OTOOLEFAN GOES TO IRELAND – Part 1
In 1987, Ronald Reagan was still President and I escaped to Ireland for the second time, staying there for a month with my friend Steve, who was finishing up a semester in London. I met him there and then we flew to Ireland. Our basic mode of transportation was our thumb. I had never really hitch-hiked in America, but in Ireland it was no big deal. We depended on the kindness of strangers, but by the end of each day most of them weren’t strangers anymore. I was 3000 miles away from home, and yet…I was home. It remains one of the best experiences of my life. The people of Ireland restored my faith in humanity, at least for a month. Oh yeah, and we drank a lot too. I kept a journal in order to try to preserve the experience and tried to record the day’s events each evening in whatever place we ended up for the night. Following is the first installment of that journal that I kept all those years ago, exactly as it was written, warts and all.
On The Eve
I am flying Air India. This company, according to everyone I met at Keene State, is the funniest airline in the skies. One passenger calls it “Voodoo Airlines”. Another former passenger describes it this way: “When you walk inside the plane, everything’s purple.” She also says that as a treat, they serve a tray of hard candy.
We shall see.
Here I am at JFK, removing my ham and cheese grinder from its plastic coffin and washing it all down with Beck’s. I’m in one of those alcove airport lounges. I’m surrounded by foreign tongues. I hate airports. Life is at its worst. Humanity right now, seems to be one big one waiting room, coupled with harassed people of all creeds.
I am now aboard the Air India plane. It is an astonishment. There is some kind of blue and white wallpaper lining the cabin. The seats are like psychedelic pajamas.
Beth was right. Everything is purple. The orange colored flower pattern on the air sickness bag makes me sick. Now since the plane is only warming up, its time to pull out “NAMASKAR”.
If you don’t recognize the name, I’ll tell you that it’s the “In-flight Magazine of Air India.” On the top right hand corner it reads, “Your personal copy to take away.”
Well, well, “NAMASKAR” doesn’t quite have articles on Thomas Edison, but it’s very boring all the same.
The stewardesses, by the way, look as if they are at a costume party.
If I should become bored at any time in this flight, I can always open my in-flight magazine and read all about the botanic gardens of Singapore.
Uh oh, there are babies on this flight. God help us all.
I’ve just been perusing my in-flight magazine again, only to read about the “Resplendent Elephant Festival.” Are you ready for the big event? That’s right, Elephant Polo.
The seats look like an LSD trip.
I’m waiting for the Night Stalker to show up.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention. A bottle of Jack Daniels has been found” … This is the Captain Speaking!
I’ve never seen so many turbans in all my life.
April 22 – Yesterday was a day of days. I met Steve at Heathrow Airport. I was fired up for adventure. Two hours later, it was time for me to go beddy-bye. Jet lag had possessed my soul.
After a few hours of sleep, I was ready to take on London once more.
We went on a boat cruise called the River Disco. It was a cruise ship up and down the Thames River.
The weather was great for that evening; a memorable sunset over Parliament.
I met many of Steve’s fellow classmates on the boat. Most of them are girls.
Had a few memorable conversations with two girls in particular – especially Pam from Orlando, looking out an open window of the boat, the wind blowing into our faces, talking about our lives and our futures. It’s hard to beat that.
I’m writing these notes from the foot of Steve’s bed. The room I’ve been sleeping in is very much like the room I had at the London Student Hotel. It has a high ceiling, skinny everything else. There are bay windows which look out on to the Hotel Meritor across the street. Only the “L” in the sign is lit up.
Scaffolding is everywhere, dead balconies everywhere you look.
As I write these words, I can look up at the sky and I see nothing but blue!
I am in the South Kensington part of London.
April 23 – Did not write anything because it was our first night in Dublin and we went to a pub called Sean O’Casey’s and got souced. Priest blew us off when we tried to ask for directions.
April 24 – These notes are being written aboard a train going from Dublin to Sligo. Getting aboard the train was not free of hassels.
The ticket taker came by to inspect our tickets. We proudly produced them.
“These … You’re not going to Belfast are you?”
“Well, your tickets here are for Belfast.”
“Didn’t you tell the girl where you wanted to go?”
