It was a little after 10:00 am local time when we landed at Shannon Airport near Limerick in the southwest portion of Ireland. I had been there previously in 1999, so I was familiar with the layout of customs and baggage claim. It always helps to at least pretend to know what I’m doing when traveling with my girlfriend since she has absolutely no interest in figuring out the logistics of getting from point A to point B. I take pride in my travel agent abilities as I need to add something to my duties in the relationship beyond outdoor cooking, auto maintenance and weed-eating. RUABelle shares in the lawn care and actually takes the lead role in dealing with most creepy crawly things due to my completely rational fear of things that sting or bite.
We were met outside of immigration by our two hosts holding up a paper plate with our names on it. We were a couple hours late even though the pilot had pedaled hard to try to make up some of the lost time. I had hoped that our hosts had checked with the airline to see if our flight was on time and not waited for hours at the airport, but none of us were that lucky. They had arrived on the same flight a day earlier, so at least they were in the proper time zone if not the proper circadian rhythms.
Immediately we were met with Irish weather, a cold windy misty rain. It didn’t bode well for us since most of our clothes were still packed and we were on hour 36 since underwear changes. But since we couldn’t check into where we were staying until after 4:00, we figured we’d suck it up and push through the jet lag. Our hosts, oh let’s call them Ricky and Lucy, started asking us questions about where we wanted to go sight-seeing immediately. RUABelle and I both actually wanted to see the insides of our eyelids, but we mumbled something like, “whatever you suggest.” So we were off to the Cliffs of Mohr, the tallest cliffs in Ireland. Probably not the best choice for a couple of folks who weren’t real steady on their feet yet, but what the hey…
In a very nice but ill-conceived gesture, Ricky had upgraded his rental car to a 5-series BMW to make sure there was enough room for all of our luggage. RUABelle and I had packed light, so it wasn’t really an issue, but the extra leg room was nice. Regrettably, driving in Ireland is already enough of a chore, what with the particularly narrow lanes, driving on the wrong damn side of road, multiple roundabouts, cattle in the road
and kamikaze tour buses tearing around corners at double the speed limit. Add to that the fact that both Ricky and Lucy were, how should I put this politely, extremely nervous Nellies when it came to driving or anything else, and we knew we were in for an experience.
The last time I had come to Ireland, I rented a car for a couple of days. Having done my research, I rented a tiny car and got all of the insurance. Even the stuff the car rental company doesn’t even suggest. I was fully covered. Despite my advance planning, I hadn’t considered the difficulty I would encounter when I got in the car for the first time and noticed the stick shift on my left side. Now my left arm is only good for scratching my right elbow, so I knew I was in trouble. But I managed to buck my way around Ireland and only got in the wrong side of the car three times and noticed there was no steering wheel in front of me. I proceeded to rummage through the glove box looking for a non-existent map, and then got out and switched sides to where the pilot belonged. I ended up getting blown off the road by one of the aforementioned tour buses, destroying the left side mirror against a barbed wire fence in the process. I stressed all the way to the airport with the prospect of filling out forms to satisfy my insurance claim.
As I turned in the car, I sheepishly told the attendant that I had broken the mirror. He looked at it, smiled at me and said, “So you did then. Have a nice trip!” That’s when I knew I would be returning to this friendly isle.
So back to Ricky’s driving. We could hear him occasionally muttering “Left. Left. Left.” under his breath as he pulled out of parking lots. While this was probably a good idea, it didn’t engender confidence in his passengers, especially Lucy who grunted and groaned at every approaching car who crowded our lane. Luckily for the girlfriend and me, we were slipping in and out of consciousness for much of the first day’s touring and didn’t see the source of the exhalations that periodically snapped us into awareness.
After a nice tomato, cheese and onion sandwich (local favorite, I’ll pass next time) and a few pints in the town of Ennis we motored our way down to our ultimate destination, the lovely seaside village of Kinsale.
We had very explicit directions which had been emailed to us as part of our information packet from the mill prior to leaving the States. They pointed us to a building between the Post Office and the Super Value Store. Unfortunately, those two building adjoined each other. Not thinking we were staying on the sidewalk grate between the doors, we were flummoxed. And jet lagged and hungry. And thirsty and cranky. But I kept a smile on my face for RUABelle’s benefit and tried to make it look like this was normal. I always fly halfway around the world to a place where I don’t have the address or a key or any freakin’ idea where I’m going.
