‘If the Sea Were Beer Instead of Salty Water / She Would Live and Die in Galway Bay’

My hotel is on the Dublin Road, some distance from the town center, which is annoying because the town center is the place to be in Galway. I can ride the bus into town or pay €10 for a taxi but it is better to be there in the first place.The Long Walk, Galway

I took the Segway tour, led by Nora, a recent NUI Galway history graduate. It’s fun being on the thing but it takes up too much of the sidewalk and I kept having to apologize to the people I was crowding. Many people want to try it out but it’s not possible says Nora. One old sod says “Children are easily amused by their toys” and I tell him he’s jealous because he’s on Shanks’ mare. Another character wants to tell Nora how to do her job, asking if she’s told me about Christopher Columbus’ visit to Galway. (She had). I felt a bit foolish with the attention that the Segway drew, but it is fun. I left the battery for my camera in my hotel so got no pictures.

We went past a dock where, Nora told me, a Danish ship, the Thor Gitta, is under arrest after a dramatic lifting accident in which a sling broke and dropped one of two foot ferries Galway, Irelandit was loading into Galway Bay. Three men who were foolishly on the ferry at the time sustained minor injuries. The crew of the Thor Gitta are meanwhile killing time on the deck in the fine weather while the legal paperwork gets sorted. The ferries serviced the Aran Islands until bankruptcy forced their sale to a company planning to run them in Mauritius.

Saw the Spanish Arch. Saw Claddagh, memorable to me because of the Clancy Brothers parody of the traditional Galway Bay:

On her back she has tattooed a map of Ireland,
And when she takes her bath on Saturday,
She rubs the sunlight soap around by Claddagh,
Just to watch the suds flow down by Galway Bay.

Saw the Lynch Memorial Window, which Nora calls the oldest tourist trap in Galway. We briefly met the members of the Dublin band Fight Like Apes who were loading their van The Spanish Arch, Galwayand talked about Seattle a bit. (They had played the Trinity Ball with Jessie J. Ireland is a very small country really. Nora was a bit star struck). I had the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York in my head all afternoon:

The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay,
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day.

Saw the Long Walk and the Salthill Prom, both mentioned in Steve Earle’s great Galway Girl. Saw the John F. Kennedy memorial in what is officially the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park but which everyone calls Eyre Square. JFK was made a Freeman of Galway Borough when he visited on June 29, 1963, three months before I saw him at a groundbreaking on the Hanford Nuclear Site, and five months before his assassination in Dallas.

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Strangers in the Night

John missed breakfast but turned up at the Killarney train station to see me off, wearing the same clothes from two nights ago, which are paint splattered as he’s working on opening a business catering to young tourists. He’s humming “Strangers in the Night” for my benefitSt. Mary's Cathedral, seen from Killarney National Park when I notice him. He tells a horrible but funny story about his activities the previous night, and I’m glad I wasn’t there. Still I was touched to see him at the station.

The trip from Killarney to Galway requires train changes at Mallow and Limerick Junction. As we get closer to Galway I begin to see the dry-stone fences characteristic of West Ireland, some put up hundreds of years ago. Fiona, a second year science student at the NUI Galway, who is returning from a birthday party in Cork, leads tours of Galway. I am thinking of signing up for one after she says it includes a visit to the Nora Barnacle House. However the tours are conducted on Segways. Fiona has never seen Arrested Development.

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Pub crawling in Killarney

Killarney is a pretty little tourist town in the southwest of Ireland. My hotel is in the town center, which is packed with small shops, restaurants and boutique hotels.

On my first night in town I meet young rugby-playing raconteur named John in a pub. St. Mary’s Cathedral, KillarneyHe is charismatic and knows everyone in town. We traded a couple of rounds and he recruited another Irish American named Patrick from Atlanta, along with several of John’s friends who work in the local bars and restaurants. We were then off on a tour of pubs and after-hours joints that continued into the small hours. I have been properly schooled in the “double pour” method of serving Guinness and now know what a lock-in is, but am otherwise unimproved.

To atone, I hiked the next day from my hotel to Ross Castle in the Killarney National Park. The park entrance is across the street from St. Mary’s Cathedral, which is strikingly beautiful. Nearby is St. Brendan’s College, a diocesan secondary school founded in 1860.

The Park is the largest in Ireland and is home to Ross Castle which has a rich history reflecting Ireland’s troubled past. It was one of the last holdouts against Cromwell’sRoss Castle, Killarney National Park Parliamentary Army in 1652. The location of the castle ruins is on Lough Leane which, on the day I visited, was whipped up by the wind and tea colored.

Tour groups are carried into the Park on horse-drawn wagons. The lakes and rivers in the park provide plenty of chances for photography. I ate at a lunch place run by young Eastern European women in uniforms with good sandwiches and excellent baked goods. Their no-nonsense efficiency extends to the name of the restaurant itself – Jam.

After an late afternoon nap I went for a walk to pick up my tickets from the train station.Killarney National Park While walking past a pub I ran into John smoking outside, wearing the same clothes he had on the night before. His gregariousness was undiminished and he was entertaining a young management-side labor lawyer and his wife from Philadelphia. John quickly got onto a favorite topic: How was George Bush twice elected, since no Americans he has met will admit to having voted for him? I wasn’t up for another late night/early morning tour of Killarney and begged off, although we’re supposed to meet this morning for coffee. Hopefully his onerous duties as the unofficial mayor of Killarney will not have prevented his getting some sleep and a change of clothes.

