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January Overseas Report: Destination Ireland

Date:    Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wicklow, Ireland ... A traditional New Year’s Eve tournament in Ireland added a new chapter to its annals. Team USA received a comfy airport sendoff by Rockstar Limo to launch a whirlwind tour through Southeastern Ireland that, in addition to exciting polo competition, also included the picturesque Irish Sea coastline, pristine beaches, rolling green countryside, country manor lodgings, stately dinners, champagne celebrations at the Wicklow Polo clubhouse, film studio tours, fox hunts, Medieval ruins and Dublin pub crawls, courtesy of brethren old and new.

The Herbst clan has held court in Wicklow donkey's years, greeted USA’s Minnie Keating, Justin Powers, Dan Keating & company, with plenty of warm embraces and soulful Irish fare & adventure each day.  Polo Wicklow is a busy place year-round with the finest polo arena the world over, perched high atop Kilpoole Hill, overlooking the Irish Sea.  Its finely-tuned thoroughbred ponies and ever-present, witty cast of characters gave the Americans a fierce run for the perpetual '92 Trophy.

Very mild winter conditions were in store for the visiting party, offering rare glimpses of the sea's horizon at dawn and the Irish night sky constellations, such as haven't been seen on previous visits.  Lush mosses, ferns, ivies and turf created a green wonderland not far outside the airport vicinity, blanketing burmed fences, border trees and the periphery.  Enchanting mountains appeared in the distance as Wicklow drew near.  The town's winding maze of cobbled streets eventually surrendered, bang on to the road to Kilpoole Hill.

A cozy guest house perched on one of many hillocks of grazing ponies or livestock herds became the team's den & headquarters. Following a hearty lunch reception at scenic Blainroe Golf Club, the first polo match beckoned.  There was no acting the maggot over delayed baggage; the carefully laid itinerary was preserved with loaned helmets, boots, mallets and uniforms.  The Irish team was represented by legendary veteran Mickie Herbst, Siobhan Herbst, the best female player in Ireland and annual Captain in Newport, and lastly, one of the two Irish brothers ranked the best players in the country - James Connolly.  After 4 chukkers of play, the home team ran out the winners by two points, while the visitors brushed up on the local rules and winning strategy of the Irish team in the fierce opening round of competition.  One of several memorable dinner parties concluded the tour's opening day, Ireland al fresco!

A tour stop must-see since the last chapter was Ashford Studios, located in Wicklow County, where a behind-the-scenes tour by its visionary revealed the full scale outdoor and indoor sets, actor’s dressing rooms, and other private access areas of the hit television series ‘Viking’,just days before production resumes on its 5th season.  After the trip back in time, Team USA scurried back for the second match on New Years Eve afternoon where a crowd of onlookers awaited.  Playing for Ireland was Mickie Herbst, Siobhan Herbst and high scoring Colm Kelleher.  Once again, the home team held off the attacking challengers for a savage win by two points in a crowd-thrilling match.  Ovations ensued in the clubhouse for the revelers, who rang in the New Year well into 2017, while it was bucketing down outside.

New Years Day featured two timeless local traditions - a polar bear plunge into the raucous surf of Magherabeg Beach, otherwise popular with Atlantic grey seals that came out to see the fuss; a reward of brunch and Irish Flu remedies were offered at the boyo’s gaff, then on to a classic, hair-raising live fox hunt for an afternoon of crisscrossing Wexford's topography, Ireland's most challenging hunting grounds, rich in game & fowl for the sporting set.  Craic of the day's heroes & fools echoed in all the pubs throughout the land, which is how the American party came to be reunited at days' end!

The team cracked on the next day for an exploration of the 6th century monastic settlement of Glendalough, where medieval ruins have withstood the tests of time and siege, in a naturally protected glacial valley wood.  An elegant farewell dinner and overnight affair awaited at the renown Tinakilly Country House Inn, in a grand sendoff by the Wicklow polo patrons.  Stories would be recounted of how the team was sucking diesel!

The Americans were delira and excira to bunk off for a Dublin finale with plenty more of the black stuff at St. James, the world's largest brewery.  The city’s pub culture was thoroughly appreciated in the countdown to departure.

Since the trophy is so difficult to win back overseas, it was conveniently left in sanctity on Newport Polo's trophy shelf to display when the Irish team will visit Newport in July 2017 to avenge last season’s loss on American soil in the Newport International Polo Series.  Many thanks to the Herbst Family, including Mickie, Wendy, Siobhan and Marco, Colm Kelleher and Deirdre Fahy, Dennis and Norma Connolly, Paddy Casey, Joe O'Connell and all our dear Irish friends for their kind hospitality, food, drink, horses, and polo.

View an album of photos on Newport Polo's Facebook fanpage.