The “Cork Trip” has been spoken about at our club for a long, long time. It had developed a mythical status as the plan was originally conceived in late 2019. Our chairperson at the time – Stephen O’Rourke – managed to create a network with himself, Lydia Schneider-Benjamin of the Cork-Cologne Twinning Association and Mick Finn from Cork City Council (and St. Finbarrs GAA Club), and these contacts were central to everything.
The original trip was planned for March 2020, but then the global Coronavirus pandemic put it to the sideline. We were ready to go when we had to postpone it. The trip was put to the side until the time was safe and appropriate to go to Cork.
During that time, people who had intended on going originally became less involved in the club or couldn’t get the time for Cork for different reasons, and several dropped out of the trip. They were replaced by the bunch of people who ended up going instead, so the trip looked similar but also very different to the original.
The extra time in hindsight, was beneficial as our club has developed significantly since, and we were more prepared for what a trip of this magnitude would involve. We are also in a better position to reciprocate and host St. Finbarrs in our Domstadt.
On Friday, September 30th, 2022, our Celtics’ representatives set off from Frankfurt Airport to Cork for what turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.
- Leaving Germany – Arriving in the Rebel County
- Murphys v Beamish: Night One
- Hurley-maker Denis Ahern
- GAA Royalty: Visiting St. Finbarrs GAA Club
- Rebel Red Enters the Discussion: Night Two
- Operation Blackrock
- Cork Senior Football Semi-Final
- Music, An Spailpín Fánach and Pub Chat: Night Three
- “Sure, it’ll be Grand”, Red Socks and Cobh
- International Junior Challenge: St. Finbarrs v Cologne Celtics in Páirc Uí Chaoimh
- Back to the Barrs: Night Four
- Reception at City Hall and Departure
- Conclusion: Future Plans
Leaving Germany – Arriving in the Rebel County
Our players set off from Köln Messe/Deutz on Friday morning to go to Frankfurt Airport, and having divided all our hurleys, helmets and boots into our luggage, we were ready to go. As a group, we decided in the summer that we would go from Frankfurt direct to Cork, rather than from Cologne to Dublin, and travelling by ICE to Frankfurt was a far more pleasant prospect than the Aircoach bus from Dublin.
At the Airport, it took us a bit of time to get our bearings before we handed up our suitcases and our players went through security. Once the airport formalities were concluded, we made our way to a restaurant in the airport for a meal and a few pre-flight pints. These were the first beers of the trip, but they most certainly were not the last! We had great craic in the restaurant before boarding the plane.
The plane was a tight fit, and there wasn’t much extra space on it, so hand luggage needed to be carefully prepared! Although it is a small plane, it wasn’t too uncomfortable (Finbar may have a different perspective), and it was a very smooth flight. We landed safely in Cork with no issues, and Cork Airport is very easy to get through. Our players were divided into taxis to take them to their accommodation: „Sheila’s Hostel“, quite close to the city centre, just off MacCurtain Street.
Murphys v Beamish: Night One
Having arrived safely in „the Rebel County“ and after making their way to Sheila’s Hostel, the Celts were quickly on the way out to explore the wonders of Cork City. With so many amazing pubs and restaurants, picking a place in Cork to gather is genuinely a tough question. We settled on the Old Oak Pub in Oliver Plunkett Street, where finally, our players could settle into a few pints of “Creamy Beamy” Beamish and Murphys. When in Cork, one should sample what the locals consume.
Of course, indulging in the delights of the Cork produce, determining preferences became the subject of rigorous debate. Our club veteran and stalwart goalkeeper, Wolfgang Heisel, was immediately given the Freedom of Cork City after he came to the right conclusion that both drinks are better than non-Cork Guinness. Eventually, he came to the further right opinion that Beamish is the best of the “Big Three” when it comes to stouts. Our club’s Irish Language & Cultural Officer, Mr. Gareth Houston, determined that although he has enjoyed his dalliance with the lovely and exotic Beamish, he had to return to “his wife of 30 years” of Guinness. He’d feel bad otherwise.
