In the early hours of the last Friday of term a squad of 29 players accompanied by two teachers, nine parents and one sister left from Sea road for their end of season tour to Narbonne in the South of France.
Excitement was high as we pulled off to start our four day adventure in the Mediterranean coastal city. Having had three previous exchanges with Lycée Diderot at Senior level this was our first exchange with their Junior counterpart College Victor Hugo. The College had visited Galway last year and played against both Coláiste Iognáid and local opposition. They enjoyed their time here hugely and received plenty of hospitality at Sea Road.
This experience led to them inviting us to return and an open invitation to any second or third year rugby player was extended. Parents were very much in favour and preparation began in earnest towards the end of 2013. Players paid an initial deposit and parents helped to organise a series of fundraising events which managed to raise the rest of the costs and also provide a tracksuit bottom, polo shirt and t-shirt for all those travelling.
The beauty of the exchange was that costs were kept low by the fact that the French families would host our players in their homes. This also meant that the trip would be a very real immersion experience of French culture for our students. While some players were initially quite nervous about this most reported that they had been wonderfully well looked after and the growing friendships and high spirits which developed between the two nationalities as the weekend went on was testament to the success of the arrangements. Students had been exchanging letters in advance of the trip to both break the ice and benefit their language skills.
When we landed in Carcassonne after a good journey we were greeted by sunshine and temperatures in the low twenties. The perfect weather was to continue throughout our trip and was the perfect antidote to the long Irish winter. Within an hour we were being greeted at the college by a group comprising of teachers, pupils and management. Many of the passing French students stopped to stare and giggle at the exotic but very pale visitors from the North.
After a rest period the squad assembled for our first series of games. We played College Victor Hugo in three 20 minutes game at under 16, 15 and 15/14 age levels. The u 16 opposition was very strong with two or three particularly athletic backs proving more than the Irish boys could handle after a long journey. The u 15 game was a little more even although again we were the wrong side of the score line. The u15/14 team did salvage some pride by winning the final game. After the game the two schools joined for a group photo and returned to the school canteen for a wonderful three course meal during which we exchanged souvenirs and presents. During the after dinner speeches invitations were extended to the College to return to Galway in the future.
After a good rest for all, Saturday morning began with a guided tour of the city centre. Narbonne had formerly been the main Roman base for its expansion into Spain and we saw many ruins from that time. We also climbed to the top of the tower adjoining the castle in the main town square for panoramic views of the locality. To the South were the Pyrenees and the Spanish border while east of us glistened the Mediterranean. That afternoon we took a bus to a local seaside village of Gruissan where we climbed through forest to a cliffside chapel overlooking the coastline. Later we relaxed on the beach and almost all players took the chance to have a swim and frolic on the sand for a few hours.
After another night relaxing with their host the boys assembled on Sunday morning in a quaint village outside Narbonne called Olonzac for their second tour game day. The u 15s were playing at full 15 a side while the u16s played 7 a side. In both games the Jes competed quite well before the home sides pulled away in the final quarter. After the games both squads retired to a local winery for the post game formalities. Again we were very well looked after and many gifts/souvenirs were exchanged.
That afternoon the whole tour party attended the Narbonne vs Colomiers professional rugby game in the main city stadium and met with some members of the local team afterwards. The squad then returned for their final night with their hosts who had at this stage in many cases become good friends.
Our last day in France began with a visit to the medieval citadel of Carcassonne. The boys enjoyed a guided tour of the walled city before some free time for souvenir shopping and lunch. Finally we said goodbye to our hosts and started the journey for home.
Talking to the players on the way home it seemed clear that all had had a wonderful time and felt they were really well looked after. The organisation of our French counterparts was superb and the hospitality extended to both students and adults was amazing. The teacher /parent group had a fabulous time. Each night of the trip our French counterparts had joined us for food and socialised with us late into the evening. All 12 of the adults travelling were invited to one of the teacher’s homes on our final evening and we enjoyed the best of French cuisine and culture throughout our stay.
It has to be said that the tour was a great success and continued to build on the growing relationship between both Galway and Narbonne in general and our respective schools in particular. With this in mind we are currently investigating the possibility of an Erasmus programme between the two schools which could lead to EU grant aid towards a twinning arrangement.
Finally many thanks to the following for their support;
Pat McCabe at Suil Nua Architecture, Supervalue Moycullen and the Grealish family, NUIG Rugby Academy, Connacht Rugby, Daithi O Connor at Revive Active and Ms Mary Joyce.
A particular thanks to Eoin Durkin for all his hard work in fundraising and ordering gear, also thanks to my emergency IT team of Jim and Jetta Briscoe and to Neil Keaveney/Jim Briscoe for their help with the table quiz. Sincere thanks to Dr Fiona Curran whose encouragement at the beginning helped to get the project off the ground and whose medical expertise was invaluable throughout the season. The company and support of Enda Fallon, Paul Cunningham, Greg Costelloe and Miles Kennedy was also of great assistance on tour and during the year.
Finally thanks to my fellow teacher Mr Paul Kilraine for all his support on this trip and throughout the year.
We look forward to many future exchanges and wonderful memories in the years ahead.
To View Photos of the trip click on the buttons below:2014 Jes Narbonne 2014 Jes Narbonne Part 2