There is a nice web site ( http://www.mindspring.com/~mcgatney/irc.html) that explains a lot about IRC, and in particular how you get it running from within AOL using mIRC.
Personally I use zircon, a tcl/tk based tool that is fully graphic (no need to learn cryptic IRC commands). Currently it only works in X-windows, which is the main windowing system for unix (I actually run linux). I've also heard that BitchX is pretty good, in particular in combination with their scripts (which zircon is lacking AFAIK).
Starting May 17 1997, the Europeans joined in, they usually gather at 13:00 GMT on the same channel as we do. Lars Jonas Holl (email@example.com) should probably be contacted for details on this happening).
An alternative to IRC/chat is JavaChat. If your browser supports java, try out Badminton Java Chat. Some of the info is in french, since I found this off a french badminton site
Here's another badminton CHAT room, you need a JAVA enabled web browser. (as seen Sept 21, 1998).