Having sampled The Old Oak’s musical and visual delights, we decided to move to a cosier pub, “The Corner House” on MacCurtain Street. While there, we gathered great attention as those of us wearing club gear were the source of much intrigue from the locals. Many people came to ask us who we were and what we were up to in Cork.
Katharina joined the group at “The Corner House” after having made her way from Amsterdam later in the evening. After making a half-plan to visit a couple of pubs, we decided on staying in “The Corner House”, and some of our players had some Lennox chips afterwards before calling it a night.
Hurley-maker Denis Ahern
One part of the trip that our members were really enthusiastic about was the visit to the hurley-maker, Denis Ahern, in Rathcormac. Laura suggested the idea of visiting one while we were in Cork, and it turned out to be the most popular suggestion of all for something to do in our spare time. It took a bit of searching to find the right one but Denis Ahern was the obvious choice, and we were delighted that we could go there.
In arranging this trip, special praise has to be given to Con Hallihane, as he was our contact person with Denis and played a very significant role in ensuring that it became a reality. Con is a long-time friend of Denis and was a good in-between person to have for us. Similarly, Ger Cronin contacted Jerry O’Brien’s Coach hire and secured a mini-bus for us at a very reasonable price.
The bus dropped us at a house outside Rathcormac, and, sure enough, it was the centre of the Denis Ahern hurley-making business. We met Denis and his wife, Ita, there, and they were happy to meet us and were the perfect hosts. Denis outlined the process of hurley-making to us before determining that showing was a far better system than telling and instead made a hurley right there and then for Finbar. We were blown away by the craft and skill involved and proceeded to buy many hurleys from him.
In the popular „Harry Potter“ books, the description given for selecting a wand is that „the wand chooses the wizard“, and with hurleys, it often feels like a similar process. Finding the right one can take time, but that time is well-invested if it leads to the perfect hurley. Denis Ahern’s creations are of exceptional quality, so thankfully, it didn’t take our players long to find suitable hurleys. We were even allowed to test them out at the workshop!
As well as modern hurleys, Denis also makes examples of older models. It was brilliant to be able to see models of hurleys from 1890, the 1930s and 1950s, including hurleys measured to the requirements of one of the greatest hurlers of all time, Christy Ring.
We had a brilliant time at Denis Ahern’s, and we will definitely be in contact with them again regarding purchasing more of their stock for our players in the future!
GAA Royalty: Visiting St. Finbarrs GAA Club
It was back on the bus after our time with Denis Ahern, and now it was time to go meet our partners at St. Finbarr’s GAA Club. „The Barrs“ are amongst Ireland’s most successful and well-known sporting institutions and have a unique place in GAA history.
Their most famous son is most certainly „JBM“ – Jimmy Barry-Murphy – a legend of Cork GAA in hurling and Gaelic football, and they have produced countless players over the decades. From their Togher headquarters on the south side of Cork City, their talent-producing factories have generously contributed to Cork GAA for many years.
At the Barrs, we met our partners for the matches, Kieran Edwards and Mick Finn. They could not have been any better as hosts, and they showed us around the complex while providing a short history of the club. We also had the chance to have some lunch, discuss what would be in store for us over the coming days, and pick up our tickets for the matches at Páirc Uí Chaoimh the following day.
Their complex consists of a clubhouse to be proud of, a hurling alley, a full-size astroturf pitch, three grass pitches (one is currently being redeveloped), an indoor gym, and an indoor hurling alley. Considering our struggles to get a regular home pitch, we were blown away by what the Barrs have to work with and were delighted to get a real tour of the place.
Following the tour, we did a small training session where after a bit of ball-work, we turned our focus to shooting at the goal. It is rare that we get the opportunity to just blast the sliotar over the bar and shoot from as far away as we want. The Barrs were generous with sliotars and cones and gave us a back pitch to train away. After the pints the night before, our players weren’t too keen on going too hard, so we played for just over an hour before deciding to head back to the hostel.