“We said Sligo.”
The price difference between Belfast and Sligo is only about £15.
We stayed at Leitrim House for bed and breakfast. Very good location in city centre. Only bad point was that the shower only shot out ice water.
“How’s the shower?” Steve asked.
“Not good, there’s only cold water. If you can take a shower, you’re fuckin’ Superman.”
Steve’s fuckin’ Superman.
We walked from Sligo town to Strandhill, in Yeats country. Walked past Ben Bulben. When we came to the village, we went into ye store to buy a bit of food. There we met a guy who drove us around to look at a Bed and Breakfast place.
“I would let you stay in my house, but I’ve got a fishing competition tomorrow.”
He told us what pub to go to, “The Venue.”
After buying our food, we walked down to the beach to watch the surf and sun. It was hot! I was actually sweating. What followed was a piece of heaven. This was definitely the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in. We watched the sunset, a red wafer setting behind the clouds. The most fantastic sunset I’ve ever seen.
Later that night, Steve and I went to “The Venue” for a few pints. Here a neighbor bought us a pint of Guinness. He said that Ireland was the most beautiful place on earth. He was from Denmark but came to Ireland in 1955, and has been here ever since.
April 25 – Today Steve and I hitchhiked from Sligo into County Donegal. This was very far north and the scenery was quite rugged. We came all the way to meet a girl that Steve knows.
Our first ride of the day was a classic Ireland experience.
The guy drove a rental truck and filled us full of stories and jokes. His best anecdotes started out with the line.. “This Texan…”
He also gave us another analogy. “Women are like cars; they start giving you trouble, you trade ‘em in.” We passed a car festooned with “Just Married” regalia. He took one look at the car and said, “There’s somebody who just put a ball and chain around his life.”
There were many other wisecracks, and we all made fun of American Evangelists.
At the end of this ride, he gave us his address! He lives in Sligo and we plan to visit him.
We went into the outback of Ireland in the hopes of meeting up with a girl Steve knew from the London study program. Steve wasn’t exactly sure if she would still be there.
“She either left yesterday or she’s leaving Sunday.”
Today was Saturday.
As we walked through the Blue Stack Mountains, I said, “I hope this girl’s there.”
The weather itself was beautiful and very warm. We walked through the rugged countryside and even got a ride to the fishing village of Ardara. The man dropped us off on the road where the girl, Maureen Cassidy, was staying with her folks.
We were strolling down the road when Steve called out to a girl sitting on the steps of a house.
“Is that her?” I asked.
It was indeed the girl we were looking for!
She was sitting on the porch with Vincent, her cousin. We talked and laughed for a half hour – me mostly- because I was so relieved.
Maureen took us back into town and into a pub. Afterwards, we went to see Vincent play in a Gaelic football game.
The location of the playing field was more than a few kilometers away, and the drive took us across some of the most dramatic scenery I’ve ever encountered. It took us through the mountains and by a loch. It was definitely County Postcard!
Now comes one of the strangest sights of the trip thus far, the football field’s design.
The field was surrounded by the mountains and the goal was only ten feet from a graveyard.
As Vincent’s team was warming up, the ball would be kicked too far over the net, and would bounce off a different grave every time.
The first time we saw this, we burst out laughing.
The second time we saw this, we burst out laughing.
You get the idea.
During one of the many times a player was retrieving the ball from the dead, one of the players said, “They’re dead, anyway.”
Only in County Donegal – Only in Ireland!
But that’s a sight Steve and I won’t soon forget. How many times in your life do you get to see a football bouncing off gravestones?
Later that same night, Maureen took us back down the hill and into the drinking village.
We ordered a few pints and laughed and laughed. Then we went a few doors down and into a dance hall. It was here where we saw the real Ireland. Everyone was dancing with each other. Daughters were dancing with their mothers, grandfathers dancing with the grandsons. We really felt like we were a part of the fabric of life in Ireland. We became even more a part of the fabric of life, when two 50 year old women asked us to dance. Then we became, in Steve’s words, “typical tourist clowns.”
After the last dance, which I was a part of, it was time to head for the homestead. Maureen and the Cassidy’s let us stay in their house.