travel

that time I went to Ireland for a bachelor party

September 4, 2015
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When my friend Chris called to tell me he had proposed to his girlfriend, my very first question was, “Where is the Bachelor Party?” to which he immediately replied, “Ireland.”

Just two days after finishing my first 70.3 Ironman I was on a plane with seven other gents en route to Dublin. I only knew the groom-to-be, so I was curious to meet the new friends I would undoubtedly be imbibing with in various pubs over the weekend. Before boarding our Aer Lingus flight out of Boston we toasted our weekend ahead with a round of Guinness–with 45 minutes to spare before take off we had plenty of time to get acquainted. Right?

Moments after our glasses clinked we overheard “final call for Aer Lingus flight to Dublin–all passengers must be on board” which provided the motivation for an impromptu Guinness chugging contest followed by a frantic 5k race to the gate. You have no idea how many times this has happened to me.

Moments after our glasses clinked we overheard “final call for Aer Lingus flight to Dublin–all passengers must be on board” which provided the motivation for an impromptu Guinness chugging contest followed by a frantic 5k race to the gate.

Unfortunately our seats were randomly scattered about the plane. I was near the front with an empty seat next to me for all of my shit–maybe one of the few times in my life I’ve traveled abroad with no checked baggage. This was an evening flight, and while it’s near impossible for me to sleep on a plane, I was hoping to get a few hours of sleep. Oddly, Aer Lingus runs a fairly severe ship. For example, during dinner the flight attendants came by and moved every single seatback to their upright position. They didn’t even ask, really. Sleeping or not, all seats had to be upright during dinner and they made it so. I just thought this was so peculiar. And then the lights were never dimmed except very close to the end of the flight. You shall not sleep on Aer Lingus!

Mid-flight I met up with Chris and one of our fellow celebrators at one of the flight attendant galley stations. This was actually fairly educational, and when deciding upon seeing a soccer match or a hurling match, the Aer Lingus staff unanimously suggested that a hurling match was the sport to see in Ireland. They were very friendly and didn’t seem to mind that we were constantly in their way.

After landing in Dublin we regrouped and found our driver who was waiting patiently for us in a sweet Mercedes Sprinter. We stayed exclusively in Galway, on the Atlantic coast of Southern Ireland, so we had a bit of a drive from Dublin ahead of us. But first, it wouldn’t be a trip to Ireland without a whisky whiskey distillery tour. (Whiskey, with an e, being the spelling specific to the terroir of Ireland.) Nothing like being awake for 36 hours and tasting whiskey at 10 in the morning!

 

After checking into our three flats, attached to the T.J. Maxx T.K. Maxx, a few of the lads wanted to rest up. Knowing if I fell asleep I probably wouldn’t wake up, I decided to power through the jet lag by way of a run. I know, I know… it seems super d-bag to bring running gear on a bachelor party get-a-way especially after finishing a huge race, but dammit, I need to run. I was able to convince my flat mate, James, to join me and we ended up running a little over five miles. Interestingly, the run really rejuvenated me and I was ready to go for our first round of pub crawling. In fact, I think we stayed up until three in the morning. So, that’s a long time to go without any sleep.

For the next few mornings I would venture out on a few more runs before everyone woke up. Naturally, I found the run/bike path that ran along the coast of Galway. Not only did I burn off the Guinness, but I also was able to see some pretty cool shit I wouldn’t have seen otherwise–a memorial/tribute to the 100 vessels that transported the potato famine victims to Boston and abroad, Irish folk taking a dip into the icy Atlantic, a lighthouse at the end of a jetty and breath taking views of the ocean. I was able to log about 20 miles.

 

 

I was comfortable in jeans and a light jacket with mid-August temperatures never reaching above 65°F. (Perfect in my opinion.) The weather in Ireland is very temperate with swift bands of rain periodically altering the landscape. The sky is dramatic and continually in motion making it possible for even the most challenged of photographers to snap a majestic photo worthy of pins, regrams and likes.

Our first full day of touring the countryside took us through small winding roads by means of a spacious Mercedes passenger van. The driver was a funny Irish fellow with a vast amount of information, albeit spoken with a thick accent quite possibly in needing of occasional translation. One of the memorable bits of history that stuck with me was the explanation of the ubiquitous stone fences that divide the countryside into various compartments. At some point we noticed a wall dividing a vast and expansive exposed limestone mountain side; upon inquiring about this unusual demarcation, it was explained that this specific wall was built during the potato famine. The ruling British empire promised workers wages and rations in exchange for building the extraneous walls–a grueling and laborious chore. So the Irish built the stone walls but, ultimately, were never compensated. Our driver explained that today the mountain-side walls serve as a solemn reminder of what the people of Ireland endured during the famine.

The sky is dramatic and continually in motion making it possible for even the most challenged of photographers to snap a majestic photo worthy of pins, regrams and likes.

