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Rugby Central

13 May

I hadn’t realised how huge the Rugby scene was in Limerick even after I witnessed the epic “40 phases of play” the Munster team pulled off in the Heinekin Cup opener of 2011 (which I wrote about here).  But after I started working and rowing there, if I had been in any doubt about the connection Limerick has to Rugby, it was erased the other day when I drove through a roundabout on the southern side of town and saw signs for three different clubs all in the same place!

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Row-M-G

10 Feb

This is where I row.  How cool is this:

whereIrow

I mean, Boston was great and scenic, and California is beautiful, but when the water in Limerick is low and I can row past secret underwater entrances to the dungeons of a thousand-year-old castle I have to take a moment and think “how lucky am I to be able to row on this river!”

water view

25 May

One good thing about being a rower is that it gives me an opportunity to see things that non-rowers usually don’t.  Often these things happen very early in the morning when the water is calm.

The other day I was up at dawn which is very very early these days what with the northerly latitude and all.  As I was driving on the bypass headed out from Ennis over to O’Briensbridge for the Limerick Regatta I looked off to my left and saw the ruins of the Clare Abbey rising out of the misty fields with the light hitting them in the most magical way. 

So I took a picture of it.

Now, anyone who was up at that time could have seen the same view, but I think most people driving the bypass at that hour are probably either still partially asleep or eager to get where they are going and might actually miss it. 

When I arrived in to O’Briensbridge for the racing, I parked in the village and walked down the river to the launching dock and took another most magical photo of the calm and glorious view that rowing exposed me to.

There is, however, a darker side to all this “I get to see things most people don’t see” stuff.  Being in Ireland in the midst of an economic depression means a lot of psychological depression is happening too and rowing in the middle of Limerick city shows this to me in the form of the Civil Defense boats that dragged the river pretty much every weekend from January through March looking for “missing” people that might have gone missing right around the Sarsfield Bridge.

The longer days and warmer weather seem to have lifted people’s spirits a bit and the search and rescue folks are getting a little breather on the missing people searches.

And I’ve finally managed to get used to the funny rowing terms they use over here like bow side” and “stroke side” insteady of “starboard” and “port” or “easy all” instead of “weigh nuff” and “backstops” instead of “at the finish” and…now that I think of it, maybe the American terms are a little funnier.

Here’s a video I managed to take while we were tying in on the water, and you can hear the cox telling us to start from “backstops” here just before I throw the phone into the hold.

St. Michael’s Head of the River

1 Feb

Here’s a weird sort of life-circle kind of thing:  last weekend was the Saint Michael’s Head-of-the-River regatta held in a little town called O’Briensbridge (don’t know why they keep the apostrophe after the “O” but omit the one before the “s”) .  I rowed in this race years ago when I happened to be in the country for Mary Kearney’s wedding.  Now fast forward and I’m actually here as part of the event!

the town as seen from the eponymous bridge

My rowing club in Limerick hosts this regatta which means members like me are the ones directing traffic, selling refreshments, running the timing, the starts, the posting of results and the launching and landing of boats.

As for me personally, I was working the landing side of the boat slip, helping to guide the boats in.  Holding the riggers while scullers got out so they didn’t flip into the water.  Barking orders at the younger rowers to hurry up because there were boats waiting to land.

This regatta is the largest rowing event in Ireland annually.  This year it broke previous records for the most entries in any regatta in Irish rowing history.  We had over 500 boats race in the 7 hours between 9am and 4pm.  I suppost that averages about a boat a minute down the course, but from my perspective on the slipway (which is what they called the launching area probably because the mud made it so slippery) it felt like there was a boat every ten seconds or so trying to land.  Here’s what the backup looked like of rowers trying to land their boats:

that bridge in back there is O'Brien's...

Eventually, someone relieved us and we went out and actually rowed our own boat down the course.  Of the 8 boats in our Masters category we were third and within 15 seconds of 1st with a time of 10m58s to their 10m44s and a 10m54s 2nd place boat.  Which is pretty good since it was so cold and wet on the slipway for the four hours before I raced that by the time I got into the boat, not only was I covered with mud, I could barely feel my hands or feet and my mouth was so frozen it had trouble making the neccessary sounds for talking.

Here’s us tying in after we finally launched our boat:

out of the frying pan...

I’m in the 5 seat with my head down adjusting my foot-stretchers, but you can see the chaos on the slipway with all the boats launching and waiting to launch.  Absolute mayhem – great mayhem and a good race.  Oh, there was a writeup in the paper too:  read the article

The 12 Posts of Christmas No.10 – Wedding

15 Jan

I have to say that one of the other highlights of the Christmas break was Paddy Quin’s wedding reception at the Old Ground Hotel.  Because both Paddy and his new wife are comitted rowers and members of Saint Michael’s rowing club, there were a lot of rowers there. 

