My apologies for the dearth of postings as of late, but I just finished an 8 day trip in Ireland with 37 high school students tagging along in my wake. Needless to say, there was no time to do much of anything other than wrangle wayward teenagers while tramping across Irish cities and countrysides. I know now how a sheepdog feels.
To make up for a lack of reviews and news this week, I decided to write up two of my adventures from abroad, one atop the Hill of Tara, and the other in a Killarney pub. The following stories are completely real and suffer only from the occasional embellishment that is the natural right of any engaging storyteller. All names and likenesses have been changed to protect the guilty and encourage the innocent. Enjoy, and please share with your friends if you find these shenanigans at all entertaining.
Story #1: The Ghost of Ireland Past
As I have learned recently, Ireland in January is known for two things: rain and fog. Our particular morning on the Hill of Tara had an abundance of both, though we had avoided the former and suffered from a surfeit of the latter. Visibility was down to around 10 or 15 yards, and the verdant grass almost swam in the thick mud that made suction cup sounds as we trudged along from one memorial site to the next. The whole morning was an odd juxtaposition of old and new, much like the Hill itself; a professor from NUI Maynooth explained to the freezing students from South Florida–huddled in a shivering circle because they had not yet learned how to dress for cold weather–the ancient burial rights of Ireland, while young boys in track shorts ran across the hillsides, clearly in training for the next cross country event.
It was on our way up to the “Mound of Hostages” that one of our girls discovered she had lost a 50 euro bill at some point earlier in the morning. Since I had a good sense of direction and seemed better equipped to trek out on my own, I volunteered to go back and look for the errant, orange paper, though I held no hope that said paper would appear. Still, I was far enough in the back of the group that I couldn’t hear our guide’s lectures, and it seemed like something to do to keep moving and warm.
I suppose it goes without saying that I was only ten or fifteen steps into the fog before I lost sight of my people completely. Even sound itself seemed cut off by the surrounding haze, and within moments, I could have believed I was in any field in Ireland at all. And, to add to add to my confusion, when I looked back the way I had come, even my footprints weren’t visible in the grass.
Just as I had decided I was lost, I heard a short yip from the fog behind me, and I turned to see an older gentlemen striding across the field. He wore a peaked cap and tweed coat, walked with a cane, and at his side was a sizable, brown Irish wolfhound. Had he been photocopied from an old, Irish travel guide or even Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Like some ghost of Ireland past, this gentleman tipped his hat as he walked past, gave me a “Marnin’ to ya,” and proceeded to disappear into the fog before I could find the words to speak to him.
At this point, I looked around to see if anyone else had witnessed the old man in the fog, but, as is the way with most unbelievable events, I was utterly alone. I shrugged and turned to trace my way back to the group before I lost all sense of direction, but in the process, I heard another shout from the other direction. This time, the fog revealed a middle aged man in an orange beanie, blue jeans, and a creaem colored overcoated, with a mataching labrador strolling my way. He claps me on the shoulder and says “Hey boyo, I think you’re lost,” before he looks up my face, sees my beard and gives a sharp laugh.
“Sorry ’bout tha’,” he says. “I thought you were one of mine that wandered off in the fog.” We talked for a few moments, long enough to discover we had both brought high school age groups to the hill that morning.
“Are yis’ ready for Trump over there, ya’?” he asks finally. I say something like I suppose we’re as ready as we can be. He laughs a bright laugh and responds, “Well, it’ll be entertainin’ if nothin’ else,” and before I can ask his name, he wishes me good morning and wanders off to be swallowed by the fog, too.
I look around again to see if anyone else had witnessed this interaction. Sadly, I am still its only living relative.
Story #2: Two-Jacket Tommy
From the Hill, we moved around pretty rapidly from Antrim, to Sligo, to Galway, and on one of our final nights, we stopped in Killarney. After feeding the students at a place called Murphy’s, where I was introduced to a wonderful Irish whiskey called The Green Spot (I actually bought a bottle in the airport, the bag for which I was later able to give to a student who was vomiting on the bus, but that’s neither here nor there), our bus driver Fahey took us to another of his favorite local places, which shall remain nameless. It being the off-season and all, the pub was a little slow, but it was warm and inviting and it allowed for some good talk between us and the driver.
After showing the humorless bartender a picture of our discovery that day of a giant (and oddly detailed) phallus drawing on a national park sign, above which was written RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!!, the driver elbowed me in the ribs and told us both to be quiet if we wanted to stay in the pub.
We soon learned that this change in demeanor had occurred because the local proprietor had come into the room. She looked to be in her mid-80s, and she wore a brown leather coat over white night gown, and as she shuffled along a quarter inch at a time, she leveled a steely gaze at each of the young men at the bar, who all smiled politely and tipped their glasses to her. Once the proprietor reached the taps, she proceeded to pour herself a touch of Guinness in a glass, one-handed I might add, without breaking eye contact with the boys at the bar. Her glass almost a quarter full, she then proceeded to shuffle back toward the doors at the back of the pub, and before leaving the room, she gave one final glance back across the bar, which in turn led the gathered unworthies to lift to their glasses and smile sheepishly to her yet again.
The propreiter’s exit was Tommy’s entrance. Or, I should say more accurately, his awakening, since Tommy had been in the room when the propreiter made her rounds, but his drunkenenss had perhaps not allowed him to speak up as of yet. When my companion mentioned having shot a squirrel once, Tommy loudly proclaimed (I think), “I’ve eat’ squirrel!” When we talked about how hot it was in South Florida, Tommy interjected (I think) “It’s cold here!” When it came up that was I was from Alabama, Tommy stated quite decisively (I think) “That’s a place!” You’ve noticed that I keep saying I think I understood what Tommy said because, whether due to his regional accent or the alcohol, or perhaps some combination of both, I could barely understand anything Tommy said.
Tommy’s only clear contribution of the night came when my companion, the driver, and I were getting up to leave, and one of us meniontioned the importance of layering. At this, Tommy saw his chance. He stood up, whipped open his coat and pronounced, “That’s why they call me Two-Jacket Tommy!” We laughed and nodded to Two-Jacket and went on our way, leaving Tommy to contemplate his jackets and the bottom of his glass in relative peace.
As we walked down that street headed back to our hotel, I said to Fahey that I felt bad about it, but I couldn’t understand anything Tommy had said all night. Fahey laughed so loudly that it echoed through the surrounding alleway and says to me “And you think I could!”
I hope that was a fun to read as it was for me to experience! More to come soon.