Our first stop was the Danguare castle; although I am not sure if I would really qualify the structure so much a castle considering at only 1,600 square feet this could be a comfortable home for 2 svelte persons. (If you’re ok with stairs.) It only took about 10 minutes to tour each floor and so I made it back down to the tacky souvenir store. A mature English couple wandered in and told the clerk, in the most cockney of cockney accents, “There are some grown men up there acting like complete children!” I knew this could only be my posse, so I discreetly made my way back to the van. (No arrests were made.)

Continuing on we made a stop along the Irish coast, a vast swath of moss, grass, wild flowers, stones and… cows. Despite the rock walls, cows and sheep seem to perpetually eat grass and ostensibly hang out wherever they please.

Maybe the tour de force of the day, and possibly the trip, was the Cliffs of Moher. I’ll let my photos do the talking, but if visiting Ireland, this is a must. Apparently we lucked out with the weather and were provided a clear view of the cliffs and ocean. The sheer majesty and dizzying heights of the cliffs is enough to make even those not afraid of heights to err on the side of caution. A few of my mates had no problem avoiding the danger signs to take an extreme selfie, e.g. lying on one’s back with head extended over the cliff to reveal the crashing ocean hundreds of meters below, I can tell you I was not one of those persons.

 

Our flats were very modern and had all of the conveniences one would could ever need including wifi and a full kitchen. We had three apartments between the eight of us, so there was plenty of room; however, the bachelor’s flat was definitely the common gathering spot. Our evenings typically started with a late dinner. One of our first dinners was an Indian place I spotted during a run, figuring that the Irish know their curry well, Kumar’s did not disappoint. This, followed by hours of pub crawling.

Galway is well known throughout Europe as being the place one goes for stag and hen parties, that is, bachelor and bachelorette parties. Our roving gang of merriment was not a foreign concept to these parts as many, many groups of guys and girls were to be seen darting in and out of bars in the Latin Quarter. Narrow cobbled stone streets are lined with one pub after another–most with such a similar vibe that it is often difficult to discern where one bar ends and another begins.

I did, on more than one occasion, feel supremely out of place if only by contrasting my age with the average age of our fellow pub crawlers. While some pubs were clearly geared towards 20-somethings hoping to get lucky, others were a little more chill [read: parents of 20-somethings looking to get lucky]. Prices were not too bad, for example a shot of Jamesons will only set you back 5 Euro and a pint of Guinness around 4 Euro. Regardless, when in Galway, do as the Galwinians do.

I enter the pub and there’s Chris seated at the bar having a pint of Guinness–behind the bar is this ridiculously gorgeous Irish girl talking about how she used to be a hurler until she suffered a hernia as a result of the sport. Let’s see… sporty/badass, beautiful, Irish accent…

On the sage advice of our Aer Lingus flight staff, on our last full day in Ireland we drove 2.5 hours outside of Galway to a hurling match. “What on Earth is hurling?”, you might be thinking. Imagine a cross between hockey, baseball, lacrosse and football. In short, hurling is a sporting match between two teams played on a grass area roughly the same size as a football field. On each end of the field is a goal post with both an upper and lower goal. The object of the game is to hurl a baseball-sized ball through the upper goal posts for a point, or if possible, through the lower goal posts for 3 points–more difficult to achieve since there is a goalie. What makes this sport particularly brutal is that the only protective gear players wear is a helmet. It is also worth noting that the players carry a large stick with a paddle on the end and routinely smack the shit out of each other. (For your video viewing pleasure.)

Aside from learning that fans DO NOT eat or drink in the stands, clearly an American faux pas on our part, the hurling match was interesting if albeit short. I think maybe the most amazing part of our journey had nothing to do with hurling. In other words, a funny thing happened on the way to the hurling match.

About an hour into our drive on the way to the stadium Chris had to use the restroom. Our driver for the day pulled over on the side of the road in the middle of a tiny random Irish town and told him to use the pub bathroom, that they wouldn’t mind. Six or seven minutes go by and Chris has yet to return to our van. I suggest to my traveling companions that I go into the pub to check on Chris. I enter the pub and there’s Chris seated at the bar having a pint of Guinness–behind the bar is this ridiculously gorgeous Irish girl talking about how she used to be a hurler until she suffered a hernia as a result of the sport. Let’s see… sporty/badass, beautiful, Irish accent…

“Yeah, I’ll have a pint as well.” I couldn’t very well not have a Guinness in this situation. So another few minutes go by and another member of our group walks into the pub, “hey guys, the driver says that if we don’t leave soon… oh… huh… yeah, I’ll have a pint.”

One-by-one our entourage entered the pub subsequently ready to murder those that left the van, but consequently held captive by the siren song of the Irish barkeep–Shawna.

 

 

I immensely enjoyed this trip. All of the guys I travelled with were amazing and unique in their own way–kind of like the Breakfast Club. I definitely would recommend travels to Ireland and I hope that on my next visit I get to explore the North country a bit as well, and maybe spend some time in Dublin.

Oh, and one bit of advice I picked up (aside from not eating in the grand stand), don’t use an umbrella–it’s how you spot a tourist, or Brit.

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