Rebel Red Enters the Discussion: Night Two
Following the tour and training at St. Finbarrs, we made our way back to Sheila’s, and from there, it was on to The Franciscan Well Brewery Pub. Over the last few years, “The Fran” has become one of the most popular destinations on a night out in Cork City. A brewery that produces its own beers with an impressive Biergarten and serves as the host for Pompeii Pizza. It is a must-visit when in Cork City.
Franciscan Well beers are known for their superior quality. They have expanded their operations in recent years, allowing them to export their products around Ireland and abroad (it would be great to see them in some of the Irish Pubs in Cologne!) This night was Rebel Red v Chieftain night, and it was an overwhelming victory for the red ale, with it flowing all night. It is a divine beverage.
Alongside the flowing beer came the conversations. We learned a lot about each other, arguably more than we should have…
- Radio presenter Marian Finucane, Enda Kenny, young Joseph Stalin, wrestler/rockstar Chris Jericho, and Leo Varadkar have since made the list we started constructing at the Munich Tournament,
- Some images from the internet are best left unseen – forever,
- Lola Bunny from “The Looney Tunes” is the subject of much debate and discussion in our group,
- Roy Keane features a bit too prominently in Gareth’s imagination.
The victor of the night, though, was Rebel Red, as our players could not get enough of its heavenly deliciousness. Up the Rebels!
After two nights out in a row, it was time to let our players explore a bit of Cork for themselves. They were given the task of finding their way down to Blackrock National Hurling Club with a chance to see the facilities of the club with the most Cork Senior Hurling titles. In delightful sunshine, our players made their way by foot to the destination.
Oisín, our chairperson, played and coached with Blackrock before moving to Germany, so was able to call in a few favours to let our players witness some unique aspects of the club.
Blackrock will face off against St. Finbarrs in the Cork Senior Championship final on October 16th, and it was decided that it would be unfair for our players to only get the build-up from the perspective of the Barrs. Talking to some senior Rockies (including Eoin O’Farrell) gave them a clearer idea of what hurling means to the people involved with clubs in Cork City.
Blackrock has fantastic facilities, an indoor hall, an astroturf/all-weather pitch, the Jimmy Brohan Hurling Wall, a gym, and more. It is a truly worthy facility for such a historically successful club. As the home of hurling legends such as Tom and Jim Cashman, Wayne Sherlock, Eudie Coughlan, Ray Cummins, Pat Moylan, Eamonn O’Donoghue and too many more to mention, our players were really on the hallowed turf.
While in Blackrock, we had the opportunity to witness the senior team training, and although we cannot share any specifics, it is fair to say that our players were impressed! The size and power of the Rockies, combined with the lightning-fast reflexes and skill, were eye-opening to them. Although we at the Celts are always proud of how our players develop, this training was 21st-century hurling from players of the highest standard and was at a different level from what they would have seen before.
Cork Senior Football Semi-Final
From Blackrock, we made our way to Ballintemple and the Venue Pub. Although we couldn’t find food there, as we were a bit too early, we did enjoy some more of Cork’s finest beers. ´We met Lydia at the pub and arranged to meet Cillian and Lea at the stadium. The Venue Pub is a lovely bar with a large beer garden, and if we hadn’t already had our match tickets, I can imagine we would have spent many happy hours there.
An advance party of Celts went to the ground first; Oisín, Kath, Fabian, Laura and Ferdia decided they’d head there to save some seats for the rest of the group. Páirc Uí Chaoimh is a massive stadium, and the group were impressed by it. More impressive were the first sightings of the sheer size of the Astroturf pitch that we would play on the following night!
We were at the stadium to watch the Cork Premier Senior Football Championship Semi-Finals – Nemo Rangers v Ballincollig and St. Finbarrs v Castelhaven. We joined the first match at half-time, and in the second half, Nemo Rangers proved to be too strong for Ballincollig and came out victorious 1-16: 0-09 – a comfortable 10-point victory. Luke Connolly contributed 1:06 to the Nemo scoreline, with Conor Horgan and Barry O’Driscoll also prominent. The Nemo backline held strong towards the end as Ballincollig went looking for goals but to no avail.
