Well, unless last night’s Aer Lingus flight lands in the drink between Boston and Shannon, I’m in Ireland for the umpteenth time. And why not? I want to get back to Paris. And Berlin. I want to rent that villa in Tuscany. Portugal’s on my bucket list. And Cuba. But Ireland, well, it’s not all that complicated.
It’s close. It’s familiar. It’s home-but-not-home.
My first time in Ireland was in early May, 1973, forty-four years ago.
My friend Joyce and I got off the night boat from Wales in a lashing rain storm. We’d spent the prior week or so in England, with a day in Wales. In England, people had politely queued at bus stops. In Dun Laoghaire, outside of Dublin, where the boat docked, people at the bus stop were jostling for position. An old lady was prodding people in the butt with her umbrella. This was more like it. This felt like home. Plus the people looked like everyone we’d grown up with. They gestured like the people we knew. The spoke with a brogue, but it didn’t sound all that odd to ears used to Massachusetts English.
We made our way onto that bus – we followed the old lady with the umbrella – into Dublin, where we didn’t know where we were going to stay or what we were going to do. As we were struggling to negotiate with the payphone, a young man (maybe thirty-ish; he was older than we were), asked us if we needed help. Tom invited us out to tea and explained that, if his wife hadn’t just had a baby, we could have stayed with the. He called a single friend of his, Geraldine Murtagh, and asked her to put us up. Which she did, sight unseen, for a week, in a very modern and lovely flat in an old Georgian building in Fitzwilliam Square. This at a time when Dublin wasn’t exactly awash in modern and lovely flats (with central heating, no less).
Thus started our Irish adventure.
In Dublin, we did the standard tourist stuff: Book of Kells, Kilmainham Jail, Stephen’s Green, the Brazen Head Pub. And we decided that the best food in the world was to be had in whatever country you landed in after you left England. English food has improved markedly since the seventies. So has Irish food. It was no great shakes on that first trip, but we were traveling on the cheap, and at least in Ireland there were a couple of veggies that weren’t big mushy peas. Plus, in Ireland, I had mushrooms in butter on crusty bread for the first time, a yummy meal that I treat myself to at least once each winter.
While in Dublin, Joyce and I joined the Irish youth hostel, An Oige, and ended up hosteling around the rest of Ireland, and, after that, a large swath of Europe (where we mixed hosteling with camping).
In Ireland, after Dublin, we hitched to Cork. Kissed the Blarney Stone. Went around the Ring of Kerry in a delivery van. Saw touristy Killarney. Stayed at the Doorus House hostel in Kinvara, where William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory (who co-founded the Abbey Theater with Yeats) had spent some time. We were only about 20 miles from Galway, but never got there for some reason. The only other thing I remember on that trip was some tandoori chicken in Athlone. Or was that in 1985, when I was there with my husband?
We got around by hitchhiking. And Irish doctor who picked us up diagnosed an eye infection and prescribed some ointment for me. A middle-aged couple from California stopped for us, and we got to listen to them go on and on about the colors of Ireland and how they looked like tweed. (Her name, I recall was Trudy. Can’t remember his. Was it George?) We got another American lift with a single guy – black pants and a crewneck sweater. We figured he was a priest, the black pants a giveaway. He was all excited about the prospects of the Knicks in the upcoming NBA playoffs. A country fellow picked us up and said hop in. Those were the last words we heard from himself. He pulled in at a crossroads pub in the middle of nowhere. Popped in for a jar (no ladies invited), came back out, and drove us another few miles.
On that first long ago trip to Europe, I told myself that there were three places I’d return: Paris, Yugoslavia (as it then was), and Ireland.
I’ve been to Paris four or five times since 1973. Maybe I’ll get back to Dubrovnik at some point. But Ireland, while not exactly home away from home, has been something of heart’s home for me.
In Ireland, Galway ended up being my/our favorite place, and it’s where I’m now hunkered down for the week with my sister Trish, our friend Michele, and my niece Molly, who’s been studying this semester at the National University of Ireland, Galway. We’ll do some day trips to the Connemara, maybe to Westport. And at some point – maybe this week, maybe next – the postmark for Pink Slip will become Ireland for a bit.
Slan for now”.
*A nod to the classic student travel guide of my era, Let’s Go Europe,