Despite being planned for months, when it came to the crunch I really hadn’t had any time to get ready for my trip to Ireland, what with all the normal last minute pressures of getting work done and dusted before going on two weeks leave. But then with our late afternoon flight to Dublin delayed by an hour, the complimentary ticket handed to me by the hire car company to get us out of the airport car park coming to a fee of €48, the unclear route signs heading south out of Dublin towards County Wexford leading me to take a slightly convoluted course, the struggle to find a pub still serving food at 9pm in the town of Arklow, and then when we did chance upon one finding out they didn’t have my first, second, third, fourth or fifth choices from the menu, well, it just seemed that Ireland really hadn’t had much time to get ready for me either.
But me and my travel companions, my sister Amber and our eighty year old grandmother, had made it and we were all very much looking forward to two unplanned weeks taking Ireland however we found it. Now I know what you might be thinking – it’s a slightly unconventional little touring party. One part of the group is obviously wanting to have some big nights out on the Guinness enjoying the local craic, before stumbling into the room in the early hours a little the worse for wear and generally causing a continual nuisance to the other, more refined part of the group. But it was something we had discussed in the months previously and Nanna promised to at least try to be on her best behaviour.
After getting to a Bed and Breakfast at the south-eastern tip of the country at 11pm the previous night we were now ready to start things in earnest, but not before the first of my daily full Irish breakfasts – bacon, eggs, tomato, black pudding, fat, salt, some more fat, all smothered in cholesterol. I figure I have until I’m at least thirty before I have to start watching what I eat, and the promise of all that every morning always made it much easier for me to get up.
A dark grey mist was rolling in from the sea as we meandered along narrow country lanes near Lady’s Island Lake, some sort of Catholic pilgrimage site, and westwards to the Hook Peninsula, through a progression of tiny villages with the obligatory one or two cosy looking pubs amongst the handful of houses in their centre. In one such hamlet a blackboard outside a pub advertised that tonight was ‘Irish Night’. Obviously this makes a change from usual, perhaps it must be ‘Fijian Night’ the rest of the week.
I thought that Tintern Abbey, a twelfth century monastery, might be worth a stop but, with no maps in our possession other than those in our Lonely Planet guide, it wasn’t the easiest place to find. And the fact that we arrived at a T-junction with a decision to turn left or right while the sign for the Abbey pointed straight ahead probably didn’t help either. I was hardly going to plow through a fence, a hedge and a paddock – despite how much I might have wanted to – but after a bit of to-ing, fro-ing and backtracking we made it by road. The abbey itself was covered with scaffolding on one side as a huge restoration project neared completion, but for me the most interesting find was when Amber stumbled on the almost totally hidden remains of some stone outbuildings long since taken over by the trees, ferns and creepers of the dark woods nearby. If you ask me it was these buildings that still carry the most character and mystique that surrounds the monastic lives of the people that lived here nearly a thousand years ago.
From Ballyhack we crossed by ferry to Passage East and had left County Wexford behind for County Waterford, and then stopped at the small seaside town of Dunmore East. The sun was now shining, the skies were blue and the water was clear with a shallow sandy bottom that stretched out for ages. Pale-skinned and sunburnt kids splashed around while the other members of their pale-skinned and sunburnt families lazed along a crowded sliver of dry sand with their backs against a stone retaining wall with white, yellow and light-blue painted cottages behind. I had never before imagined Ireland as the place to go for a beach holiday, but at that moment all I wanted to do was wade through the water and explore the small cliffs further out towards a grassy headland. It was just a pity that I hadn’t even given a thought to packing my bathers.
We got back in the car and headed inland to Waterford and got some lunch from a supermarket, then hunted around for some time for a picnic area, park or reserve in the town where we could stretch our legs and eat, but found none. This was to be a recurring issue for us over the next two weeks, with such things seemingly not existing in the whole of the Republic of Ireland (though we found Northern Ireland was far better equipped). In desperation we ended up eating in the carpark of a Gaelic Athletic Association sports ground and, with only Waterford Crystal as the main attraction, which Nanna had already been to and Amber and I had no interest in visiting, we then swiftly moved further inland and on to Kilkenny.