The second semi-final was a much more pulsating affair, and although our players are more interested in hurling, there is no doubt that they were served a cracker of a football game. St. Finbarrs came out victorious after a titanic struggle with Castlehaven, with the scoreline: 2-17: 1-16. Stephen Sherlock posted 1-06 for the Barrs and all from play in a brilliant performance, while Ian Maguire was a powerful presence in midfield. It was a fantastic game with goal chances, brilliant points and powerful football. Our players were gobsmacked at the athleticism of the players on view, and it gave them a real insight into the dedication of top GAA players in Ireland.
Afterwards, we had an amazing opportunity to get on the pitch and walk around it. After the Barrs won, there was no holding back their supporters from celebrating, as they find themselves within touching distance of completing the double in Cork. Our players enjoyed the chance to take photos and take in the occasion of being on the hallowed turf of Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Afterwards, we made our way back to Sheila’s to get ready for night three.
Music, An Spailpín Fánach and Pub Chat: Night Three
Night three involved finding live music. Cork as a destination is one to recommend for many reasons, but one is that live music is played almost every night of the week if you know where to find it. We started the evening in the Oliver Plunkett pub for a bite to eat and as a central gathering spot. There wasn’t any live music happening that night in the pub, so we decided to move on elsewhere.
We had heard that there would be live music in Reardon’s but instead decided to go to “An Spailpín Fánach”, a small music pub near the Beamish and Crawford factory just off Grand Parade. There is live music nearly every night of the week at An Spailpín – and Kieran from the Barrs had recommended it to us for Saturday night, but we weren’t quite in the mood for live music that night. However, the Sunday session of the Cork Singers Club was exactly what we needed that evening.
It was always going to be a quieter night compared to the others, as we knew we had a game to play the following night. We had no real idea what to expect with the Barrs against Cologne, so we didn’t want to go overboard. It was also night three-in-a-row, and as much as we want to think we are all still Erasmus students and 21 again, three-nights-in-a-row is tiring, especially after some very busy days.
We were able to have some quiet pub discussions throughout the trip, though, regarding future projects and ideas for our club and what other actions we can take to bring us forward. The club is growing and accelerating quickly, so we hope to use that energy to take us to another level. Remember, if you want to get involved and join us in that journey, please get in contact with our club.
“Sure, it’ll be Grand”, Red Socks and Cobh
Day four arrives, and it is the big day of the match. At this stage, we were running on little sleep and had a match to play that evening. This was a free day for our players to do what they wanted with the suggestion that we go to Cobh, a small town not far from Cork City.
Our players met up at the English Market and even had the opportunity to stand where the recently departed Queen Elizabeth II met the local fishmongers from O’Connells. We realised that we didn’t have any proper club socks with us on the trip, so a couple of us both some red and white socks at Lifestyle Sports to try and look somewhat sophisticated (AGM topic for 2023: buy more club socks!)
Buying the socks caused a bit of a delay with our departure to Kent Station. Most places of interest in Cork City are within 10-15 minutes of each other, but Kent Station lives in that slightly disconcerting area just a bit further away… With some quick walking, sprinting, and every other movement in between, we somehow managed to be on time for the train (well, the Cork version of “on-time”).
At the same time as many of us were sprinting to Kent Station, Lea and Katharina were getting their own mementoes from the trip. Ireland (and Cork, in particular) is known for having a laid-back attitude towards most aspects of life, with the phrase “sure it’ll be grand” used in many (and let’s face it – too many) situations. The “sure it’ll be grand” phrase is one that is a bit difficult to explain to people outside of Ireland, and in fact, Blindboy Boatclub, on his enormously successful podcast, has an entire podcast dedicated to unravelling this phrase. However, for the purpose of this report, our two camógs decided they would get “sure it’ll be grand” as tattoos!
To make the experience even more of a team-bonding exercise, the ladies decided to host open trials to determine whose handwriting they would use for the tattoo itself. While in the different pubs on Night Three, they asked our team to write down the phrase, “sure it’ll be grand”, on a piece of paper before they chose which one would decorate their skin. Malte, our club secretary, won this competition and was chosen.