Nope, I’m a big “Amazing Race” fan and I wouldn’t be deterred. We had a picture of the house and it wasn’t that big of a hamlet. We’ll just drive around until we recognize it. I had already forgotten about Ricky’s driving and Lucy’s shrieking. Ten non-constructive minutes later, I asked for plan B. We should head to high ground. We found a promontory where we could see most of the town and it really was “Amazing Race” time. I stood on top of a rock wall and held the inkjet printout of the photo of the house at arm’s length. I then scanned all the rooftops of the village trying to match the rooflines and dormers and paint colors with our photo. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t spot it off in the distance.
Ricky and I left the women in the car in case we were wrong again. We had already just about run out of strikes. We walked down the hill and across a busy street (look right, then left, then right again before crossing) and finally found the house that matched the picture. Of course, we didn’t have any keys or anything or the slightest clue of how to get in. Through a window of the front room, we could spy a letter left on the table welcoming us to the house. Fat lot of good that does if we can’t get in the friggin’ place!
But there was a phone number and a name to call. By standing on tiptoes and pressing my face against the window frame I could just make it out. Now we had a plan! Let’s go to the pub and get another pint.
We returned to the car and drove the ladies to our new abode to show off that we had found it. We just couldn’t get in it. I couldn’t tell whether we were on the rise or the decline in the ladies’ esteem, but recommending a beer stop sure didn’t hurt us. We parked the car and walked into town to the White House Pub. It sounded like a good place for Yanks.
Ricky told us to order some beer and he was going to go find a phone and get in contact with the guy with the key. The bartender was very friendly and brought our beers immediately. Then it got a little frosty. “That’ll be thirteen and fifty.” I hadn’t changed any Euros yet. Neither of the girls had any Euros. We’ve all had a good slug of beer already, so we had slipped from orderers to consumers and Seamus expected to get PAID. Don’t worry, we said. The guy with the money will be right back. We’ll just stand here and watch the football game with you and leave the ladies for collateral if we need to. He said it looked kind of dodgy to him, but he was willing to wait for a few minutes before he got really pissed.
We still weren’t sure if he was kidding us until Lucy asked where the bathroom was. “They’re for paying customers,” he barked. Fortunately, England defeated Ecuador and Ricky returned with the keys, some Euros and advice about where to eat dinner, so everybody was feeling better. Especially after the loo embargo was lifted. Those pints of Smithwicks add up after awhile.
We walked back to the house and finally moved in our gear. In retrospect, it turned out that Ricky had failed to notice that his info packet was different from ours since he was an employee of the mill. It included proper directions and the combination to the box on the side of the house that contained the keys. Smiles everyone!
The house was great. It was a newly remodeled two story duplex which had previously served as a restaurant. We were the first tenants since the remodel had been completed and were honored to be part of the check-out cruise. RUABelle immediately noticed that the hair dryer that had been promised in the information packet was not present. A quick trip to the old Super Value later (we knew where THAT was), and we had made our thank you gift to the house and the GF was happy.
The house was probably a hundred years old, but whoever had done the remodel had apparently had access to the Ikea catalog. It led to kind of an Ethan Allen meets Woody Allen in “Sleeper” kind of feel. I liked the place, but I was afraid I would accidentally pee in what turned out to be the garbage disposal. We just stayed out of the kitchen for safety’s sake.
We showered the road grime off of our bodies and walked to town for dinner. We knew if we had laid down, we would have slept the sleep of the dead and missed the next twelve hours. When we arrived at Toddies, we met our other host for the trip who was one of the owners of both the house and the paper mill. “Jim” was a very nice man from upstate New York who had traveled over to drop off his 15 year old son “Jim, jr.” who was to spend a six week stint as a caddie at the golf club we would be playing on Tuesday. His son was polite, outgoing, handsome and athletic and I immediately hated him. Just kidding. He was a great kid and we all envied the experience he was about to undertake. He did eat every meal like the last supper of a condemned man because he knew he was going to have to fend for himself for the first time in his life. Apparently he had heard about the tomato, cheese and onion sandwiches…
I don’t care what you hear about Irish food, though. Where we were staying near the coast, the specialty was seafood and it was uniformly excellent. The fish of the day was Black Sole which was outstanding. This is not to be confused with Black Soul, of which the Irish have none, no matter what those tossers in “The Commitments” say. The evening concluded with Jim testing his son’s sales skills by making him lie to the friendly, freshly scrubbed waitress that his dad was having a birthday and needed a free dessert. Jim, jr. didn’t disappoint and we all went to bed happy.
In our next episode-Part 3-West Cork, Pebble Henge and Fookin’ Blarney