After finding a B&B there for the night what we really needed was a local to take us under their wing and show us some Kilkenny craic for the evening, and that was where Shauna came in to the equation. I had met her while travelling in New Zealand nearly three years earlier, and after meeting her outside Kilkenny Castle she took us to a pub called Langton’s for dinner and a few drinks. It wasn’t quite the style of Irish pub that I had imagined, it was all marble and brown couches in the modernist design I was more used to in the try-hard pretentious venues around my former work-place in Martin Place in the middle of Sydney. But it was an evening we all enjoyed immensely, the craic was grand and it was a total gas. T’anks a million Shauna for a wonderful time.
First thing in the morning and we were back at Kilkenny Castle, but this time for a tour inside. The tour was of course packed with the usual interesting facts and figures of its rooms, furnishings, portraits and antiques rote-learned by the guide which you instantly forget, so they’re probably not really all that interesting at all. But, I really like castles, and this one was old, large and had been re-constructed at great expense after years of decay, so an ordinary mug punter like me leaves happy.
After wandering the medieval streets of Kilkenny’s town centre we went westwards into County Tipperary. After reaching Cashel we again struggled to find a nice spot to pull over and eat lunch, finally managing to stop alongside some cows grazing in a paddock with ruins of an old Abbey at its centre. Perched on top of a slight hill just beyond us sat the Rock of Cashel, and after eating we forced Nanna to struggle up the short but still fairly steep path to its entrance only to decide that we really didn’t want to go and have a look inside the twelfth century fortress, chapel, cathedral and tower after all.
The only disadvantage of not having any real itinerary or accommodation booked for this whole trip meant that once the weekend rolled around it was always going to be harder to just rock up to the first B&B we came to and get a room. And this became pretty apparent come evening when we were looking for somewhere to stay around the outskirts of Cork, with a rowing regatta and a music festival adding to what would be a full Friday night anyway. With no vacancies anywhere we stopped, and the evening getting later and later, we decided to keep going a bit further on to Cobh and hopefully get something there. The first place we stopped at didn’t look all that great, but it didn’t matter as it was full anyway. But the lady was incredibly apologetic, and in the typical Irish way was all up for a good chat regardless, her speech filled with numerous endearing exclamations like “Jaysus, Mary and Jooseph!”
After doing a bit of a ring-around with her competition she found us the last room in another B&B right in the middle of town. Amberleigh House turned out to be a real gem, a beautiful period house with a massive room and the friendliest owners of the whole trip, Michael and Thelma O’Sullivan, who couldn’t do enough for us. This was to be unanimously judged the gold medal winning B&B of our entire journey, and we celebrated our good fortune by going down to the main street by the water to a pub for a very entertaining evening of quality family time and getting on the turps.
The port of Cobh, or Queenstown as it was briefly named in the early twentieth century after the locals got fitfully over-excited by a visit from the English Queen Victoria, makes much of the fact that it was the last stopping point for the Titanic before its ill-fated brush with the iceberg that basically made Leonardo Di Caprio’s acting career some eighty-odd years later. But it is potentially better known as the point of emigration for over three million Irish people during the mid to late nineteenth century who fled the Potato Famine and other strife to attempt to start a better life elsewhere. It was for this second reason that Nanna especially had wanted to come here, as this marked the start of the lineage of the Coleman side of our family in Australia. After visiting the museum at the railway station and strolling Cobh’s steep streets along with a number of elderly gentlemen universally decked out in tweed jackets and hats, we rounded off our time by checking out St Colman’s Cathedral, where co-incidentally one of the architects was also named Coleman.
We spent most of the afternoon walking around the city centre of Cork. Other than it being a busy Saturday afternoon for locals going shopping, the only other noteworthy thing was seeing Nanna walk along for hours without too much trouble after we’d already forced her to slog up and down Cobh the whole morning. Being the loving and respectful grandkids we are we decided to break her by ending the day walking in the grounds of Blarney Castle.
Of all the things to do in Ireland, kissing the Blarney Stone must be the top of all the mass tourist must-dos. And judging by the number of signs that direct visitors straight through the grounds to the top of the castle, it seems a fair assumption that most of them are on an express journey to get there as quickly as possible, have a quick stony pash, and then bugger off elsewhere before spending the time to really admire the castle properly. Amber certainly had no problems leaning right back and smooching the grey stone of the castle, but I conscientiously objected. Perhaps it was because it’s the epitome of tackiness. Or perhaps it’s because I can imagine the affable bloke whose job it is to hold on to the dumb tourists was laughing so much because he takes a leak on the Blarney Stone whenever none of them are around. I know I’d be tempted to. Perhaps a career in mass-tourism just isn’t the career sea-change I’m best suited to.
