Posted by: Peadar Ban | September 27, 2012

You Are Welcome Home (Contd): from Dublin to Galway

The first time I saw Dublin was during the summer of 1976 on our first trip to Ireland.  We drove up there from Newcastle West in Limerick, leaving early in the morning from Aunt Nora’s house and farm.  The trip took us most of the day.  We drove up to Limerick on the N20 from The Castle, as the people who know it well call it.  From Limerick we took the N7 east across the country to Dublin after threading through Limerick for more than a little while.

The “N” designator I figured was the rough equivalent of the letter “I” in our interstate system, and there ended all similarity.  The trip from Newcastle West took a little over five hours to go about 160 miles.  You do the math.

I don’t know how it began to seem that way, but almost any drive longer than the length of a football field in my mind seemed to last about four hours.  Of course they didn’t, but on a road not much wider than a ribbon of silk, with cars and lorries (trucks)hurtling along at you,  and the odd hay cart or pony trap ambling along on roads that had no shoulders, not to mention herds of sheep meandering along the right of way or taking a snooze in the road it is a miracle anyone ever got anywhere.

I took driving in Ireland as a challenge equal in sheer athleticism and the fear factor of adventure to climbing the Matterhorn bare footed. Since it was almost impossible thirty or so years ago to find a car with an automatic shift, driving those roads from the wrong side and with a manual transmission made driving in any conditions an extreme sport.  Especially delightful for the excitement derived from it was coming off a curve onto a straightaway and see a passing tractor trailer (a lorry) hurtling towards you at a combined speed of about 90mph.


After returning to our room at the Four Seasons on Simmonscourt Road in Dublin, we decided to make something of the unaccustomed to us luxury of the place.  We ordered tea brought up to the room; tea and the Irish Times.  My only regret was the lack of a cord we could pull to ring for the butler and place the order.  While awaiting tea we both changed into “something more comfortable” to spend the rest of our evening in.  Since it is our habit to read to each other we did just that for a while, and then I cracked the spine of the Times, a much nicer paper than the one with the similar name over here.  Reading the Irish Times gave me the feeling of being together with friends in a quiet pub.  Reading the New York Times I always feel as if I am in a Re-Education camp where the only food is fish head broth and we must attende indoctrination lectures twelve hours a day.

Something comfortable!

We sat, sipped tea, chatted quietly about our day and then quietly went to sleep at about 9:00pm.

I was wide awake four hours later.  I willed myself to stay in bed, and until 5 I alternated counting, sheep, apples, leprechauns and IRA members with counting Hail Marys.  The latter were most affective in helping me get an hour or more of slumber under my belt.  At five I could take it no more and got up and did some exercises until Mariellen stirred around 6 or so.

Another pot of tea was rounded up for us, and we sat by the french doors reading and watching the day appear.  Then we dressed and went down for breakfast.

“And the Taoiseach met the arriving guests at the airport… ” He is such a nice man, Dear, don’t you think. Yes, I’ll have another cup.

The little room where we ate yesterday on our arrival was nearly filled with hotel guests.  Smartened up by yesterday’s experience, we decided on a “table d’hote” breakfast rather than order from the menu and were directed to a series of tables and plates stacked with hot and cold delights.  I munched on assorted leaves, some cheese and fruit, a bit of fish while Mariellen stayed with her favorites, Irish oatmeal and fresh fruit.

We were more than satisfied with the selection, and were even plied with some champagne did we desire it.  But, no, we turned down the offer from our very nice Bulgarian waiter, only one of the very not-Irish staff there to help us out.

A few tables away from us I noticed a man wearing the uniform of a New York City Fireman sitting with some other fellows .  It was September 11th and he was here to appear at the unveiling of a plaque and a girder from Ground Zero being presented to the City of Dublin in memory of all the people of Irish heritage who had died on that day, particularly all the First Responders.  We chatted for a while trying to figure out if we had any mutual friends in the City.  I didn’t think so, having left New York nearly forty years before.  I figured he was still in knickers back then.

I told him we were on our way to Galway when he asked if we might join him at the ceremony later that morning.  “Galway,” he said.  “That’s where I’m going tomorrow for a couple of days.”  “Well, if we run into each other, I’ll buy the first round,” I replied, and turned to go.  I felt safe.  The chances of it happening were very slim.