Cobh is a lovely small town outside Cork City, and while there, we climbed the hills to get to Cobh Cathedral (St. Colman’s Cathedral) and generally explored the area. It wasn’t the nicest day of the trip, and we needed to ensure that we were ready for the match tonight, so we didn’t overextend ourselves. However, Cobh is always worth a visit.
Cobh is a popular place for tourists, with the Cobh Heritage Centre and the Titanic Centre featuring prominently in the town. Cobh (or “Queenstown” as it was known then) was the last port of “The Titanic” before it set off on its fateful journey. It was also one of the main centres of Irish emigration, with millions of people setting off from Cobh to go (mainly) to the USA between the mid-19th century and deep into the 20th century.
We enjoyed a relaxing time in Cobh, and we met Darmstadt stalwart and European Hurling Officer Chris Bethe there as he was ready to don the Cologne Celtics jersey for this special occasion. However, eventually, it came time to get back to Sheila’s Hostel and get ready for the game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
International Junior Challenge: St. Finbarrs v Cologne Celtics in Páirc Uí Chaoimh
Our players arrived at Páirc Uí Chaoimh by bus, and we arrived early so that we could just take in the occasion before the others turned up. It was a nice moment as a team. However, when our group arrived, the ground staff were not sure what to make of our group and asked us directly if we were sure that we were at the right stadium! We assured them that we were and then had the opportunity to use the Páirc Uí Chaoimh changing rooms.
As we pucked around on the pitch, the players from St. Finbarrs started to arrive. These lads were definitely not a bunch of 50+-year-old social hurlers! St. Finbarrs rounded up players from all areas, including senior camogie players, intermediates, minors and all sorts – and it made for an incredible occasion. We came to the decision that we would split the teams evenly, with four Celts on each team, 15-a-side and full pitch.
After dividing our players, we had Oisín, Finbar, Laura and Fabian playing with „the Barrs“ and Malte, Wolfgang, Ger and Chris playing with „Cologne“. St. Finbarrs supplied the other eleven players on each team. The crowd started to arrive, including our dear friends from the Cork-Köln Twinning Association, and they would make their voices heard throughout the match.
The match was pure chaos and was a fantastic occasion to be involved with as there were points and goals galore. At the very start, the question came up, „should we warm up or anything?“ and it was a resounding NO! We all went out and hurled. Wolfgang played in goal for Cologne with Ger in wing-back, Malte in full-forward and Chris corner forward. Finbar played around half-back for the Barrs, with Oisín starting in wing-forward before moving back to corner-back, Fabian in corner forward and Laura as full-back.
The skill level, speed, agility, strength and sheer ability of the Barrs player were impressive – this was hurling on another level to what we are used to, but some of our players definitely held their own.
Oisín and Malte got on the scoreboard for their respective teams – and Malte got his point but also assisted several other scores, Laura made one of the catches of the game in the full-back position, and Fabian harried and hassled in the full-forward line, also assisting several scores. Chris made his presence felt and caused a nuisance as a corner forward, Wolfgang impressed with several saves and intelligent puck-outs, Finbar was up there with the top players on the pitch in his midfield role, and Ger hurled up a storm in the wing-back position.
The final score wasn’t the most important thing, but, if we want to know how it finished, the „Cologne“ team did win the match by a score of 9:14 to 4:19. The craic and spectacle will live longest in the memory, though.
Back to the Barrs: Night Four
We left Páirc Uí Chaoimh feeling fantastic after a great night of hurling, and we took our mini-bus to the Barrs clubhouse. Many members of the travelling Cologne group came with us, which made for a nice atmosphere on the „team bus“. At the Barrs, we settled in for a long night of well-earned Beamishes.
Our hosts could not have been more generous, and we had a fantastic time talking to their players, the bar staff and everyone else there. They provided us with sandwiches and other bar food, which went down great with us.
The night at the Barrs also involved presenting gifts and medals to each other as symbols of our new friendship. We received hurleys and sliotars for our club, which are always of use to a club like ours, and our individual players received medals and cups for participating in the match. We gave Mick, Kieran and Lydia some of our club gear as a sign of appreciation, as well as a signed Cologne jersey from all the players who took part in the match. It was a fantastic occasion; thankfully, the speeches were kept short and sweet.