To try and alleviate the weekend difficulties we’d had in finding a B&B the night before, Michael and Thelma at Amberleigh House had onward-booked a place for us in Kenmare over a scrumptious morning tea before we’d left Cobh. After leaving County Cork and heading west for County Kerry we had a bit of difficulty actually finding the place though, making quite a few passes along the road out of Kenmare before finding the right turn-off. Perhaps we weren’t the only ones having difficulty as the three of us turned out to be the only people staying there that night. But what a cottage Lissyclearig turned out to be – whitewashed stone with a thatched roof on the outside, timber furniture on the inside, all built from scratch by the owners Carmel and Davey and now the domain of their English sheepdog. After staying in perfect little places like this I don’t know how I’ll ever manage going back to characterless and charmless hostels, and was clearly deserving of our silver medal of favourite B&Bs.
Our thatched cottage in Kenmare hadn’t just been a great place to stay. It had also been the perfect strategic point from which to start our day’s scenic drive around the Ring of Kerry. So with a fond farewell from our host Davey fit for long lost cousins – though said with a Kerry accent so thick we think we managed to get the gist of it – we were off on our merry way again. In addition to the thickest of thick accents Kerry is also pretty well known as a county that takes Gaelic Football particularly seriously, and near Castlemaine we pulled over and watched a local scratch game for a while. This was the first time I had seen the game played in the flesh and I was also hoping that we’d be able to see hurling, Ireland’s other great fast and physical sport, at some point too. Unfortunately seeing part of a game on TV was as close as I was to come.
The spectacular scenery of hilly and rocky green paddocks of Ireland’s windswept and desolate western coast continued as we completed the Ring of Kerry and then moved onto the Dingle Peninsula.
Then as the afternoon drew to a close we crossed from County Kerry to County Clare by catching a ferry across the wide reach of the River Shannon. This benefited us in two ways; firstly by not having to drive all the way into and then back out of Limerick, and secondly by me not having to subject my nearest and dearest travelling companions to my rather impressive array of droll rhymes of the same name. After all, there’s only one way you can go when you start with ‘There once was a man from Nantucket’.
Once off the ferry we were in the town of Kilrush, and given the day was drawing to a close, we decided not to drive any further but rather try for a B&B here. Pulling outside a stately two storey house I think we all thought it looked too posh for us. Inside was no different, with the living rooms and bedrooms packed with period furniture that made it look more like a museum-piece than a functioning family home. With our last two B&Bs having been so spectacularly amazing we thought our rich vein of accommodation couldn’t go on, but the price was right and for that Nanna and Amber felt like royalty in getting to share a four poster bed. We were also treated to some great entertainment not long after our arrival, when our host invited us to sit in the lounge room while she rolled up a long rug to reveal a polished but well-worn wooden floor and then proceeded to get her twelve year old son to practice his Irish dancing for us. He was extremely good, but I’m sure the poor kid felt a little embarrassed at having to put on a circus act of sorts for his mum’s paying guests. And so on later reflection it turned out that this was to be our bronze medal winning accommodation, and for better or worse had just enjoyed our top three favourite Irish B&Bs in three successive nights.
Another grey and rainy morning beckoned, but it hardly dampened our mood as we drove by the dramatic cliffs and beach-side town of Kilkee, and kept on going north until a little later in the morning we stopped at the incredibly popular Cliffs of Moher. Along the lookouts there we were buffeted around in the wind almost as much as we were buffeted around by coach-loads of old people in the adjacent visitor centre. Just what is it with old people these days? Back when I was young they were seen and not heard, always polite to their juniors and never much in a hurry to get anywhere. Now they were noisy, boisterous and pushed me out of the way with elbows or handbags when, heaven forbid, I stood in the way of that must-have leprechaun tea towel or pretty picture placemat set without so much as an ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry, dear’ coming from their lips. Once I’d been shoulder-charged back outside by a running maul of old ducks, I was going to take issue with Nanna about the disgrace of her generation but I just couldn’t keep up with her – the wind was pushing her along so fiercely she was power walking like an Olympian.
