When most people tour Ireland, they visit the crumbling castles. They sniff wildflowers in the Burren. They tap their feet to fiddle music in Doolin. They ignore all the warning signs and stand looking out over the edge of the Cliffs of Moher. They eat brown bread and butter in the morning, and drink Guinness in the evening.
And make no mistake, that’s a pretty good trip.
But becoming a part of the community, and throwing yourself heart and soul into one of Ireland’s most prized pastimes? Priceless!
That’s what the Irish football-playing boys of the Delaware County Gaels did a few weeks ago when they headed to County Derry for the Féile Peile na nÓg, a national festival of Gaelic athletics for young people.
Did they come home champs? Nah. Did they come happy? You bet, says Tom Higgins, of the Gaels organization.
“We did well. We won our group,” he says. “We were in with the host team from Derry and another team from Derry, and a team from Gloucestershire, England. We got to the semi level of our division, and we lost by a point to Kildare, in overtime. Kildare eventually got killed in the finals, and the same thing would have happened to us, anyway. We did as well as we had hoped to do.”
When the Gaels first arrived, over the July 4th weekend, they played a warmup game against the host team, St. Gall’s. “They hosted us and had a great night for us,” he says. “Then we went on to Letterkenny in Donegal for a four-team tournament. We won two out of three of those games, and then it was on to the tournament.” The team and families stayed in Letterkenny for most of their visit.
The last two nights they stayed in Ballymaguigan in Derry’s far southeast “They’re the smallest club in Ulster, maybe the smallest club in all Ireland. So an event like this might never hapopened again for them,” says Higgins. “They hosted us well and treated us great.”
Traveling to the Feile in Derry was a huge thrill for the boys, Higgins says. More than half of the kids aren’t Irish. “I’d say they were blown away by the hospitality,” he says.
Playing in Derry was also gratifying because there are so many ties between Philadelphia and the North. “A ton of people came out to see us,” Higgins says. “It was a reunion of sorts.”
For a time, Higgins says, it must have seemed to the locals like Ireland was overrun by Philadelphians. He and a group of about 30 from Philly were visiting a pub called The Cottage in Letterkenny, and a lot of them were wearing Philadelphia GAA jerseys. Higgins said he overheard a tourist comment on the jerseys and ask the bartender: Is there a Philadelphia in Ireland? Higgins says he went over and introduced himself. Turns out the tourist was from Levittown.
A little while later, another tourist came ambling in, looking for a place to hear Irish music. Higgins recognized the new visitor as Tom Johnson, someone he knew from Lafayette Hill.
“The bartender comes over to me and asks: How many people from Philadelphia are in this town?”
Ah … never enough.