I always thought I was a little allergic to clubs. There’s something about the idea that implies committees and seething resentments amongst members. But we live and learn, and clubs are having a well-deserved moment. Brilliant for dipping a toe into something new, clubs are all about learning new stuff about things you’re into, meeting like-minded people and, crucially, making sure you don’t give up on a pastime that may turn into a passion for life.
The GAA hardly needs any introduction. Ditto golf and tennis clubs. While golf and tennis courts can be wildly costly, with prices on application only and lengthy waiting lists, for every K Club or Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club, there’ll be a local spot with affordable membership and you won’t need spotless whites to get a swing in. Tennis can be a very social sport too, with many clubs holding round robin tournaments over the summer, where you can play games with others at your level, from beginners upwards. Find your local tennis club at tennisireland.ie, and find the same for golf at golfireland.ie. If you’ve never tried GAA, you can find a social, non-competitive game of hurling or football in your area with the “Dads and Lads” and “Mothers and Others” games, aimed at beginners and inexperienced adult players. Check out your local GAA club for details, see gaa.ie
For the birds
Discover the difference between a birder and a twitcher and never miss another rare corncrake sighting again. Birdwatch Ireland has clubs around the country, where you can go to talks, take walks and talk to other feather fanciers. Membership is from €30, with details of local clubs at birdwatchireland.ie. Also find links to avian sites in Ireland and around the world at irishbirding.com, where you’ll quickly find yourself clicking from link to link as you’re distracted by lapwings, caught up with cuckoos and in awe of the Audubons. You don’t need any special gear, apart from a rain hat, possibly binoculars and an ability to stay silent at the right moments. Oh and since you asked: a twitcher ticks off birds – a bit like a trainspotter (with apologies to both parties), while a birder likes to take their time.
A bit like boat ownership, buying a horse is the least costly part of having a horse, but you can have lots of pony fun without owning an animal. Start at your local stables and work your way from there to full gallop. Then you can start having real fun with the likes of Riding Club and Polocrosse. A group lesson for an adult costs approximately €30-€40 per hour (€35 at Feeney’s Equestrian Centre in Galway, feeneysequestriancentre.com) and when your local centre is confident you know what you’re at, many will let you rent a horse for club outings and polocrosse tournaments (Carrickmines Equestrian Centre charges approximately €30 an hour, carrickminesequestrian.ie).
Polocrosse is brilliant fun. Essentially lacrosse on horseback, you get to zoom around while hitting things with sticks. Once you’ve got the hang of it, join the Irish Polocrosse Association (polocrosseireland.com) to take part in tournaments around Ireland all summer. Or try Riding Club (airc.ie) for competitions, social ride outs, treks, training and more. Membership approximately €100. Hard riding hat and safe boots essential, but you don’t need the rest of the fancy gear until you’re well and truly reined in.
Have a ball
There seems to be no end to what you can achieve with a net and a ball. Roundnet (also known in the US as Spikeball) is hardly the latest craze, it’s been around since the late 1980s, but is having a revival. Two teams of two use their hands to hit a ball off a round, ankle-height net, with only three passes allowed between team members before hitting the net and changing possession. It’s easy to pick up, and there are lots of ways to score extra points. A basic starter set costs €59.95. Shop and sign up at roundnetireland.com to get connected with a community, and find tournaments and events in fields and on beaches around the country this July and August, leading up to the National Championships in Dublin on September 4th.