After another vain attempt to find a park to eat our lunch, this time in Galway, we continued on northwards through the Connemarra Mountains. Of all the Irish landscapes we had taken in on this road-trip, the coastline of County Mayo was to me at once the most dramatic and pathetic. In parts the countryside solely comprised of fields of grey rocks, each one fenced by dry walls built from same kind of rock, running right down from the top of the hills on our right to the waterline on our left. There was next to no greenery in sight, no way for the barren and windswept terrain to be used to grow crops or for grazing livestock. That people were desperate enough to even try to farm here was real proof to me of the reality of the struggles and desperation to survive on the land during the potato famine.
We stopped for the night in Westport, the Georgian era town centre of which looked incredibly charming with the narrow River Carrowbeg passing though its handsome leafy streets. Any chance of further exploration was dashed when we spent a considerable period of time searching for a vacant B&B, and then once we had, as soon as we unpacked my energy level plummeted, and what I thought would be a quick little evening nap turned into a comatose night’s sleep.
Another grey and drizzly morning was upon us as we made our way to Donegal. After a tour of Donegal Castle in the middle of the town there, which was more like a fortified house than the grandeur the word ‘castle’ normally presents to my mind, we spent all afternoon on the back roads of County Donegal – with the extra degree of uncertainty of navigating by road signs only in Irish. It was certainly very enjoyable traversing across Ireland’s far north-western tip with its wild beaches, recently harvested peat stacked in long, black rows in the green fields and the occasional flocks of sheep skittering along the roads.
By evening we had reached Letterkenny, a stone’s throw away from the border with Northern Ireland, and were soon in the midst of our now well established pattern of finding a B&B for the night before heading into the town centre in search of a reasonably-priced pub dinner.
To me the only indication that we had crossed out of the Republic of Ireland and into the United Kingdom was that the speed-limit signs suddenly switched to miles per hour. But, given all the political turmoil over the allegiance of the six of the nine counties of Ulster that make up Northern Ireland, that was some signal that peace is more of a reality now than it has been even a decade before.
But once we’d got to Derry it wasn’t long before the Nationalist Catholic/Unionist Protestant divide became clearly evident. Even the confusion of what to call the city is proof of that, whether it be Derry (the choice of Nationalists) or Londonderry (the choice of Unionists). From atop the intact early seventeenth century city walls that still surround the very centre of the city we looked down on the less than exotically named Catholic neighbourhood of Bogside. Though now far-removed from the strife-filled ghetto it was in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the mural memorials to the Bloody Sunday massacre, Irish national flags hanging from the light-posts and graffiti mourning the loss of Pope John Paul II left no doubt to where the locals’ affections still lie.
Continuing around the walls we passed a recently vacated but still heavily fortified British Army observation post, and then looked down on the Fountain housing estate, with red, white and blue painted kerbs, Union Jacks hanging from the lightposts and Loyalist murals crying “No Surrender” showing the Protestant allegiances.
Finishing our circuit of the city walls we ended up at the Guildhall, a large and important civic building with some incredible stained-glass windows. The windows without exception were blatant Loyalist propaganda, celebrating the triumphs of victorious English monarchs over various centuries, and commemorating those who died fighting for Britain in the two World Wars. I don’t mean to trivialise ‘The Troubles’, but for what the building represents it would have had to have been a huge target for a bombing by IRA extremists, and it’s got me beat how on earth it has managed to stay standing without the least bit of vandalism.
Actually, the whole city centre itself was charming and seemed to be functioning normally and peacefully. There was no sign of overt violence anywhere – save for the constant overly enthusiastic tour operators armed with flyers trying to get us onto their double-decker bus trips of course. And trivialising ‘The Troubles’ for the second time in two paragraphs, there was one massive bonus about us being in a city officially part of the United Kingdom – a nice tight-arse lunch special was easily found in a J D Wetherspoon’s chain pub inside the city walls.
