Almanac Hurling (and Travel): An Australian on Tour (in search of kulcha)

by Matt O’Hanlon

 

According to family folklore my great-great grandfather left County Armagh with the “wind at his back” in the 1850s and the Golden Girl’s ancestor left Kilkenny around the same time as a convict for uttering an oath against the monarchy. Either way (although G-Squared disputes that a common criminal can be compared with a political activist) we are now part of 21st Century Australia and to celebrate the Commonwealth Games in our current home town we have gone back to visit the Emerald Isle for the first time. Twenty-three days in Ireland with minimal plan other than to complete a bucket list that many of us cherish from our Celtic origins. I want to sample Irish life of which sport makes up a big part while G-Squared is a little more interested in capital C Culture compared to my lower case k kulcha.

 

Kulcha is a veritable feast over here. Sport – golf, soccer, racing, the dogs, rugby. Betting houses – Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Boyles and many others. Pubs – where would I start. But to top all of this is the GAA. What an incredible beast. And believe it or not I was able to work the tour to be at Nowlan Park Kilkenny for the Division 1 final of the hurling between Kilkenny in the Black and Amber and Tipperary in the Blue and Gold. What an event.

 

Now before you think the Golden Girl has gone soft I can give insight to travelling with me. I have had a bit of trouble with the language as you can see:

Waiter: Have you liked travelling here?”

 

Me: “Yeah, I’ve seen snow for the first time!”

 

Waiter: “There are no snakes here!”

 

Me: “Hardly I’ve seen it twice in three days. Snowed all over me just the other day in Derry.”

 

Waiter: “I’m sorry sir but we haven’t had snakes since good old St. Patrick.”

 

Me (agitated) ‘Mate are you serious? Sain…” ….

 

G-Squared: “Sorry Sir, he is saying snow!”

 

Waiter: “ Oh snow!”

 

Me to G Squared: “Are you serious. I bloody well said sNOW!”

 

G-Squared: “Well, barring me, everyone else here thought you said you were walking through Derry covered in SNAKES.”

 

Spare a thought for G-Squared as she has to put up with it everyday!

 

Before I get to the hurling some observations of Ireland for those Almanackers who are from Ireland or have been there:

 

Every Town is a winner of the Tidy Town Award!

There are at least 10 pubs I have been to that are the oldest pub in Ireland for something – The Brazen Head, Sean Costelloes in Athlone, and the John Creeves in Kilkenny but when I quizzed the barman he said it was the oldest pub playing continuous traditional music on a Monday night. I said Anne Flannery told me last Monday that she held that record at Flannery’s in Athlone!

Every house in Ireland is a BnB!

Every meal has some sort of potato in it

An Irish breakfast everyday cannot be burned off by visiting Castles!

You have to have a constitutional Guinness or Whiskey before 5pm.

 

But enough of that. We headed to Kilkenny to watch the Division 1 hurling final and the camoghie final. I brought standing terrace tickets and in 13 degree temperatures G-Squared and I went into the ground just after half time of the carmoghie final between Cork and Kilkenny. Kilkenny were raging favourites and duly won.

 

I went over to an old bloke and asked him what a goal was worth and three minutes later I came back with no idea. Soon after another bloke tapped me on the shoulder and said three. G-Squared told him I was suffering a bit of a language problem and the guy laughed. “It’s more than a language problem, love,” he said, “Your man chose to speak to a bloke that’s well known to all here but he’s deaf and can’t see! Knows the game however.”

 

He also asked what I thought about the hot dog I’d just eaten. I said “I wouldn’t feed that to my dog!” to which he replied “I spent a year in Australia and you would call it shite Tucker!”

 

I agreed and asked where we could get a drink. He told me that there is no drink as they would go crazy. Dam it! I’m in a country with a pub for every person and I can’t get a drink at the hurling!

