Bless your little Irish heart and every other Irish part.
I boarded a Qantas jet in Sydney with a return ticket to London, a 3 month Eurail pass and my sister’s backpack.
I wore my red Reeboks, a camel duffel coat with toggles and a dodgy haircut. It was the late 80s and I was ready for my European adventure.
But the continent could wait as my English friend Mary was keen to show me the land of her Irish parents so after heading up to Woodbridge in Suffolk to meet her, we set off for the Emerald Isle.
We travelled by train across to Holyhead, Anglesey in North Wales, then ferried across the Irish Sea to Dun Laoghaire, and arrived at dawn.
We were whisked away by Mary’s welcoming relatives who fed us bacon and eggs and homemade soda bread and put us to bed for a few hours.
Then we set off to Stillorgan for our first night in Ireland.
God Invented Whisky to Keep the Irish from Ruling the World.
Our destination was the St John of God hospital and seminary run by the Christian Brothers who manage hospitals and missions all over the world.
As luck would have it Mary’s brother was a Christian Brother who had been living and working in South Korea and was back in Ireland for a visit with a Korean delegation so celebrations were in order.
We were treated to an Irish-Korean cross cultural feast that had all the main dishes accompanied by potatoes and rice, and they were then washed down with Irish whisky and Korean soju.
We donned traditional Korean costume (Hanbok) whilst a well-known Korean opera singer entertained us. Then we rolled up the sleeves on our Hanboks to clap along with traditional Irish folk music and swayed our skirts to the haunting melody of Danny Boy, sung in Korean.
After disentangling ourselves from our Hanboks we said goodnight and Jal Ja to the Brothers (some of them who were beginning to look irreverantly handsome to me at this stage of the evening) and headed over to the hospital to sleep.
As luck would have it there was only space for us to sleep in the alcoholic ward but we trusted that the Brothers had our best interests at heart. And so it came to be that we were locked into that wing of the hospital, for our own safety, and were then rudely awakened by the fire alarm in the small hours of the morning, not long after we’d fallen into an alcohol induced sleep.
I was very concerned by the residents of the ward as they milled back and forth past our peephole; presumably they were also locked into the ward and didn’t know what to do. Mary appeared calm whilst I imagined the flames flickering away, just beyond our corridor, and the smoke induced coma that would envelop the Irish, the Koreans and this young Australian backpacker with a promising future.
I hoped to be saved by a handsome young Christian brother – or anyone, for that matter.
A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures.
After escaping a fiery demise we considered our hangovers to be a blessing and bid the Brothers farewell as we headed off to Dublin.
The Gaelic football finals were on the following day and the streets were a sea of red and white for Tyrone, and green and gold for Kerry, which I felt more partial to because of the Australian colours.
As we celebrated into the night at O’Donohue’s pub I had to ask Mary to translate many a conversation as the brogues around me were thicker than my Bailey’s Irish cream.
Love may make the world go round, but not as fast as whisky. (Richard Harris)
Dublin was a bit anti-climactic after such a big night so we hopped on a train to Tralee, saw Dingle briefly and then moved on to Killarney, in the ring of Kerry.
Upon arrival at the train station in Killarney Mary and I were whisked off our feet, along with our bags, by a couple of guys in a blue minibus. Mary was sanguine about this heist as they said they were from the 4 Winds Hostel, which was where we were headed. I was very reluctant to jump in a van with two complete strangers, but Mary was responding calmly to our hijacking whilst I contemplated the best way to jump from a moving vehicle.
When we were delivered safely to the hostel, Mary continued to smile and wink at me as though I should know why. Then I saw the driver. I looked at his dark celtic features and knew that she had fallen under the spell of his looks, and I averted my gaze so I wouldn’t fall too. He was far too good looking to be a serial killer. That night, over many drinks at the Danny Mann pub, Mary and I discussed the pros and cons of marrying a handsome Irish man.
Next morning we jumped aboard the hostel’s tour bus for a guided tour of the Ring of Kerry. We were inspired to undertake this journey because the Irish hunk was on the bus – how lucky could we get. We watched him walk up and down the aisle, checking tickets and then he jumped off the bus and onto another bus heading off on a different tour. Mary’s hopes were dashed, and I confess to feeling a bit the same myself.
We really have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language. (Oscar Wilde)
On board the bus tour we met two young male backpackers, an American and an Australian. We were kept amused by the antics of the elderly tourists aboard with us, particularly an American couple we dubbed ‘Mickey & Minnie’, who were dressed in Disney apparel and accessories, complete with a set of braces and copious amounts of jewellery. They took photos of each other all day long with their Polaroid camera – sadly I didn’t get any photos of them.
To cement our new friendships, we four ‘ mousketeers’ spent that evening in the Danny Man pub celebrating Kerry’s win in the football the previous day and trying to outdrink a German called Fricker who thought our accents were funny…
Just before midnight we learnt it was Matt’s birthday and, as luck would have it, we found a spare birthday banana that we signed and presented to him.
I watched a funeral go by and asked who was dead. A man said, “The fella in the box”. (Dave Allen)
A snap decision to visit Cork was made so we said goodbye to our fellow travellers and boarded the 10.30am train from Killarney, where the clouds continued to threaten us, and we were in need of some sunshine.
As it turned out, the only good thing about Cork was the weather.
We checked into the Cork City Tourist Apartments, upon the River Lee. Apparently Cork is called the Venice of Ireland due to the fact that it was built upon islands. I confess, I saw no resemblance whatsoever. As we were travelling on a budget we weren’t expecting 5 star luxury but these apartments were so grim we felt we were on the receiving end of some wretched joke that we just didn’t get. Upon making our way down to the basement, where the showers were located, Mary and I had a brief look around and made a pact not to bathe until we reached the next destination.
We decided to take in the sights of Cork instead, but sadly didn’t see anything to make us want to stay longer than one night. Walking past a funeral parlour we noticed the open doors and then just beyond them, an open casket complete with corpse, ready for viewing I suppose. I ventured a closer look and was struck by the gentleman’s peaceful expression; he was clearly relieved to be leaving Cork, as we were the following day.
If you’re lucky enough to be Irish, then you’re lucky enough.
On the outskirts of Cork lies Blarney Castle, where for hundreds of years people have been visiting to kiss the Blarney Stone. For some reason I declined to do this, possibly because of the athletic skill required to hang upside down to reach it whilst puckering your lips beyond their normal extension. However I was happy enough to hold the contents of Mary’s pockets as she bent herself over backwards to complete the task.
We continued our journey eastwards back towards England for another few nights, discovering and delighting in this charming island nation.
I know I don’t need to extol the virtues of Ireland with it’s fierce history, passionate people, stunning scenery and world class whisky as there are many who have done so before me.
I’m glad I went, I’ll go again, and I hope you get to go too; until then:
Wherever you go and whatever you do, may the luck of the Irish be there with you.