Once back in the car and traversing further to the north-east, the middle of towns such as Coleraine and Bushmills were drowning in pro-British sentiment. Union Jack and Hand of Ulster flags hung from every building and lightpost without exception, and red, white and blue pennants were strung up overhead, running the entire lengths of the main streets. It looked as though they were preparing for a royal visit, and had been decorated with such fervour for the English monarch that I have never seen anything even remotely close in England. As this was during the Loyalist’s marching season I don’t expect the towns are decked out like this all year round, but still, if Her Madge is ever down-trodden at lukewarm public opinion about her closer to Buckingham Palace she could always up-sticks to Coleraine and really get revered like a Queen.
We spent the last of the afternoon at Northern Ireland’s most popular natural tourist attraction – The Giant’s Causeway. While there Amber and I left Nanna sitting on a bench so we could more actively roam around the hexagonal rock formations, and then as evening approached we did the same at the rope bridge at the headland at nearby Carrick-a-Rede. Thankfully both times we found the old dear where we left her, she hadn’t decided to totter off on her own and get herself lost, and nor had Social Services been called to prosecute us for willful abandonment.
After a little trouble finding a B&B along the Causeway Coast, we went into the small sea-side holiday town of Ballycastle for dinner. I had heard that folks in the North were even friendlier than those in the Republic, and Seamus, the young guy behind the counter in the local fish and chip shop, was proof of that. While cooking up our fish he talked up a storm, chatting to us like we were long-time regulars, and bidding us farewell like we’d see him again next week. Good luck with the dream of getting to Perth for Christmas 2006 to see your cousins, Seamus!
In between abandoning Nanna on walking tracks the previous evening we had been looking for the craggy cliff-top ruins of Dunluce Castle, one of the Causeway Coast’s other top sights, and legendary for the fact that one night in 1639 part of the castle’s kitchen collapsed off the cliff and into the sea, taking seven servants with it. At the time we thought we had found it, though I was really disappointed to find out it looked just like the remains of an outhouse, hardly a kitchen and nothing like the scale of a castle. In reality that tiny ruin was called Dunseverick Castle, so we started the morning back-tracking a little to find Dunluce. When we did find it it was anything but disappointing, though I was a little put off by what I saw in the rear-view mirror in the car on leaving there – however I think that was mostly to do with the fact that Amber had decided to dry her hand-washed undies by putting them by the back window.
Heading out of Ballycastle to the east we turned off the main road and got stuck into some incredibly narrow, steep and twisting country lanes, and stumbled on an old nineteenth century coast guard station at Torr Head with views across to the coast of Scotland, only 19km away. Then back on the main road again we followed the coast around in our customary clock-wise direction, and in the afternoon the sky finally cleared and the harbour of Belfast Lough looked a picture perfect blue – there can be no finer first impression to Belfast than the one we were welcomed with.
It’s a city I have always had a morbid fascination about, I guess because as a kid in the 1980’s Belfast and Beirut seemed to always be the two major cities stricken by violence that made the TV news. In my young mind Ireland seemed a far stranger place for warfare than Lebanon, and I’d long desperately wanted to see it for myself, so it was no disappointment to be visiting Belfast for the second time in less than a year.
In the centre of the city itself there is no obvious hint to outsiders of the Protestant/Catholic divide, Belfast could be Bristol, Birmingham or any other British city starting with a ‘B’ you can think of. But the most famous thing to do in the city to see some of the heartlands of sectarianism is to take a black cab tour of the Catholic and Protestant areas of West Belfast. I had that down as the must-do for us here, having already done one nine months earlier with my friend Rebecca on a day trip from Dublin, but once we actually got into Belfast I thought I could find the major sights again myself, and thus take Amber and Nanna on our own little black cab tour.
We started up along the Falls Road, the Catholic hub and site of the head offices of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. It’s a busy commercial street, with murals on the sides of the terraced housing off it commemorating hunger-striking political prisoners and deaths of civilians caught up in the recent decades of violence. “Free Sean Kelly” graffiti was another common sight, a tactic which obviously worked as the political prisoner was released from prison six days after our visit.
From there we crossed through the ‘Peace Line’, an imposing concrete wall that has outlasted the Berlin Wall and zig-zags along the streets as a means of keeping the Catholics and Protestants apart. The gates are open during the day, but even now are closed during the night in order to minimise potential violence between the two sides.