Head for the hills
If the idea of mountaineering makes you think of that bit at the start of Mission Impossible 2, where Tom Cruise is hanging off the side of a large lump of rock, think again. Yes, you could end up rising to the challenge and meet other peaky people if you’re already at that level, but at Mountaineering Ireland you’ll also find beginners events, and very pleasant walking, rambling and hill-walking clubs too. Membership fees from €35 a year cover your insurance, while individual clubs have their own membership fees on top of that – usually under €50 a year, and the weekly meet-ups will definitely keep you at it. Some say the best bit is the sandwiches (or drinks after), and you’ll need stout boots and good trousers. Rookie error? Wearing jeans. Apparently they’re dangerous when wet. mountaineering.ie
Men’s Sheds are great if (a) you’re a man and (b) aren’t sure what you fancy turning your hand or foot to, but do fancy doing something. From walking to music sessions to putting up bird boxes, membership fees vary from club to club, but as their ethos is to not cost too much and they try not to turn away anyone, you’re bound to make your way in. Find your local one, or info on how to get set up at menssheds.ie
Judging from the clusters of Dry Robes at every watery junction and roadside in Ireland, swimming would be the hottest thing if it wasn’t a bit chilly in there. Swim Ireland have a handy map of local clubs (swimireland.ie), from Kinsale’s Sandycove Island Masters to the Athlone Waterpolo Club, the Kilkenny Swimmers to the Splashworld Sharks in Tramore. Don’t be put off, those serious-looking faces aren’t unfriendly, they’re just steeling themselves for the plunge. Some clubs are hotly competitive, some are great for finding safe spots for swimming, while others will get the kids out of waterwings, safely. It all depends on local enthusiasm and geography. Membership fees vary (from €5 up), as do the state of individual club websites. Fees include membership to Swim Ireland. Also check out outdoorswimming.ie for blogs on where to safely swim, though the very best places are usually closely guarded secrets.
On the water not in the water
There are many ways to glide over the water, from the gentle-looking grace of SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) to the more elaborate thrills of dashing through whiter waters on a kayak or canoe. (By the way, you kneel in a canoe, and sit down in a kayak.) Canoeing Ireland (canoe.ie) has a map with information on local clubs, though no live links – but, for example, membership of the Galway Kayak club costs €145, and includes membership of Canoeing Ireland. Once signed up, you can take part in white water kayaking, sea kayaking and even kayak polo, galwaykayakclub.com. Clubs vary, but beginners can usually borrow gear until they’re hooked. You’ll tend to need a wetsuit, safety hat, life vest and maybe a boat of your own, eventually.
Once you get over your shyness, painting outdoors (or en plein air) is lovely. You do have to be ready for people to come up and look over your shoulder as you wield your brush, which is why it’s much nicer to do it in a group. The Dublin Plein Air Painting Festival takes place on July 19th-21st, including workshops and competitive craic, register for €65 at dublinpleinair.ie, or there’s Wexford’s Art in the Open on July 30th to August 1st, €40. Find it, and other local clubs at pleineire.ning.com
Here’s one for the pub quiz or crossword clue: speleology. It means the study or exploration of caves, so if dark enclosed spaces with the odd mysterious drip isn’t for you, look away now. Ireland is riddled with brilliant caves and for help exploring, membership of the Speleological Union of Ireland costs €29 for basic, or €112.50 including personal accident insurance. Find them at caving.ie, where you’ll also find local club details, including some fascinating add ons – such as yoga for cavers, via the Dublin Caving Group (on Facebook).
The people at Astronomy Ireland must be wonderful optimists, pitting their stargazing skills against Ireland’s unpredictable weather, but what a joy it is to learn your Mars from your Saturn, and your Rigel from your Betelgeuse. Join Astronomy Ireland from €60 at astronomy.ie. The Armagh Planetarium is also a great spot for stargazing, and you can look up astral events month by month at armagh.space. Or head out into the blackest nights at Ireland’s Dark Sky Parks – spots with minimal light pollution in Mayo (mayodarkskypark.ie), Kerry (kerrydarkskytourism.com) and Omagh (omdarksky.com). All websites have events, and local club affiliations.
Astronomy in Ireland has a rich pedigree, with the great telescope at Birr Castle being the largest one in the world when the Third Earl of Rosse designed and built it in the 1840s. Little known fact: Mary Rosse, the Countess of Rosse was an accomplished blacksmith and made many of the metal bits for its construction. See the telescope at birrcastle.com, and go solo with an app such as Sky Guide (iPhone only for $2.99) where you can even lie in bed and identify the stars you would have seen if it wasn’t for the roof.
For every seemingly random passion there’s going to be other people keen to give it a go. Meet Up is your mecca for finding groups into everything from mushroom hunting to Argentine tango to urban gardening. Find them all at meetup.com, where you can also start your own sessions. Pro tip: just add /ie at the end of the web address for each category you find to narrow your results to Ireland.