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A bit of the match

“I wish I did less on my trip overseas.” I have heard plenty of people regret not doing enough on a trip, not seeing or experiencing enough, but never someone regretting having too many experiences. My friends and I have taken this to heart, and here is why: this past weekend we wandered around downtown Dublin, visited Dublin Castle, spent a day on a farm milking cows, herding sheep, baking soda bread, and learning new sports, attended a Gaelic football match, visited the Wicklow Mountains and a nearby ancient monastery south of Dublin, and spent the rest of our Sunday exploring Kilkenny Castle and the Smithwick’s Brewery in County Kilkenny. Needless to say, I got 13 hours of sleep Sunday night. The weekend with friends was unforgettable and I am sure I will touch on many of the experiences in future blog posts. The Gaelic football match, however, was particularly special. In a jam-packed weekend, this event stood out because it was there where I met one of my distant Irish relatives for the first time. My parents made me aware of a network of Irish relatives we had on my dad’s side that I knew little about. My Aunt Kathleen helped get me in touch with Joe McDonagh first through email and eventually through phone. To put it simply, Joe’s great-grandfather is my great-great-grandfather. If I remember correctly, he informed me 9 of 11 children in our family left Galway in the late 1800s due to poverty for America. I am a descendant on my father’s mother’s side of one that left, while he is a descendant of one that stayed. He offered me information about our family and Irish ancestors that I had never heard before. My friend from DCU who tagged along even remarked after our night out that he spotted a family resemblance! Earlier in the night, my friend Luke and I got back from our farm trip, washed the bog mud off, and headed for western Europe’s fourth largest stadium, Croke Park, in the north of Dublin. Joe and I agreed to meet for a Gaelic football match. Luke and I got to our seats, but not without a ridiculously long and frustrating time getting into the stadium, with it’s multitude of entrances and a ticket office blocks away from the stadium! What? The first noticeable difference in sporting events here in Ireland is that you cannot drink in the stadium, only in the concourse. We were very surprised by this rule coming from a huge drinking culture at American sporting events, and being in a country notoriously known for alcohol consumption. The second difference was obviously the sport being played. The Gaelic Games consist of hurling, which is basically an ancient, more primitive version of lacrosse, and Gaelic football, which is like a super-awesome handball+soccer+football extravaganza. With no pads. And almost as much fighting as hockey. These guys are amateurs (another big difference, as pro sports is not really a thing in such a small country), so they do it for the love of the game. You score one point for kicking through football-style uprights, and three points for getting it underneath them, much like soccer. This means consistent one-point scoring, but when a three-pointer is scored, everybody goes nuts (for Dublin of course). It was like a perfect formula for a spectator sport. We missed the hurling match, but Joe met us at our seats and took in the second half of Gaelic football with us. It was almost a surreal experience meeting a blood relative in a foreign country. He was a great guy, a family man with two kids. In typical Dublin fashion, we met one of his friends at a pub after the match. It was actually a really fun time, as two 21-year-old Americans shared stories with two 50-year-old Irishmen. We left with a promise to talk soon about coordinating a meeting with the rest of the relatives in Galway. Gaelic football was awesome, but meeting Joe was even better. My immediate family is passionate for good sports, and it’s great to know my distant relatives are no different.