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Kilkenny
Treasures of Ireland:
The Kilkenny Way
(Dispatch #4)

Story and photos by Tom Weber

Guinness dry stout

reland, 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.

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 years.

Like baseball, the national pastime of the USofA, hurling is THE sport in Ireland.

hurling at the O'Loughlin Gaels complex, Kilkenny

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 Gaels complex.

"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."

PJ Lanigan with the Liam McCarthy Cup

hurling plastic helmet, hurley sticks and sliotar balls

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, 35-minute halves.

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.

close up of a sliotar

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!

Lanigans sports pub-restaurant

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 memorabilia.

Irish stew

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.

Kilkenny Castle Park

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.

Insight Vacations brochure

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.

Related Articles:
A 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




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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: http://www.compagniadeicammini.it/en/. Thanks for stopping by and commenting..

Tom

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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal




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