Mariellen was awaiting my return to our table.  We settled our bill with the nice Hungarian or Turk waiter and left to go upstairs to the room and freshen up before going to Mass.  Our friend was on duty at the Concierge desk when we next appeared in the lobby.  He happily gave us directions to the nearest church in Donnybrook, only a short walk from the hotel.  We strolled out the front door and turned right this time, walking up Simmonscourt to Anglesea Road, left on that another few hundred yards to Sacred Heart Church.  We were in time for the 1030 Mass.

On the way we passed a little Gothic structure at the corner of Simmonscourt and Anglesea, St. Mary’s Church; the Church of Ireland parish for the neighborhood, I figured.  There were quite a number of South Asian people, Indians or Pakistanis, gathering in the church yard, and cars stopping to discharge more people.  Something big was brewing.  I remembered my last participation in Massachusetts about a year before in a baptismal celebration, and even though I had a full stomach from breakfast my mouth began to water thinking about the feast that might be going on after we got out of Mass.

At Sacred Heart itself, the church was filled for Mass.  There wasn’t any sign of a drop in attendance at this Irish Catholic church.  From infants to the aged infirm, every demographic was well represented.  During his homily, the celebrant a youngish priest said not a word about sins of the flesh.  Rather he spoke about our need to be a sign of goodness, a light to others of the love of Christ.  So much for the Jansenism one reads is affecting, has affected the Irish church.

After Mass ended, we walked back to the hotel, passing the celebrating Indians, now grown considerable in volume and number in the yard of the little Protestant church on the corner.  On our way in I noticed this fellow sitting quietly.  I concluded he was a statue when I stopped to ask him what was the title of the book he was reading.

Just waiting for…

He was just outside the hotel’s front door.  Going in I took the opportunity to tell the doorman I’d need my car in about fifteen minutes.  He saluted me smartly as I left him another Euro for his vacation fund.  Your man over there on the right never even looked up.

In our room once again we finished packing, and I let Mariellen talk me out of sneaking off with the plush white terry cloth robe all the swells who stay at the Four Seasons get.   I even ran into some Indian fellow in the elevator wearing his robe and slippers down to breakfast.  Not even when I told her they expected it to walk out the door with us would she relent.  It’s another example of my good judgement in marrying her. But, there were also some cheapo slippers wrapped in plastic.   She caved on the slippers, though, since I had already worn them.

While Mariellen made the arrangements with the car, I settled up with the Italian Count at the hotel desk, flipped a couple of sous to the Concierge and walked out to meet her just in time to palm another piece of metal to one of the six or seven thousand attendants waiting like seagulls at the beach.  Then we were off.

Now, here is something I must tell you about driving in Dublin.  Maybe it applies to other European cities as well, I don’t know.  But, it is certainly the case with Dublin.  Quick, go to your room and get down that street map of Dublin you’ve been looking at from time to time.  Do you see how the streets all wander about like some kind of  Mandelbrot Set.  Imagine if you can driving from the center of that to it’s outermost limits and trying to find the shortest route.  Of course there is none, and no matter which way you start out thinking you are going, you will not long continue going where you are thinking.

In no time at all, after passing by the heavily guarded Embassy of My Country ( A bored Garda was slouched against the low wall talking to someone as we passed.  I smiled and waved.) we got lost at St. Stephen’s green, very quickly wound up on the wrong side of the Liffey, and had to retrace our steps back towards the Embassy.  It was a thing I did not want to do fearing that the alert sentry would see me and conclude correctly that I was that most common of all things in Dublin, a lost Yank.

We had been given one of those devices which some devil in hell created; one of those devices which will direct you step by step from start to finish no matter where you are.  A very cultured woman with a very cultured and soothing British accent, announced each turn of the road as it approached.  She was the same woman who had been with us on a trip to New Zealand three years ago.  And to her I attribute more than one headache suffered during that time, more than one bout of acid reflux and more than one wish to commit murder.  But, desperate times demand desperate actions.  We connected the thing and plugged in our start and finish  addresses, and waited.  From time to time her soothing voice assured us she was calculating.

Some few minutes later she announced that we should leave where we were, drive in a certain direction for a certain time and do something — none of which was helpful, because when we got to the place we thought she had directed us to we found  nothing to indicate it was where we were.  Ahh, Dublin.

I tried to remember the conversation I had with the huge Maori from New Zealand several years ago outside of our hotel in Armagh.  We had joked about the fellows in the Ordinance Office in Ireland, the guys who draw the maps and such, making up things as the go along until maps and directions are so bollixed up not even the natives know for sure where they are at any given time.