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On the train to Cork I sat with a retired businessman , Noel, who lost his sight seven months ago. He was travelling to the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind training center in Cork for training in how to get around. He wasn’t sure that he wanted a guide dog because of the additional responsibilities that entails, but was open-minded about it.  His daughter, who escorted him to his seat in Dublin, asked me to help him off the train in Cork. She is the former Ireland women’s water ski champion and is married to the former men’s The River Lee in Corkchampion. Noel and his wife have eight grandchildren, all living in the area around Dublin.

I haven’t stayed at bed and breakfast places on this trip and decided to try one in Cork, since I was only going to be there one night. The one I picked more or less at random is on Lower Glanmire Road just down the street from the train station. It is an old townhouse run by a woman named Ellen. I lugged my overweight bag up the steep narrow stairs and kept banging my fool head in doorways while looking down to keep from tripping over the irregular sills. The room, which included a tiny bath, sloped radically from street window to door, dropping a good foot or more.

To get to a laundry required walking straight up a steep hill to a shop across from a Roundabout Tavern sign, Mallow Rail Stationmilitary barracks. I was annoyed that the first laundry recommended to me was closed on Mondays and had to tramp around to find a second. Ireland doesn’t favor self-service launderettes and I have not had good results asking the locals for directions. You have to step carefully on the residential Cork sidewalks as they are used by residents for dog toilets.

I ate at Isaacs, and enjoyed a dish of three separate curries with rice and excellent homemade chutney. That and the dessert undid any physical benefit from my earlier mountaineering on the merde-encrusted sidewalks of Cork. I left the next morning for Killarney on the train, changing at Mallow.

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Blame the Catholics

Reading the Irish Independent newspaper on the train from Dublin to Cork I came across an editorial by Mary Kenny captioned “Old Protestant virtues can help us through this economic crisis.” Her opening point is that successful businesses in Ireland – Guinness beer, Jameson whiskey, and Jacobs, a biscuit company – prospered because their senior managements were Protestant.

With modernisation, everything changed in society, and generally for theP1010629 better. We do not discriminate against individuals, nowadays, on grounds of their religion: or if we did, we would be ashamed to admit it. And yet, was there some substance in the traditional belief that Protestant cultures were steadier and more reliable when it came to handling money, while Catholic societies might be more reckless and improvident.

She expands her point to take in the entire European Union. Germany, the Netherlands and Finland are prospering while Catholic Portugal, Ireland and Greece struggle. Tony Blair, a Catholic convert, was in favor of England joining the EU while Gordon Brown, a “son of the manse” who admired his father’s “formidably Calvinist Presbyterian” values, kept Britain out, Kenny notes. Never mind the history of official discrimination against Catholics. Never mind that Blair’s conversion to Catholicism came after his term as Prime Minister had ended, nor that Catholics are the largest religious groups in Germany and in the Netherlands. Never mind that Iceland, an EU country in which all three of its major banks collapsed, is 80 percent Lutheran.

I shouldn’t be surprised; This is from the Wikipedia entry for the Independent:P1010622

During the 1913 Lockout of workers, in which [Independent owner William] Murphy was the leading figure among the employers, the Irish Independent vigorously sided with its owner’s interests, publishing news reports and opinion pieces hostile to the strikers, expressing confidence in the unions’ defeat and launching personal attacks on the leader of the strikers, James Larkin. The Irish Independent described the 1916 Easter Rising as “insane and criminal” and famously called for the shooting of its leaders. In December 1919, during the Irish War of Independence, a group of twenty IRA men destroyed the printing works of the paper, angered at its criticism of the Irish Republican Army and largely pro-British and Unionist stance.

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Howth via DART

Howth (the name rhymes with oat) lies on the sea at the end of the Dublin Area Rapid Transit route. I have gotten weary of cities and museums and the weather Howth, Irelandis so good that I wanted to spend it outside. A DART station is located just down Pearse Street from my hotel and I got there early for the short trip north.

Howth Head is where Bloom proposed to Molly in Ulysses. (“the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes”).  (I still haven’t read that whole book, a terrible failure for an English major). The town is small and caters to visitors. There was a small outdoor market where I enjoyed a breakfast bratwurst and then walked out on the harbor, home to fishing boats, sailboats W.B. Yeats home, 1880-1883and seals.

The narrow Balscadden Road climbs from the town to a rocky conservation area high above the sea. It is an easy walk uphill. On the route I passed a house on the cliff with a badge identifying it as home to W.B. Yeats from 1880 to 1883, when he was between the ages of 15 and 18. The cliffs are dizzying and unguarded. Inland are narrow trails cut through the low heather. On the cliffs below the trails seabirds nest in crowded rookeries. There was a light breeze blowing while I was there and not a cloud in the sky.

By the time I walked back to the small town it had filled up with Dubliners and tourists enjoying the sun. Although there are many sail boats moored in the harbor, not manyHowth, Ireland boats were actually out sailing, although the day was perfect for it. I had a lunch bratwurst with beer at the market and bought homemade licorice from a French candy maker.

In Dublin I made arrangements online to take the train to Cork. The cost the attendant at the DART ticket window quoted was about €65; online the cost is €10, plus a small handling fee. I have no idea why there was such a disparity in cost depending on where or how you order a ticket.

My alarm clock woke me up this morning to Jessie J being interviewed by two moronic Dublin disk jockeys. I listened expecting to get some expansion of her tweets after the Trinity Ball, but not a word was spoken, the church bells all were broken, etc. The music business is more tightly controlled than ever. Anything other than hype and inane small talk is off the table.

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