We continued on into Shankill Road, the site of rioting against police and the Army less than two months later, and finished by passing through Sandy Row in South Belfast. The streets of these particular Protestant areas seemed poorer in comparison to the Falls Road, the terraced houses were generally not as well looked after, some of the shops were boarded up and there was a lot of litter piling up in the streets. The murals were much more foreboding too, almost exclusively glorifying Loyalist paramilitary groups with paintings of balaclava-clad men pointing machine guns in a show of strength for the Loyalist cause.
I found these places just as fascinating to drive through second time around, but the one thing I will always remember about my first visit here was the cab driver explaining that much of the violence these days is less about religious or political ideals directly, and more about gangs fighting turf wars over drugs and other organised crime rackets.
After bearing south down the main motorway and within line of sight of a couple of hill-top observations posts, we left Northern Ireland behind and were back in the Republic heading towards Dublin. In the early evening we stopped at Monasterboice, another ancient monastic site manned by an ancient but very friendly senior citizen volunteer packing up for the night, and then found a B&B nearby in Drogheda. Once unpacked we walked down to a big, modern tavern just down the road to try and get some dinner. The vast carpark was packed with vehicles but, unusually, the cars were all full of people. A series of numbers were bellowed out from a loudspeaker and then from somewhere amongst the rows of stationary cars a horn tooted. That’s right folks, bingo is such a huge night out in Drogheda you’ve got to get there early to get a seat inside the tavern. Otherwise you’re stuck outside in your car, or even worse, got nowhere to park your car within earshot of the loud speaker. Suffice to say that feeding three hungry tourists was not at the top of the tavern’s list of priorities, and in fact while I went back to the B&B to get our car Amber and Nanna had one of those Western movie style movie moments when as soon as they entered in the main door of the saloon all activity stopped inside and every pair of eyes locked on them. I dare say the distraction of two Aussie ladies couldn’t have lasted too long though as those bingo players are a pretty focused lot and not much gets between them and their game cards, especially at the risk of not hearing the number that wins them the grand jackpot of possibly tens of Euro.
When I had returned to the car park with the car, Amber and I were sorely tempted to sound our horn in the middle of a game and then scarper, but I figured that with bingo players’ level of dedication and their penchant for numbers, an angry lynch mob who had memorised the number plate of our car would hunt us down while we were tucking into our food in a diner in the town’s main street.
We completed the short commute down the motorway to Dublin and, with all beds in the city booked on weekends pretty regularly, I thought it would be best to look for a place to stay in the morning rather than leave things till evening. The B&B for our last three nights was out in Maynooth in Dublin’s western outskirts, the home of quietly spoken Jim and his not so quietly spoken wife. Though it was clear the wife ran the household, we never remembered her name as we never heard it again after our initial introductions, but remembering Jim’s wasn’t a problem as she constantly barked out orders to him in a deep gravelly voice that only a lifetime of heavy smoking can do. As with almost all of the hosts we stayed with, they were lovely and friendly, warmly welcoming us into their home and we thoroughly enjoyed staying there.
With Dublin still to be explored over the weekend and our circumnavigation of the country complete, today was a chance to head inland and drive through some of the counties we had not yet passed through. And so it was that before the day’s end we had ticked off Kildare, West Meath, Offaly and Laois for the first time, giving us a final tally of having ventured into 19 of the 26 counties in the Republic and 4 of the 6 in Northern Ireland.
I had intended to finish off the day by driving into the Wicklow Mountains just south of Dublin and pay a visit to Glendalough, an incredibly impressive ancient monastic site. By taking the back roads and navigating only by the county maps in our Lonely Planet guide it proved to be a little trickier to find than I had imagined. I ended up going round and round in circles in the lower foothills of the mountains, sometimes meeting tractors and other slower vehicles along the narrow and bendy country roads, but never seeming to pick the right direction to travel in. Eventually, with it getting close to dark and the petrol tank getting alarmingly close to empty, I had no choice but to give up. This was not an easy call to make but I think my passengers were relieved I’d finally swallowed my pride. Nanna was dead silent in the backseat and Amber had long since given up navigating, had stuck her head in a book and continually rolled her eyes and groaned at her brother’s stubbornness and doggedness when it comes to finding places by just following his ample nose.
After passing through the village of Avoca, the setting for the TV show Ballykissangel, we found the major highway and spent some time in the town of Wicklow to refuel both the car and ourselves, and then we were happy families once more.