We did, finally, fall upon the M4 during one of our seemingly endless circumnavigations of a roundabout somewhere near what I took to be the headwaters of the River Liffey; or at least it was a sign that informed us the road we were on was the M4, and that was the road we needed to get to Galway.  God be praised!  We were finally on our way west.  I wasn’t going to put my faith in anything until I saw a sign telling us we were headed to Galway.  That came along in about ten minutes on the same road.  It had taken us a mere hour and a half, and nearly ended the marriage.

Nothing further of note occurred in the near two hours ride to Galway.  The M4 is a ‘dual carriageway (think divided four lane Interstate), a leap into modern times courtesy of the European Community and a mixed blessing as far as I am concerned.  Betimes we reached Galway.  The sun, such as it was, was declining into the sea, behind ranks of gray clouds.  Lashings of rain had grown heavier the further west we traveled, and I began to think that we might have run into what remained of Hurricane Katia which had  adventured out into the Atlantic and left the US alone two days before.  Katy must have yearned for our company.  I certainly did not return the feeling.

At about 4:00pm we reached our hotel, Glenlo Abbey; actually a re-modeled old mansion built somewhere towards the end of the 19th Century.  The abbey was in the form of a small chapel like building that had been attached to the house so the original owner of the land could walk to Mass I suppose.  It was/is a lovely little place.  The home has been expanded with a more up to date wing, but we were put into a room in the old house.  I knew that when the nice lady at the desk handed us a key large enough to use as a mace.  The directions to our room were simple, but they left out mention of “ambiance” and atmosphere.  Walking down the carpeted corridor to our room I kept looking for Humphrey Bogart and a bunch of other stars from old 1930’s film noir movies.

“For us? How lovely, but you shouldn’t have gone to all the trouble.”

We checked in and then left immediately to look for a place to eat.  We were hungry, and Mariellen had left her “sorts’ somewhere behind us on the road.  We drove all the way to Oughterard, about ten miles away, looking for something in the way of a restaurant that did not serve livestock at the same tables as their human customers.  The further out Mariellen got from her “sorts” the more desperate I began to search for a place to stop and re-gather them.  Our search was proving fruitless, and we almost gave up when I remembered a little place a mile or so away from Glenlo, a place we had stopped in for supper on a previous stay in the neighborhood.  It was a Pub to be sure, and a good one at that if our experience then was any indication.  At least we could get a pint or two of gargle.

To it we went.  Therein we ordered a nice meal of salmon and some vegetables, some fine brown bread and a pint or two of Smithwick’s darlin’ ale.

The place filled as we went along, but your three over here to the right of us didn’t make a move the whole time we were there. Like those statues in the courtyard and at the door of the Four Seasons back in Dublin, occasionally whispering and peering darkly around them, signalling with the barest nod, the slightest inclination of the head to the buxom bar lady for a refill of their drinks.  They were probably figuring the odds on some game somewhere, but I couldn’t help thinking dark deeds were being planned for darker nights and no good would come of their association.

We finished and drove the few hundred yards down the road to the hotel.  It had become a little more ominous, wind whipped rain slamming against the little car, and ourselves as we walked to short distance to the hotel from the “car park”.

Soon, snug in the room for the night, we ordered some tea and settled in while the growing storm roared into town like a herd of wild horses.  What did we care.  But, as I drifted off to sleep I found myself imagining murder stalking the halls and stopping to listen at the doors.  Inside it might be quiet and peaceful.  Outside mystery, disorder and danger.

Behind Closed Doors



    • The short answer is yes, But, then I have always dreamed of Ireland

  2. I have only been to the land of my parents once in 1970 and spent the entire week in Dublin where my father was born in 1901.Flying in by plane I was struck by how green Ireland was more than any other country I have ever visited. I was young then and single and had a ball getting to know my Dublin cousins and sharing with them the Dublin pup atmosphere.
    The only foreign nationals I met then were three young German men, at my cousins’ favorite pub, who proudly proclaimed they were avoiding the German military draft.
    One of my cousins told me that the German lads were saying bad things about the USA in hopes of getting me into a fight with them as my cousin thought with his support and his brother’s aid it would make for a “grand dust up”, I declined his invitation with thanks and bought him a beer.
    Ah memories of long ago.

    • Thank you, Ron, for your comment. I have cousins in Dublin on my father’s side of the family. I probably have some cousins from my mother’s side, too, but her folks came over here in the 1850’s right after An Gorta Mor. I’ll have something to say about Dublin again in a couple of weeks when we get back in the vicinity. Green is not the first color on the flag by mistake. That’s for sure.


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