I want to try a little experiment this week, departing temporarily from our regular cancer format. Instead I will be reporting on the events and impressions of our recent trip to Ireland. I will cover what we did, impressions on the Irish economy, history, music, landscape, and life. This trip differed from most of my previous travels abroad in that it was for pleasure only and had nothing to do with nursing or cancer care. I may write more about that history in a future post.
As you may recall we were scheduled to depart from Boston in mid-October. A hospitalization for H1N1 interfered with that plan. Irish weather in October this year was unusually balmy and sunny. Our November weather was more typical in the extreme. Indeed we saw record rainfall and flooding throughout the British isles. There is a saying in Ireland that the only way to tell the season is by the temperature of the rain.
This trip originated from Indianapolis with six hour layover in New York’s JFK airport. Fortunately we had complimentary passes to Delta’s Sky Club. So we spent those hours in the members-only lounge, watching TV, sipping drinks and munching on mediocre appetizers. The flight over was long and cramped. We arrived early morning in Dublin. I had booked bus tickets for the cross-country trip to Galway on the western coast. It was unclear from the internet booking if the bus from the airport into Dublin was included. The airport bus driver was unsure also and so suggested that I buy tickets for his bus inside. Two for 10 euros or about $15US. When I returned to the bus stand, tickets in hand, a few minutes later, we were approached for the busline supervisor. He conformed that our Bus Eireann tickets did not include fare into the city. He apologized but announced that he would take us for free. I showed him the tickets I just purchased. He then approached another couple on the platform who had a question. Then he returned to us, retrieved my tickets, gave them to the other couple in exchange for a 10 euro note that he handed to me. “Better to spend it in a pub” said he. A gracious beginning for us.
Ours was a local bus, stopping briefly at over a dozen towns and villages. As we traveled west, ancient hedgerows demarcating property lines gave way to low stone walls, dry-stacked with thousands of flat rocks. The land sloped and fell. We passed fields whose only crop seemed to be made up of dark, granite fieldstones. Other more cultivated fields had long ago given up their own rock harvest to clear the land for planting and to build the walls that surrounded them. Every town had at least one pub, B&Bs, its own cheese and fish mongers, as well as an assortment of ethnic “take-away” restaurants.
With no facilities on the bus, we stopped at a little bus station halfway through our journey. The sky was darkening as we pulled into Galway. We asked a young woman traveler for the use of her cell phone. She happily obliged, then offered to show us the square where we were meeting our friends. Bob and Rebecca drove us the short distance to their flat, a modern, architectually sophisticated affair built on the ruins of an old mill. A high rock wall surrounded the courtyard. The mill’s original stream flowed alongside as well as under the new apartments.
This part of Galway is called Salt Hill. It posses an old village atmosphere. Riverlets, streams, canals and locks divide buildings and streets. Bridges provide access everywhere and span a raging river that then empties into the bay. Ireland’s damp climate and near constant rain feed hundreds of lakes and stream. The commercial area here is dissected by narrow, cobbled streets. Pubs, shops of all kinds, and restaurants are dressed in bright pastels, forming an optimistic picture in contrast the the grey, unrelenting weather. We walk down to the harbour. We pass pleasure boats and working boats with even a few examples of nineteenth-century sail-driven fishing boats called Galway hookers. These, along with tiny shops featuring “tarts”, led to a series of sad jokes.
Our Galway evenings were mostly spent on little pubs featuring Irish music. Our favorite was called Tis Coili. The front tables was reserved for musicians. They sat in chairs and drank their ales, stouts, and ciders between songs. The composition of the bands changed as different musicians came and went, sitting in for a song or two. Fiddles, banjos, accordians of different sizes and shapes, a flute or two, and old handheld drums, sometimes a vocal rendition, most times not. Rants and rifs that followed an improvisational impulse, people playing together and in solo sections, musicians sometimes trading instruments, rhythms interpreted, expanded, driven together in wild harmony. And me with my Guinness. Later we walked home through the continuing drizzle, the tiny streets filled with young and old, mostly young. And sometimes the occasional colorful Irish drunk. We crossed tiny stone or wrought-iron bridges, fording streams that hissed and glowed in the darkness. An introductory welcome to an ancient land.