| Treasures of Ireland:
The Kilkenny Way
Story and photos by Tom Weber
that fun-loving island out in the Atlantic, is world renowned for many
things, both real and imaginary. For instance, the luck of the Irish,
leprechauns, a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, the Blarney Stone,
a pint of the black stuff, U2 and hurling.
Yes, hurling. It's the ancient Gaelic ball-and-stick
sport that's been played all around the Emerald Isle for some 3,000
Like baseball, the national pastime of
the USofA, hurling is THE sport in Ireland.
And, down around Kilkenny, in the
southeastern reaches of the country, hurling is more than just
a sport, it's a way of life, as the "band of merry media"
18 travel writers and photographers invited by Insight
Vacations (Insight) to sample its Treasures of Ireland
journey is about to find out as we hop off the motor coach
and take our places on one of the training pitches at the O'Loughlin
"The rest of Europe may be enamored
with soccer, the so-called beautiful game," remarks PJ Lanigan,
our instructor and proprietor of Lanigans, the fave local
sports pub-restaurant, "but here in Kilkenny, the epicenter
of the fastest sport on grass, hurling rules and for good reason."
Pausing for effect, the part-time
coach/full-time barman proudly adds, while lifting the coveted
Liam McCarthy Cup for all to see, "The Cats, our senior GAA
(Gaelic Athletic Association) division team, has won the All-Ireland
Senior Hurling Final a record 34 times."
We learn quickly from PJ that hurling,
a totally pure amateur sport no player is paid, other than for
his day job, or receives commercial endorsements is comprised
of two opposing 15-man teams (the distaff version of the game is called
camogie) that, at the senior level, play two, pedal-to-the-metal,
Each player, sans protective pads, but
wearing a mandatory plastic helmet with a face guard, uses a hurley,
a wooden stick made from ash with a flattened, curved end to carry,
pass and hit the sliotar, a cork-core, leather-wrapped ball,
about the size of a tennis ball.
The object of hurling is to navigate the
defense and hit the sliotar through the uprights of the goal posts (1
point), or strike it past the opposing team's goalie into the goal net
(3 points). The team with the most points as time runs out is declared
the winner of the match.
Under the watchful eye of PJ, the
creator of The
Kilkenny Way: The Ultimate Hurling Experience a huge
tourist draw for the area involving hurling instruction on the
hallowed grounds of Nowlan Park, the Cat's 24,000-seat home stadium,
and a pub lunch at Lanigan's upstairs Legend's Hurling Bar Museum
we grab a hurley and break down into two groups.
Facing each other, we attempt a simple
exercise of open-palm patting of a sliotar to our opposite's hurley,
who, in turn, taps it back to our open palms, and so on. OUCH!
That sliotar smarts.
Next, we take turns drilling on the
field, trying to carry a sliotar on the flat end of the hurley.
It ain't easy.
Finally, we take a stab at a scoop-and-strike
maneuver, lifting the sliotar up off the pitch by the end of the
hurley while running, then hitting it, if we possibly can.
WHIFF. WHIFF. WHACK!
Surprisingly, no one's offered a slot to
play for the mighty black-and-amber Cats, so the "band of merry
media" boards the Insight motor coach and follows PJ into Kilkenny
City to his sports pub-restaurant, Lanigans, all decked out with hurling
Pints of Guinness all around and on the
house, and bowls of piping hot, wholesome Irish stew on Insight's euro.
Mm, mm, mm. It doesn't get any better than this.
A farewell fist bump with PJ, the Kilkenny
way, and I make my way out of Lanigans and head back to the motorcoach.
Along the way, I stop briefly inside Kilkenny Castle Park to admire
the 13th century Anglo-Norman stone fortress and its well-manicured
gardens overlooking the River Nore.
The challenge of hurling; the beauty of
a Guinness; the goodness of Irish stew; and, a castle thrown in for
good measure. Not a bad way to jumpstart a visit to the southeastern
corner of Ireland. Not a bad way at all. At all.
For complete information on Insight's 100+
premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, including the Treasures
of Ireland itinerary, just click HERE,
or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
St. Patrick, the patron saint of Eire,
singlehandedly turned pagans into Christians, and a rock, on the very
spot where he began his religious conversions, is named in his honor.
That's where The Palladian Traveler heads next in his quest for the
treasures of Ireland.
Donnybrook of a Feast; Dublin
and the Book of Kells; Treasures
of Ireland: Prologue; Ashford
Castle: Regal Elegance Wrapped in Irish Charm; The
Long Good Bye to Ireland