Local tourism is expected to benefit from the attendance of approximately 1,000 visitors to the Cathedral Town on Munster Hurling final week-end for the Thurles Sarsfields International Festival of Hurling, which this year has been extensively broadened to include five separate but associated elements.
Inaugurated last year by the club, the event was an outstanding success drawing visitors from London, Northern Ireland and from counties such as Louth, Kildare, and Meath, with the novel attraction also of a team of U.S. marines, based in England. Kilburn Gaels of London became the first winners of the Tom Semple Cup which was presented by the late hurling great’s daughter, Ann, at a post-tournament banquet at Sarsfields Social Centre.
Eight teams participated last year; this time there will be twelve – Kilmoyley(Kerry), Kilbrin(Cork), Toureen(Mayo), Manorhamilton(Leitrim), Na Magha(Derry), O Donovan Rossa (Antrim), Naomh Monin(Louth), Dunboyne(Meath), Carnew Emmets(Wicklow), Robert Emmetts (Londaon), Keady(Armagh), and Kilburn Gaels(London).
Operating under the umbrella of the festival, but being organised independently, will be the European hurling and camogie championship finals. In the hurling finals there will be teams from Belgium, Luxembourg, The Hague, Zurich, Paris, Holland, Amsterdam, Budapest and they are being joined by the Lakenheath (England) Americn marines.
The camogie finals will be constested by teams from Paris, Holland, Luxembourg, and Belgium. Already most of the hotel accommodation in the Thurles-Templemore-Dundrum area has been booked out.
A further innovation this year will be the first staging of Caman Abu in Thurles, a variation of the traditional game of hurling which puts the emphasis on social and recreational players. This Croke-Park initiative has as its philosophy the playing of hurling in a fun and enjoyable manner. Teams are made up of men and women over sixteen years of age, with equal representation of both sexes on each team. Twenty teams are expected to take part, many of them with celebrity captains or managers, a strategy which has proven very successful elsewhere.
Hurlball is a growing attrtaction for hurlers and a tournament featuring some of the top exponents in the county is being organised. Preliminary rounds will be played at the handball alleys in Thurles, Holycross, Horse and Jockey and Nenagh, with the final at the Semple Stadium alley in conjunction with the Semple Cup final.
Road Bowling is mostly identified with counties Cork and Armagh but this year it is hoped to stage an exhibition of this traditional Irish sport on roads in the vicinity of the town, also in conjunction with the festival.
Altogether, the events are set to bring one thousand visitors to the town on what is the most important week-end in the GAA calendar in Munster. Chairman of the Sarsfields sub committee in charge of the festival, John Enright, says that his committee have been very busy putting this programme together.
”We have been very fortunate to have had the help of the expertise of Shannon Development, Croke Park and the county board in getting things off the ground. Our ambition is that this festival will promote Thurles as a sports tourism venue and that the local economy will benefit accordingly. Last year’s festival went brilliantly and all who came here were thrilled and are coming back. We want our visitors to enjoy the Thurles Munster final experience, and we are confident that the local people will get fully behind the venture”, he added.
John, who is assisted at the helm, by Liam O Donnochu(Vice-chairman), and Margaret O Dwyer(secretary), said that the festival was Sarsfields contribution to highlighting Thurles as the European Town of Sport in 2012. Other events, such as a concert by Comhaltas musicians, are also in the pipeline.