Chess in Rural Ireland (part 1)

by Alina l'Ami
2/14/2014 – The never stopping globe trotter Alina l'Ami brings us a new report of a tournament in a slightly unusual place. This time she visits the village of Bunratty in Ireland. With little knowledge of Ireland going to the event she tells us of her story about a beautiful, picturesque village, of friendly people, and her new found love of Guinness Beer!

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The Irish flag waving a warm welcome to the players of Bunratty 2014

"Is everything fine honey?" The waitress accompanied her question with such a natural and friendly touch of my shoulder that I didn’t feel the slightest wish to quiver at this sudden "invasion of privacy". Actually, everything was more than just fine.

Bunratty is a small village in County Clare, Ireland.

For once, I had travelled to a new country without doing my homework in advance, regarding the tourist attractions, the top things to do and so on. Bunratty (Irish Republic) is not reported as a touristic Mecca, so I decided to let the place unfold its own story, leaving the google-ing part aside. I was only armed with a few clichés... which, on the way to proving true, offered me an unforgettable experience!

An attempt to imitate Van Gogh and his famous chair

They say that Irish people talk... a lot! Wherever you might bump into them, at the restaurant, in a shop, while waiting in line in a bank, in front of an ATM – there is a rather high chance you will end up talking about…their far away son from Canada or your favourite drink! This is probably stimulated by their famous greeting: "Céad míle fáilte" – a hundred thousand welcomes in Celtic. In most countries, a single hello or welcome would do, but in Ireland the need for communication yields, the moment of meeting new people or foreigners, dimensions that one would rarely meet elsewhere.

The name Bunratty, Bun Raite (or possibly, Bun na Raite) in Irish, means the 'bottom' or end of the 'Ratty' river.

Saying that Irish people are extremely friendly would simplify things almost to the extent of losing the core of the matter. The feeling is by far more complex but there’s no denying that the Irish are warm-hearted people and truly welcoming; the massive display of friendship, which never becomes fawning, makes you not only feeling at home but also wishing to become one of them and copy their gestures, their expressions or habits. Imagine my surprise when hearing myself confessing to the waitress: “Feeling great my dear!” – and that’s really, really unusual for me!

The village had a very picturesque and rural feel

Speaking of habits, we get to another tired cliché, referring to the nocturne beer marathons; Ireland has the power to "wow" thousands of beer pilgrims indeed, including yours truly. Just like the 100.000 welcomes, beer drinking may look excessive from outside, but in Ireland the excess is congenial, as long as it is practiced with a bit of... moderation.
I must confess, though, that for me the beer issue didn’t run smoothly from the beginning. I was curious, of course, to try the traditional Guinness, served in the equally traditional tulip shaped glass, but my inner thoughts after the first sip were something like: "Hmmm, did I really order this strange thing?!" Since I didn’t intend offending the people around, who were watching my reaction with certain curiosity, I mumbled the word that saves you from many critical situations: "Interesting"...

Irish people know exactly what it takes to get acquainted with the Guinness beer, so they didn’t really buy my little trick. There is no trace of offense when they call one a wretched pagan for committing the blasphemy of not liking their gorgeous black beer; it is more of an innocent joke and an invitation to learn how to do things properly.
It’s just that it might take a while. The entire process is an art, you have to follow a strict protocol, to let yourself be educated and initiated. It is not something you simply fill up and toss off! It requires patience, appreciation, a great deal of technique and, perhaps, months (years?!) of practice to master what truly is, at least for me, a form of art. Since explaining all the steps would require more than 2000 words, you should simply take my word for it, in case you haven’t experienced that yourself.

It is common knowledge that playing chess has the tendency to dehydrate, amongst some other side-effects. Just imagine how people would feel during a weekend tournament, with one round on Friday, three on Saturday and two more on Sunday! Such a marathon certainly requires some liquids at hand, so what could be more perfect than a…glass of beer?!
It was not a rare picture to see players sitting at the game with their pint (Guinness is the pint by default), and that included the winner, GM Gawain Jones! True, I should make a small rectification here, since he was usually going for the Irish Ale, but still a beer in the end.
On top of that, my fourth round opponent, the Irish IM Sam Collins, had no less than three (or was it more?) beers during our game and, nevertheless, beat me in good style! – The new key to success?!

