Connacht, Connemara and craic: The return of the annual rugby tour!

Our man Frank on going on tour with his rugby friends again; a reader’s query on the ‘overnight’ reopening of the Cuisle Centre…and in praise of Rory and Shane…

It’s Friday afternoon as I write, and I can feel the excitement building up. After more than two years of isolation and lockdowns, what used to be our annual rugby tour is back on. Ten of us are getting ready to head away for the weekend. The fact that we are not going to Cardiff or Edinburgh or any of the Six Nations-hosting cities doesn’t make the slightest difference, as after all this time we are just glad to be going anywhere.

  For this trip, Galway is our destination as we are going to The Sportsground for the Champions League rugby match between Connacht and Leinster. We are told to be in the Hardiman Hotel for 5 pm where we will be wined and dined and entertained for an hour or two before heading out to the match for the 8 pm kick-off. And so we all arrived in good time, had a beverage or two, and headed up the stairs to one of the hotel meeting rooms, where we all partook of a beautiful meal.

  The compere on duty introduced Connacht player Tom Daly before then conducting a question and answer session with him for about 15 minutes. Now Tom Daly came across very well, but it struck me that as a professional rugby player you are expected to do lots of stuff that old-time amateurs would never have had to.

  The Dinner was presumably put on as a fundraiser by the Connacht branch, and as Daly was not in the panel for the big game, I suppose as part of his contract he simply had to turn up for the PRO stint. I can’t imagine he would have enjoyed making small talk in front of a couple of hundred people – most of whom seemed to be more interested in the wine and the food than in the rugby – but I may be wrong. Anyways, he did it, and, as I said, he came across very well.

  Anyway, dinner over, and it was time to head for The Sportsground, where, in the biting cold, we were lucky enough to see one hell of a game. Everyone knows by now that Leinster had a narrow win and will take a five-point lead back to the Aviva for next Friday’s re-match. It was a superb performance by the Connacht lads, against what to all intents and purposes was practically the full Irish team, but there is no doubt they face another massive test in Dublin on Friday afternoon.

  One of the highlights of the entertainment that was laid on at The Sportsground was the performance of a group of young drummers, Drumadore. The four lads and three girls involved were absolutely superb. Apparently Drumadore is a drumming school aimed at children from 5 years to 18 years of age, and their mission is to “deliver fun and professional drumming lessons that help children grow in confidence, make friends and learn to perform”. On the evidence of last Friday night they are certainly doing that. I see that they perform at all the Connacht home games. If you ever get the chance, keep an eye out for them, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

  When the game was over we dispersed to various watering holes around the city, and despite the continuing huge threat of Covid, we enjoyed being back together and all agreed it was great to be back on tour. Because of different commitments, some of the group had to head home on Saturday, but a number of us decided to stick with it for another night. On Saturday morning, myself, Jack the Lower (Hegarty) and Mikeen (of Mikeen’s pub) headed out to Connemara, where, on a most beautiful day, we took in the wonderful scenery and visited lots of the area’s iconic locations.

  Later on, we all met up in my favourite Galway pub, Garavan’s, and, after watching the Munster-Exeter match we had a pint or two and called a halt to our 2022 tour.

  The abiding memory is that it was great to be back, although, funny enough, Covid was never far from our minds, but I suppose people have to try to live as well. Indeed late on Friday night we began to hatch plans for next year.

  However, as we are not as young as we were when we first toured in 1997, we decided to hurl cool and check later in the year to see if we are all still around! Anyway, Galway was great, the rugby was great, the craic was great, the company was great, and all I can say is it was good to be back.

Cuisle Centre: Were €1.15m works’ done?

Closer to home, one of my readers contacted me with a very simple question. His query is as follows: if it was possible to reopen Cuisle at such short notice to house the Ukrainian refugees, why was it necessary to close it down in the first place?

  According to this man, the Irish Wheelchair Association, who were running the centre at the time of the closure in November 2019, claimed it would take €1.15m to rectify the building’s wiring and fire safety work. They claimed they had to close it down because they couldn’t get the required funding. So, my reader wants to know if the money was made available and if the work was done, and if not, how could a place that was unsafe two years ago be fit for purpose now? He also wants to know if the people who used Cuisle as a respite centre, and who were promised holiday facilities in hotels round the country, have actually ever had those facilities made available to them – his information is that they haven’t (I don’t know the position).

  Anyway, for him the big question is how a place that wasn’t fit for purpose two years ago, and that was closed down because of safety considerations, could now be safe for the Ukrainian refugees who are now living there. In case anyone thinks he is being critical of the wonderful efforts made by so many people to get Cuisle ready for the refugees, nothing could be further from the truth – all he wants to know is whether or not the fire worries have been addressed.

And finally…

Finally for this week, it is hard to believe that this tiny island of Ireland could have two of the top four golfers in the Masters in Augusta over the weekend. Rory McIlroy, second, and Shane Lowry, joint third, really flew the flag for our country, and sporting-wise it has to be one of the most amazing achievements of all time. Both of them are past Major winners, but to fill two of the top three places in the Masters shows that despite everyone saying that McIlroy is past it, they are well capable of winning more majors in the years to come.

  For the moment, despite the fact that Scottie Scheffler won the green jacket, the performances of the two Irish lads really lit up Augusta, and the reception that McIlroy got as he holed a miracle chip on the last hole was one that will live long in all our memories.

  I am sidelined from the golf course until my new pacemaker settles into its new home, but hopefully in a few weeks I will get back out and prove that even if you aren’t a Masters winner, you too can enjoy the fresh air, the lovely surroundings, play a few holes and simply relax on some local golf course.