 

But it is something. The press coverage in the national papers was incredible. The crowd was tremendous and they were all there for the first game as well. The atmosphere was electric. A Brass Marching Band led the two teams around the paddock before the start and then the game was on. Hurling is incredibly skilful and fast. Barring the use of a hurler it is not dissimilar to Aussie Rules. It is a 360 degree game and the athletes are fast and fit. Given G-Squared’s historical connection we were supporting the underdog Kilkenny at their home ground. Kilkenny – known as the Cats (and in honour of editor JTH I let out a couple of “Carn the Cats” as he had taught me at the MCG a couple of years ago) started to wrest control late in the first half. The Black and Amber (very much like Richmond or Hawthorn) led (only just) at half time.

 

During the break I spoke again with the bloke who had helped me out with the scoring. He was a farmer who I think may have played. He said all the lads were farmers or labourers with a couple of soft workers. I asked what a soft worker was and of course I should have seen this coming but he said, “You know – teachers and the like!”

 

I said “Hold on fella, I’m a teacher” and even G-Squared joined in the laugh (she of course loves a laugh on me!)

 

He asked what I made of it and I told him if I was coaching Tipperary I’d tell my boys to iron out Number 11. He said that’s TJ and if he’s gone where fecked (or however they say it). I asked how long had they been wearing helmets and he said compulsory for the last six years. He pushed out his front dentures and I laughed to which I replied: “Now I know why so many Irishmen are missing a couple of Barry Beath. I don’t know what you done but you got a head like a beaten favourite!”

 

I had little other than G-Squared’s snicker to comfort me. Hurling is a dangerous game played at speed and with great skill. In the second half TJ Reid was the Chieftain of Nowlan Park.  His composure was evident to the untrained eye and after one of his scoring shots from about 60 metres out I turned to the Cats’ supporters and yelled: “what about TJ – he hits like an Excocet Missile!”

 

The Cats’ crowd, who I thought would now absorb me as one of their own, sadly didn’t understand a word I said. G Squared just said with her deep understanding of Irish politic,s “Did you have to mention a BOMB in Ireland.”

 

Kilkenny went on to win by six completing the double.

 

We could learn a lot from the way this event was run. No real corporate area, an appreciation of the curtain raiser, no rock musician at the start and players playing for their County. There is a lot of criticism of the GAA in the local press but I think if the Irish could see the future they may not want what we have. Players are revered in their own communities. The following day we drove through Thomastown where arguably Kilkenny’s greatest player came from, and his statue had a Cats flag adorned on his hurler. You have to love sport!

 

PS I never caught the bloke’s name I spoke with but we had a great yarn. He said he loved that state Rugby League game you play (“Wham Bash Whack”). I did say at game’s end how about we go and have a drink. “I’d love to,” he said,  “but I gotta go an milk m’cows!”

 

That’s Ireland for you and I’ll be following the Cats now to the All Ireland.

 

 

Comments

  1. Love that Matt. Ireland is unique. Whimsical, magical, beautiful. Over there they ask one of the great questions that mankind has ever come up with:

    “D’ya fancy a point?”

    How can you say no to that?

  2. Ian Hauser says:

    A good read, as always, Matt – pure kulcha! I assume you’re also doing a diligent taste-test of Guinness as you transverse the Emerald Isle. I’m sure that Education Queensland will look forward to your formal report and the potential applications of things Irish to the home curriculum. It sounds like the Golden Girl has well and truly retained her ancestral ties. Should we look forward to her Cultural report at some time?

  3. Wal Auremi says:

    Hi Matt,
    Looks as though you n the bride are having a great time overseas let alone enjoying the culture,cuisine and world renown refreshments of Ireland.
    Upon your return to the sunny Gold Coast a thesis on “How many points of Guinness are too much? would be appreciated.
    Cheers n Beers
    Wal.

  4. Tracy Finnegan says:

    Dia dhuit Matt, they don’t need beer at the matches as they are already high from the buckets of coffee!

Leave a Comment

*