This event was the first time in Ireland that I have ever felt like I wasn’t the largest guy in the room.  In fact, not only were there a lot of huge rowing-sized guys there, there were quite a few women there that were my size too.  The rowers brought in a bunch of the club oars and made a sort of arch for the couple to walk under as they entered the scene.

I guess I wasn't the only one with a cameraphone

A great event, and a lot of great people.  Perfect way to spend the day after the day after Christmas.

Like A Duck To Water…

26 Oct

On Saturday I raced in the Saint Michael’s Rowing Club Masters 8 at the “Castleconnell Head of the River” race in Castleconnell.  The course is approximately two miles, so not as long as some Head races, but plenty long enough by the time you get to the finish line.

You can just make out the boat through the weather (I'm the 5 seat).

The weather finally lived up to its reputation.

Absolutely torrential rain – verging on hail or at least it felt like hail on my back – a solid headwind through much of the course and freezing cold.  Just like the Irish would have you believe it was like all the time.  Of course, being in a t-shirt in a boat during this kind of innundation would tend to sear the memory into your head and have you chicken-littling everytime you felt a drop of dew on your cheek.

This kind of devotion is par-for-the-course for die-hard rowers – and I guess I’m one since it didn’t seem to bother me – but what  impressed me was that Mary and the girls came down to watch the race….and actually stayed around to watch (and take the above photo of me rowing). 

Before we left, I think Mary had a sort of idealized (IRL=idealised) vision of what being a spectator at this event would be like.  Maybe she had in mind something like the Head of the Charles race which was being rowed simulatenously way off in Boston.   The banks of the river along the racecourse might provide a seating area or some refreshment concessions or, this being Ireland, there might be a cute little town along the river with a small cozy pub or cafe in which to grab a hot-chocolate for the girls and sit by the river watching the boats going by.

As we approach Castleconnell, the little town is indeed a cute little Irish village with exactly the type of small pubs and cafes in which one could get a hot chocolate for the girls.  Although on this particular day, you wouldn’t want to drink it by the river, you’d want to sit by the fire in the restaurant and warm/dry yourself while you sipped your hot beverage. 

Unfortunately, even this quasi-idyllic vision wasn’t to be.  Castleconnell turns out not to be on the river at all.  The town is a good bit away from the actual river, and there is a (muddy) dirt road of about two kilometers leading down to the boathouse along the river.  All the rowers and their boats and their boat-trailers have made a grassy soupy sort of consistency to the ground that you slosh through if you dare venture out from under the canopy of the tent that the club has set up on the bank. 

I told the girls that they were under no obligation to stay around and that they would probably find much more interesting stuff to do in dryer and warmer places, but they still decided to stick around.  Truly amazing.

Because the race is a head race, the course is longer and curvier than the sprints, and consequently the boats start one at a time and row the course for time rather than side-by-side.  Consequently, at the end of the race you only have your own impression of how it went, you don’t have any kind of result as to who won and how fast you went.

It took a few days to get the results back, thus the delay in mentioning this event on the blog.  There were only three Masters 8’s in the race: us (St. Michael’s); The Shannon Rowing Club; and The Castle Connell Rowing Club.  So the competition wasn’t all that broad, but we had no indication as to how strong or fast any of the other boats would be.   Tuesday evening I found out that we came in first. 

My first Irish rowing victory and hopefully not the last.

The Road Less Travelled

12 Oct

I don’t think I’ve really talked about roads here in general, but I know I mentioned “The Bog Road” and the hedges on its edges and the bumpy-curvy nature of it. 

Not "The Bog Road" but very similar

So imagine trying to drive the posted speed limit of 80kph (or 50mph) down the road pictured above.  Yeah right.  You’d likely be in the bushes or someone’s field in about a minute. 

As a new arrival I find these roads both charming and adrenaline producing.  But I had an enlightening experience last Saturday that give me some insight into how the native population views the roads – and I wonder how long it will take before I feel the same way.

Here’s the story:

Because we are sharing Jim’s car, there is a logistical planning element to any trip taken such as taking the girls to school or picking them up, going shopping, etc.  Often we need to coordinate with Madeleine and Jim both as to where anyone needs to be and when and how they are going to get there. 