Today was spent seeing the well known landmarks of the city centre, from Trinity College and St Stephens Green to the River Liffey and O’Connell Street – the last of which containing a statue of author James Joyce. At the foot of this was where I had sat rather forlornly after Australia had played Ireland in the first International Rules match of the 2004 series in October at nearby Croke Park, as the James Hird led visitors were completely confused with how to kick the round ball of the Gaelic/Australian hybrid game and were thus completely outclassed by their smaller but better kicking hosts.
...so who is your favourite genius, James Hird or James Joyce?
Whatareya? by TISM.
Dublin has long been billed as one of Europe’s most exciting and vibrant cities, but I’m afraid that after two visits now I just don’t get it. Yes, there’s plenty of fascinating ancient and modern history, and yes the people are very friendly, but the buildings are grey, the Liffey is grey, the sky is grey and living here would no doubt make my mood turn the same shade. It all just seems a bit depressing, and perhaps the only conducive thing to do here is drink.
So that is what we spent the rest of the afternoon doing, and of course the place for tourists to do it is in Temple Bar. We stayed in the actual pub of the same name for a while, which was crowded and noisy even in the middle of the afternoon, and tried to listen to some of the live music. This wasn’t overly successful, so we drifted down the laneway a bit to another pub where I had a couple of quiet pints and Amber and Nanna enjoyed their Irish Coffees. On the TVs they were showing a live Gaelic Football game from Croke Park, the All-Ulster final between Tyrone and Antrim. Being used to Australian Football rather than its Gaelic cousin, and though having seen the fusion game of the two, I couldn’t understand some of the finer points of the rules, especially when it came to what constituted a legal tackle and what didn’t, but it was a thrilling encounter that had all three of us hooked until the final seconds.
Apparently there had been some commotion at 3:30am when some intoxicated guests had tried to get in to the B&B without their keys. How I missed hearing our hostess’ heavy grinding machinery voice as an argument ensued is proof of just how deeply I sleep. But while waiting for Jim to cook us our breakfast, she gave us a play-by-play rundown of the incident as well as the subsequent fallout to the ‘good house’ she’s proud of running, and then overheard the drama again as she got on the phone to one of her nearby B&B mates. It was all good banter, and it certainly gave us something to chuckle about.
As well as that famed ability for the Irish to gas-bag it was noticeable how another cultural trait of theirs is more prevalent than perhaps elsewhere, and that’s heading off to church on Sunday morning. We followed suit, though in a slightly different way than the stereotypical Irish one. Firstly, we headed not to a Catholic church but to a Presbyterian one in Howth, in the area of Dublin’s north where we had taken a not quite on purpose detour through on our arrival two weeks earlier. Secondly, the man doing the sermon that morning was called Rob, and by his accent and his delivery it was pretty clear he was not Irish. But it was great to quickly catch up with him and his wife Di right before their time living in Dublin ended and they returned home to Sydney and to my former church there.
We filled the rest of the day by taking a more conventional path back to the Wicklow Mountains and I successfully found the old monastery of Glendalough without lighting the fuse of further sibling tensions. But the rain was teeming down and it became more of a mad dash rather than a meander around the reconstructed round tower, stone house and remains of the ancient gatehouse and cathedral.
The theme of being re-acquainted over the course of the day continued as we entered our last evening in the country by meeting up and having dinner with Angela from my Scandi-Russia trip the summer before, and Nanna and Amber got re-acquainted with their Irish Coffees for the last time.
With a final full Irish Breakfast in my stomach cooked by the always compliant husband Jim, it was time to be off to the airport with our long dreamt of family trip of Ireland over. But there was so much more yet to see over the summer in and around Switzerland, and a whole lot more walking to come for Nanna to go through at the whims of her grandkids. My two week break sleeping in comfortable B&Bs was also over, and once the three of us had returned to Geneva I was thrust back in the role of host of my own so-called BAB&B (‘Bloody Awful Bed & Breakfast’), though it must be said that my two guests did need to be constantly reminded of the house rules. I think I should have started chain smoking, been on the look-out for a quiet and submissive spouse and be more argumentative at 3:30am in the morning over their interference in the running of my very own ‘good house’.