villages. The guidebook said there were some pretty little towns, but what we saw looked pretty sad and sorry. Some parts of Ireland are still licking the wounds of the recession. There were not only a number of derelict old buildings, empty little shops, but there were quite a few empty homes on new housing estates.

The next day we were on the road again to Caherviseen (pronounced “kerrvseen”) on the Ring of Kerry. We were wearing shorts for the first time since May. The sun was warm, the trees were beginning to turn into stunning autumn colours, and when we arrived we were camped right by the glittering blue water of the Atlantic, with a view across to Valentia Island – heaven!

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Next….Valentia Island, and the Ring of Kerry….

Oh, and Limerick won!

Have you visited these areas in Ireland? What differences did you see between home and there? Tell us below!