Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Full-contact egg races and a slice of Obamamania

This past weekend, Jenny and I road-tripped to the Irish midlands with our friend and fellow writer Eimear Ryan. She's a long-time fixture on the Moneygall camogie* team, and for as much as she downplays their quality of play, we gathered that a) Eimear is really good, and b) Eimear's team is really good. And not just in the way some of my slow-pitch softball teams were good.

*Camogie is the women's version of hurling, a traditional Gaelic sport. Think hockey on grass mixed with handball and an egg-race, and you won't be far off.

We met Eimear on Saturday evening, and she very kindly drove us to Moneygall. (Actually, Eimear lives in the finger of County Tipperary that extends into County Offaly just outside of Moneygall. Same thing, for our purposes.) Her house is lovely, and so was the family dwelling there.

After a brief pit-stop at the Ryan stronghold, Connor (Eimear's big brother) taxied the three of us into the town proper. Set the stage: Moneygall is a teeny-tiny town with one main street, and no one had heard of it until Barack and Michelle visited it in May of 2011. Our friend and host Eimear just happens to have grown up there. It has precisely two pubs, as far as we could tell, and they are right across the street from one another. The larger of the two is more or less what you expect out of an Irish pub. The smaller one is exceptional, and we wrote about it on our beer blog over here. (Here's the link to Adventures in Al"brew"querque.)

Moving right on ahead, after Julia Hayes, we went across the street to Ollie Hayes. (Eimear swears that not everyone in Moneygall is related.) Like much of the Moneygall strip, Ollie Hayes is steeped in Obamamania. The front is graced with a picture of the President emerging from the pub, and inside, Obama memorabilia lines the walls -- T-shirts, campaign posters, and loads of photographs. This pub even made the news back in Albuquerque, so of course they're proud of the attention! There's even a bust of Obama, and I must say, he looks quite dashing in a fedora. (There used to be a cardboard cutout of the President, too; it now resides up the street in the cafe.)

We didn't stay out too late. Eimear did have to sleep for her match, after all. We had a bit of a lie-in before breakfast, then Eimear took off for the game. Eimear's lovely mother (Berr -- my spelling could be off; it's short for Bernadette) gave us the grander tour of Moneygall by car, including the entire main street and then winding off into the beautiful soft hills to the church, which contains the records that reveal Obama's Irish lineage. (On the sign outside the church, we also found a tie to Circleville, Ohio -- my family's tiny hometown! Obama's great-great-great-great grandfather's brother filed a will in the courthouse there. It left a plot of land to Obama's ancestors and was the reason they left Ireland for the USA in the first place.)

Then we made it just in time for the camogie match. I can't say that we truly understand the game now, but we know how score is kept, and we know that the Irish must beat the self-preservation instinct out of their children while very young! Someone could easily lose a finger in these stick-thrashing melees! Now I see why Eimear comes to class with more bruises than a vampire slayer. Moneygall staved off a late Douglas comeback to win and advance to the semis of the Munster League. What did I say? Impressive!

Berr then took Jenny and me to the Obama Cafe up the street while we waited for Eimear to wrap up the postgame rituals. We had a delicious cup of coffee and a muffin while admiring the sheer amount of Obama swag. (The cafe was meant to be open for the presidential visit; complications meant that it opened about a month late. Oh well -- it seems to be thriving!) We then did our souvenir shopping there and just up the street, at the same souvenir shop where the Obamas took care of their own gifts. Once we finished, Berr took us a couple doors further down to the ancestral home of the Kearney's, Obama's forebears. The house has been opened to the public, and they've done a tastefully small display chronicling both Obama's heritage and his 2011 visit.

We reconvened with a showered and victorious Eimear, who drove us to the next town of Nenagh for a scrumptious dinner at an Italian restaurant. We were stuffed, and happy, and very satisfied with all we had packed into our day trip. Eimear was continuing on to Galway for a holiday with her folks, so she dropped us off at the bus stop. Jenny and I dozed our way back to Dublin, excited to post our pictures and share our Moneygall tales with all of you.

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