Sean and Trish live about two miles up the road in Quin (now you know why our address is “Quin Road” – because that’s what it is: the road to Quin).  Last week Trish’s car was out of service so there was an extra element of logistical planning as regards car travel since their two girls sometimes need shuttling from one place to another like ours do.

Quin Abbey with Sean's house among those just behind it

Trish needed the car in the morning Saturday morning, so Jim and Madeleine carpooled up to Galway Friday night in Madeleine’s car and dropped Jim’s car to Quin on the way.  This meant that Jim and Madeleine had a little less autonomy than usual, but we all appreciated their sacrifice and we made sure that we didn’t need to go anywhere Friday evening.  

On Saturday the rowers planned to meet at the boathouse at 2:00pm to go have a row, so right on schedule Trish came by our place with Jim’s car at 1:00pm and I jumped into it to drop her home and head off to Limerick for the rowing. 

Normally it would take me 25 minutes to get from our house to the boathouse, but as because of the Quin detour I figured on a longer trip.  As I discussed logistics with Jim on Friday afternoon, he casually mentions to me that I wouldn’t have to come back toward Ennis once I was in Quin, that I could “just keep on going directly from Quin and head straight down to Limerick”. 

So like a complete eejit (nice Irish word which I think may be derived from the english “Idiot”: Idiot->Idjit->Eejit)…anyway, like a complete eejit, after I dropped Trish and the girls off at her house in Quin, I “just keep on going” to head straight down to Limerick. 

If I had stopped and asked someone at a local pub about how to get from Quin to Limerick, it probably would have started a heated debate amongst the regulars because the towns in Ireland are connected like a spiderweb and are probably the inspiration for the theoretical math problem called “The Travelling Salesman” where you have to plan the most efficient route through many points…I digress…but…if I had asked for directions in the pub,  there certainly would have been an older fellow who would say something like “well you’d head out down the road there through Rathluby to Kilmurry and then down to Sixmilebridge where you’ll go through the town and just the other side you’ll see the road to Cratloe…” and then someone would have interrupted this guy and said “no no no, you wouldn’t want to head through Kilmurry now, the so-and-so funeral is this afternoon and you won’t get through the town at all, no, you’d want to take the turnoff before Rathluby down past Finn Lough and head on into Newmarket-on-Fergus…”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the good sense to stop into this mythical pub and ask directions. Neither did I consult a map before heading out, I just went.  I took the first route described above – to Kilmurry, and the roads were curvy, and bumpy and although they were wide enough for two cars to pass, you’d want to be careful about it.  

Missing the advice of the mythical second guy in the mythical pub, I ran straight into somebody’s funeral which meant that on the just-barely-wide-enough-for-two-cars width of the road, one half was taken up by parked cars snuggled into the hedges/fences at the edge of a cemetary.  The other half of the road which I would have normally been driving on, was taken up with people walking slowly from their cars, or directly from the church up to the cemetary and the odd car  creeping along amongst the walkers only to find itself bumper to frontbumper with another car and someone has to back up till someone can get by, but there are too many people around to go anywhere anyway and now there’s another car behind that one…and so on. 

Much slower than a funeral procession which might have been orderly and have had something of a start and a finish, the meanderings of the mourners was rather slow as I sat there idling in the car as they passed around me.  Many of them actually looked old enough to be participating more centrally in the event.  At one point I considered actually attending the burial since I was there anyway, but I figured my rowing gear wouldn’t be well recieved although it was mostly black.

In the end though, I made it past the funeral and curved and bounced my way down through Sixmilebridge and Cratloe into Limerick and to the boathouse in a total of about 40 minutes – arriving with 2 minutes to spare.

So when I told the guys about my adventure and the route I took, they all had the same reaction:  “oh, those roads are awful, you should have gone…”  even when I told Jim Lyons about the comment that he had made that inspired the adventure, he said almost word-for-word the same thing. 

I’m finding that the Irish have very strong opinions about the roads and their condition which rivals only their opinions about the weather and it’s (varying degrees of) awfulness.  I’ve written several entries about how I don’t think the weather is as bad as everyone else thinks it is, and now here I am thinking that the roads aren’t as bad as people think they are. 

Mary, Grace, and Aideen on the "original" Quin Road from Ennis that runs behind the field behind our house

Now that I’m thinking about it though, I can imagine that when you have to drive these roads every day of your life and you’ve got places to be and your time is scarce, and your attention is split by all the things you’re thinking, you may not have the headspace to appreciate the charm of the curvy-bumpy road, or for that matter the sunny spaces in between the clouds.

I hope that when I’m used to this place, I still manage keep the space in my mind to appreciate the little things I find so wonderful while I’m in discovery mode.

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