Swallowing the Blarney Stone, Part 3
Swallowing the Blarney Stone, Part 3
A 3 day road trip from Shannon to Dublin...
Day 3: Go, Maigh Eó!
Imagine sprinting across a tyre stack, burrowing beneath a scramble net, swinging from some monkey bars and collapsing in a mud pit, only to have to muster the strength to do it all over again. That’s the feeling we experienced on the final leg of our whirlwind tour. True, there had been no actual assault course, however, after an agenda of jam-packed activity the previous day in Dublin; my body was certainly convinced that it had.
Luckily thanks to the power of the mind, a pep talk from Alex, and a heartily home-cooked buffet breakfast (courtesy of the lush Radisson Blu Hotel) it was not long until we were out and about, ready for more things to do in Ireland, wandering the peaceful streets of Dublin. When I say peaceful however, I really mean peaceful. An entirely different ambience from the day before, Dubin had transformed from a thunderous chatter to an inaudible whisper. Tumbleweed could have blustered past us and even the few people left trawling the streets wouldn’t have noticed. Shop shutters were closed, Grafton Street was still and the sole sound left was the soft sweeping of Temple Bar pavements, remnants of a rowdy night before. As a Sunday in a church-going city, Dublin strongly abided by the day of rest rule.
Soaking up this reassuring serenity, we strolled along the River Liffey. Luminescent in the mid-morning sunshine, the weather had seemed to turn in our favour just as it was time to leave; typical! Eager to reach our next activity - the National Leprechaun Museum - we hurried on in anticipation. The notion of experiencing more Irish folklore seemed too good to miss and at just five foot three (though I like to say five foot four) I thought for once my shortcomings wouldn’t be so apparent. Unfortunately however, our impassioned enthusiasm came a little too early as we were greeted by the sight of yet another fastened shutter. Like the rest of Dublin, apparently, the museum was closed for business.
Jumping into our metallic Mégane, which for all intensive purposes had transformed into a golden Lamborghini in my mind, we cruised to Croke Park for our stadium tour. This would have been a much more seamless feat had we not managed to park near the wrong entrance. For a stadium that can hold up to 82,300 people, you’d think more than a couple entrances would come in handy. Also, arriving to an entire assembled group waiting for the final stragglers to appear is never a great way to make friends. Alex and I were further scolded when we were not allowed to wear the luminous yellow tour jackets. Obviously, we were devastated.
As our tour guide launched into the steep history surrounding Croke Park, the principle headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and the third largest stadium in Europe, I wondered how I was ever going to get to grips with Gaelic football. To put this into perspective, the offside rule still eludes me (believe me, Alex has tried) and the longest I have ever watched a game is while flicking between channels in the advert break. Much to my surprise however, taking the tour during set-up time was surprisingly electric. Preparing for the impending All Ireland Semi Finals, journalists with press passes bustled by, armoured trucks took their positions, youthful members of the marching band giggled excitedly and testing microphone announcements were made.
Weaving in and out of the stadium’s supporting structure, our energetic guide marched us from the pitch to the changing rooms, the corporate boxes, the premium floor and the presidential seats, amongst the crescendo of avid activity. Perhaps the most memorable moment however, was completing the player’s walk from changing room to pitch. Padding along the sloping walkway to the replicated sounds of screaming fans, stamping feet and squealing whistles, you could comprehend the pride these non-professional players must feel when walking out onto a stadium of this scale. If nothing else, it does wonders for the ego.
Taking our seats in time for the first match of the day, the under 18s, was the perfect platform to get to grips with the rules of the games. Turns out Gaelic football is a lot like Aussie Rules whereby apparently, anything goes. A chaotic and fast-paced mixture of football and rugby, players can throw the ball, kick the ball, strike, tackle and kick one another, hurtling the ball over a crossbar to score. One player was even escorted off the pitch for being kicked in the head and that was only the under 18s match! By the time the All Ireland Semi Final- Mayo vs. Kerry - was due to start, the stadium was packed to the rafters with memorabilia-clad families, all shrieking their teams name at the top of their voice. Not in the least bit menacing, the atmosphere was wildly contagious. I was even caught cheering once or twice for the team in red and green (Mayo or Maigh Eó as they are known in Irish); well, we were in their stand after all!
By the time the marching band was in full swing and the semifinalists had done their players lap, Alex and I were fully convinced by the game. Feeling slightly unpatriotic, we even attempted the Irish National anthem however you should know that Gaelic is not a language to be taken lightly, especially, if singing is not your strong suit. I have never seen so many strange looks. Saving us from our shameful disgrace and just in the nick of time, Blaneth - who ensures My Destination Ireland runs smoothly - arrived with her husband Cormack. Kindly explaining the real rules of the game to Alex (I think he knew that they were lost on me), Cormack delved into the world of Gaelic football and the impending final. Blaneth on the other hand, being the dutiful My Destination employee that she is, offered to help me with my ultimate challenge- learning an Irish dance step. Already accustomed to strange looks, I found I took to dancing at the back of the stadium surprisingly unashamed. Ever nimble on her feet, Blaneth pranced from one side to the other like a fairy doing Riverdance. I, on the other hand, came unfortunately close to recalling the dancing hippopotamus scene in Fantasia. For concrete evidence of this car-crash dancing, just check-out the closing clip of my previous article; the expression of the perplexed old man says it all really.
And so, concludes our wonderful whirlwind weekend in Ireland; one full of frivolity, great food and of an unquantifiable amount of Guinness. We left feeling light-hearted, a few pounds heavier, and with a spring in our step, (literally). Perhaps, one day we will get to go back and finally visit that strange little leprechaun museum.
However, leaving you with one final video - and because words simply can’t do the game justice – here are some compilation clips of the game that truly captured our hearts, Gaelic football.
Journalists with press passes bustled by & youthful members of the marching band giggled excited
By Themes (All Destinations)
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"The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream" - Jack Kerouac