Following the speeches, the Barrs treated us with some live music, including some Irish classics: „The Irish Rover“, „The Wild Rover“, „The Fields of Athenry“, and many more. One of the highlights of the night involved the bar staff playing Karneval music to get them in the mood for the return trip to Cologne! That’s right, in a couple of months‘ time, the Cologne Celtics will be welcoming a contingent from the Barrs, and together, we will enjoy the delights of Kölner Karneval!
Our night went on for quite a while, and the Celtics crew were the last out of the bar, but we had an absolutely fantastic time with the Barrs, and we cannot wait to welcome them to the Domstadt!
Reception at City Hall and Departure
The morning after the match really did feel like „the morning after“, but we soldiered on for the final official event of the trip: the visit to Cork City Hall and a reception with the Lord Mayor of Cork: Cllr. Deirdre Forde.
We met on MacCurtain Street for breakfast and, from there, moved to City Hall. Cork City Hall is split into two buildings, one that is more formal and the other that is more functional. Needless to say, we weren’t sure which one to actually go to, so we went to the wrong part (the functional section) first before being redirected to the formal area.
The reception was lovely, with teas, coffees and croissants, and they were ideal after the hurling match the previous night. We were not the only guests at the reception, as we were joined by the youth orchestra from Cologne and the travel group over by the Cork-Cologne Twinning Association. It was a formal reception to celebrate the links between two fantastic cities.
We met some of our friends there, including Lydia and the others in the Cork-Köln group, Mick and Kieran from the Barrs, and many of our fans from last night. Our chairperson, Oisín, made a speech and then presented the Lord Mayor of Cork with a Cologne Celtics jersey as a symbol of friendship and partnership between the cities of Cork and Cologne. It was a lovely occasion with some live music performed by the orchestra and photos of the team with the Lord Mayor.
After some big group photos in front of City Hall, we, fortunately, had enough time to go back to Sheila’s to collect our bags and make our way to the Aircoach. The team travelled on the bus to Dublin Airport and made their way back to Cologne.
Conclusion: Future Plans
Huge thank yous must be given to St. Finbarrs GAA Club, especially Mick Finn and Kieran Edwards, for their work, enthusiasm and hospitality throughout. Similarly, to the Cork City Council for their help. On the Cologne side, enormous thanks go to Lydia Schneider-Benjamin and the rest of the Cork-Cologne Twinning Association (Städtepartnerschaft Cork-Köln). None of this would have been possible without their support.
That trip was a long time in the making, but it was an enormous success, with memories to last a lifetime. We had originally planned to go in March 2020, but in hindsight, the extra time really gave our club the time to develop that we needed. With more members than ever and more success on the pitch in the intervening two years, we are much further along than in 2020. That is only natural; as the club gets more members with new energy and different dynamics, it will grow and develop, and two years later, we were in a better place for this trip.
The objective is, of course, that this is not a „once-off“ trip and instead will become a relatively reoccurring part of our club. As Cork and Cologne are partner cities, we want to build on the current links and do our part to create new connections.
Hurling and Gaelic football are no longer solely played in Ireland, and looking at the history closely, they haven’t been „Ireland-only“ in a very long time. It is fantastic that the Celts can give clubs like St. Finbarr’s an „international element“ for their players to enjoy. As a club, we can learn an enormous amount from established powerhouses like them while demonstrating our work to bring new horizons to our sports. We hope to see more clubs in Ireland get involved with us and other European GAA teams and continue growing our friendship and connections with the Barrs.
With that in mind, we are delighted that the Barrs will be coming to Cologne in February 2023 to celebrate Kölner Karneval with us. We are still in the planning stage of this event, but we are over the moon that we can treat them to the delights of the Domstadt during the „Fifth season“.
The first Cork trip for the Cologne Celtics was a big success – here’s to many more!
Kölle abú! Corcaigh abú – Up the Rebels!