Abu Dhabi Harlequins – U14’s + Parents Visit to Ireland March 2016
Q: Why would a group of ex-pat kids and their parents from all over the world want to leave hot sunshine to come to Ireland in the month or March?
A: For the welcome, for the scenery, for the pubs, for the rugby and for the snow!
The group flew from Abu Dhabi to Dublin using various connections and met in Dublin Airport for departure to Galway. The tone for the trip was set with a light hearted introduction to the highlights of Irish history to help the visitors to understand why the Ireland is what she is today.
There was no delay in getting into the business end of the visit with distribution of complimentary rugby kit and a training session for the team with an international rugby coach at the University Playing Fields. While the team were being put through their paces, the parents were occupied too with a walking tour of Galway City. Highlights included the buskers in Shop Street, the River Corrib the shortest in Europe and the magnificent Galway Cathedral which mesmerised the visitors. The Menlo Park Hotel pushed the boat out providing a separate room for the dinner and team meeting and providing a breakout room for the team to ‘hang out’.
Next day after a superb Irish Breakfast with all the trimmings departure was made for the first match of the tour against Monivea RFC. The welcome here was very warm both on and off the pitch. Harlequins won the match getting the tour off to a great start. The after match soup, sandwiches and conviviality led us to linger for quite a while after the presentations of awards. That evening all attended the Sportsground for the top of the table Pro 12 match between Connaught and Leinster. What an atmosphere, what a game, what a result! Connaught won by 7-6 much to the delight of the home crowd who celebrated with many renditions of the ‘Fields of Athenry’ and ‘The West’s Awake’.
The next day, wild weather welcomed us to beautiful Lahinch and the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. The storm created magnificent waves that excited the group and reminded them that we were at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. After a ‘bad hair day’ on the Cliffs the welcome in the nearby Doolin Hotel was very well received. The return journey was passed with the teaching of the popular Irish song ‘The Wild Rover’.
The following day, Ballina and Ballyhaunis provided the opposition for a three way competition in Ballina Rugby Club. The welcome once again was special with lots of parents and supporters turning out for the match and the afters. Harlequins won both matches keeping their 100% tour record. Many of the Ballina supporters had sore heads from the celebrations from the night before when they had won the Connaught Junior Cup. Excellent integration between the players after the games when jerseys were swapped. Arrived in Westport to take up residence in the Westport Coast Hotel. An evening visit to the world famous Matt Molloy’s pub finished a perfect day.
Now for the snow! We wrapped up and boarded the bus for a climb of the 2,500 ft Croagh Patrick named after our national saint. Conditions were poor with intermittent rain, sleet and poor visibility from time to time. As we reached the shoulder at about 1500 ft we encountered a blizzard and lost visibility. The decision was made to retrace our steps to a local pub, but the experience of climbing in a blizzard was special as many of the kids had never seen snow before. Tired limbs made for a quite evening.
Next day it was off to Dublin for a trip with Viking Splash Tours when the tourists on the vehicle roar at the tourists in the street! An enjoyable trip was had by all before departing for the fourth match of the tour against Seapoint RFC. This was a tough game for Harlequins and it resulted in the first defeat of the tour but a lot of valuable lessons learned. A fantastic meal was served up to team and parents alike helped to block the memory of the defeat.
The second last day dawned for the the essential visit to the Guinness Storehouse where the best pint of Guinness in the world is served in the bar with the best view of Dublin. The pints prepared the supporters to shout on the team at the final match of the tour against Suttonians RFC which resulted in another win for ‘quins. Once again fantastic food and mingling with locals after the match when kids and adults alike shared stories with the home team and supporters.
The last day finished withe a visit to Croke Park third largest stadium in Europe. The skyline walk across the roof of the stadium was followed by a trial at the unique Irish games of Gaelic Football and Hurling.
A fantastic time was had by all with great stories, great rugby and great memories of the visit to Ireland.