All these made me try that drink with an indecipherable taste for the second time; the white creamy upper layer, as perfect as if painted by Rembrandt, was simply too tempting, despite the less fortunate first attempt. And, much to my surprise, this time I loved it! The Guinness beer and I had finally become good friends...

Alina made many new friends in Bunratty.
One of which she will see in many tournaments around the world: Guinness beer!

The reader shouldn’t get a false impression from the whole beer story. Chess and drinking rarely go hand in hand together and this was not a tournament for drunkards either. The event was short and intense at the same time, but the Irish culture was a perfect match, to find the right balance between concentration and relaxation. Maybe some of you would disagree but what I believe right now is that there is so much more to the Irish pub culture…a pub by definition is not just a place where you order your drink, it is rather a place to socialize, to bring a family together, to enjoy a good meal with your friends, listen to live music and, of course, to sip a beer or three.

Durty Nellys styles itself as one of Ireland's oldest pubs

And since I paid a short visit to Limerick (the place giving the name to the AABBA rhymes), I soon started to think in sketches of... limericks: chess/excess/Guinness... I don’t have poetic talent, but maybe the reader will be able to fill in the missing words?
Until then, here is a genuine chess limerick by Bill Wall:

There's something chess computers lack;
It's not that they know how to attack;
They can fork and pin;
They may lose, more often win.
But they just will never talk back.

And how nice it is to analyse the game with your opponents, much better than asking the lifeless, tedious silicon machine…For such a task, the Irish are perfect, they will happily share their thoughts and, if you get lucky enough, maybe even some opening tricks. The entire atmosphere that surrounded the 21st edition of the Bunratty Chess Festival was simply inviting everyone to just sit back, relax and enjoy chess! Yes, it is possible to leave stress aside in the friendly environment created here, in a small place called Bunratty.

But the festival certainly was not small at all; three hundred participants gathered under the same roof for a chess weekend, which is a great achievement for the organizers, if you think that the Irish Chess Federation is counting less than a thousand members! There was a great deal of strong players too, including GMs like: Jones, Korneev, Greenfeld, Baburin, Lalic, Hebden, Stocek etc.

And all promised to be back, including yours truly, who actually regrets a bit the exact same thing which brought me a great time: to not have known much in advance made the entire experience more vivid and less influenced by external factors. On the other hand I cannot stand that I missed a fabulous tourist attraction in the neighbourhood: the Cliffs of Moher. If you’ll google that, you’ll understand why so many movie directors decided to shoot important scenes right there. The last tour left just five minutes before I decided to ask around about it and it became too late to do anything.

In order to “forgive” myself for such a blunder, I had to come up with plan B, which actually proved to be a rather good alternative and not just a ‘reheated soup’: the visit to the local 15th century castle and the folk park!

Bunratty Castle is a large 15th century tower house

My short incursion into Ireland’s past reminded me of another wide-spread truth: the Irish say you need to permanently have a whole arsenal in your handbag, including a wide range of accessories, such as sun glasses, thick socks, fur cap and scarf; oh, and an umbrella would at times come in very handy (if there is no wind)!
I disregarded this aspect and at the first sun straw I rushed to the castle to take some pictures. How careless of me... I soon found myself under a torrential rain, grumbling while trying to save my (unfortunately not waterproof) camera. But sun must have heard my words as it soon started smiling again. By then of course, it was replaced by snow but I was already "vaccinated".

I didn’t have the time to check the myth of green Ireland properly. They say that green is omnipresent even in wintertime. True, on the way from the airport I saw green grass covering beautiful hills, but from the highway you cannot really see the typical Ireland "of the postcard"… but Bunratty and Ireland will offer a second chance to all those feeling they had missed anything important on their first visit on its 2015, 22nd edition!

Green grass in Northern Europe even in Winter time!

Look for the results, tournament impressions and more from Alina in part two


Topics Bunratti, Ireland

Alina is an International Master and a very enthusiastic person in everything she does. She loves travelling to the world's most remote places in order to play chess tournaments and report about them here on ChessBase! As chance would have it Alina is also an excellent photographer.
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