“A Drinking Village with a Fishing Problem” Dunmore East Harbour and Lighthouse (Photo credit: Wikipeda)
When we visited Ireland in May, 2013, the economy was bad but that could not deflate Irish buoyancy. After Tom and I left Dublin Airport, our first four steps on Irish soil were to pick up our rental car and drive 15 km to cousin Clara’s home in pouring rain only to find it deserted. We nearly ran down a bicyclist and his mom at a crosswalk in the panic of searching for a toilet and phone book. Thank goodness we found a helpful angel at Goggins’ Pub who gave us our first taste of wit and humor.
#1 “Two beers!” I called out when I had regained control and the publican replied, “What kind: Heineken, Murphys, Beamish, Budweiser, Kilkenny, Rickards …? ” I said, “We’re from Canada and…” “Two glasses of Guinness”, he said, plunking them down instantly. We took two sips, gave thanks and within minutes were ecstatically on Clara’s doorstep, ready for dinner before collapsing into a midday nap. We had gotten lost because we had written her address down as no. 1 instead of no. 11.
#2 Who Stole Mother’s Long-lost Dish? After we woke up, Clara led us to the Avoca Restaurant for supper — our treat this time. It was the night before Mother’s Day in North America but Ireland celebrates that feast in April. Feeling that something was missing and I might find it in writing, my eyes lit on a chalked message up on the blackboard. It was not the usual menu. It read, “My mother was a wonderful cook who fed our family leftovers for thirty years. The original dish was never found.” The name of the writer was Calvin Toolin. We ate fish and seafood, as we did almost every night in Ireland because it is excellent.
#3 A Clerk’s Confession in a Buried Crypt At the close of the Sunday morning sung service in Christ Church Cathedral, the elder I sat beside invited us to stay for coffee and a cookie in the crypt where there is also a gift boutique. The clerk, a professional of the tourist trade, chattily asked us about ourselves and then spilled out his own confession: “I didn’t get very far in school. They kicked me out of kindergarten because they didn’t have hot water for shaving.” When I stopped laughing enough to ask how much the Irish linen tea towels cost, another Irish voice cut him off by quipping, “How long is a piece of string?”
#4 Getting Directions This trip was part pilgrimage for my family memoir, brazenly entitled A Book of Kells. Trinity College, where the original manuscript of The Book of Kells is displayed, accepts donations for its annual scholarship book sale and I needed to find the drop-off spot so I could leave a copy of my book with a note and email address inside. We went from the Cathedral to the right intersection but were still lost so accosted a policeman (garda). He pointed down the street and said, “You see that building with three storeys and a red roof? Well, if you get to it you have gone in the wrong direction.”
#5 An Unforgettable Night of Celtic Music We settled into our holiday cottage on the south coast and sight-saw nearby Waterford for two days. We craved the sound of Irish music, and heard the place to be was Powers Pub on Main Street, Dunmore East on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. We followed the locals in past the bronze plaque on the door which said, “A quaint drinking village with a fishing problem.” Soon the musicians trouped in, one by one, nine men and one woman, carrying their instruments: two violins, four guitars, an accordion, a soprano voice, a mandolin and a banjo. Until long past midnight they sat in a circle, strumming their music, improvising, taking requests, performing in turn, always playing in perfect time, pitch and harmony. Their music was their hobby and love. They were happy to play for nothing more than the few drinks patrons bought them. This night was the accordionist’s birthday and the cooks in his family had prepared deep fried onion rings, breaded chicken, dips and cake for all to share. We were mesmerized and felt sorry when the night ended.
#6 The Way & Why to Read a Newspaper Each morning we had breakfast at the Bay Café, with a good view of the Celtic Sea. On Thursday The Irish Independent was published and all the regulars picked up a copy and read it from cover to cover, sitting at tables indoors or out. The writing on the newspaper box egged them on, “The Irish Independent: Before You Make Up Your Mind, Open It Up.”
#7 Moving Up from 25% to 100% The friendly blonde waitress and receptionist at Dunmore’s Strand Hotel wanted to know who we were so I told her I was a one-quarter-Irish Canadian. She insisted we buy a full bottle of wine with our dinner and said we could take what was left with us. On the way out she helped me pack up, patted the outside pocket on my bag with the opened bottle in it and said, “There, now you’re 100% Irish.”
The Secret of Irish Wit and Charm As a finale, we visited the oldest lighthouse in the world, the Hook Head Lighthouse which blinked at us night and day from across the St. George’s Channel.The tour guide led us up to the top and when we parted I told her we had had a wonderful week and found the Irish cheery and helpful, always ready and willing to tell a joke. Her Irish eyes smiled knowingly as she said, “It’s because we’re not in a hurry. We’re not going anywhere.” And who can blame them? Because they feel that way, being a tourist in Ireland is great fun; it’s such a pleasant place to be, even though we visited at a time when the economy was doing badly.
This blog complicates the mystery of why anyone would write a family memoir entitled A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void. (Our surname was Kell and I grew up as a preacher’s kid. There’s some doubt over whether our family originated in a ninth century community of monks.)