My second of 10 sojourns to Ireland was a summer-long storytelling tour of the island that was certainly one of the highlights of my life. I kept copious journals recording my remarkable experiences. When I read them in 1996, I realized there was a book in it. So I wrote one. Took about a year and a half, but it was time well spent. I am a much better writer as a result, and let’s face it: anyone can begin writing a book. It’s an achievement to FINISH writing a book. I never attempted to publish, as travel writing is like milk: it has an expiration date. The Ireland I describe in this book no longer exists. Little more than a decade later, it is almost an historical document. But it’s good. I like it. It’s fun to read. That is enough. It would be even better if people would read it. Books like having readers. It makes them happy.
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. The next bus to ‘Letterkenny’, Donegal’s largest town, was still several hours away. At the clerk’s suggestion, I went out to the main road to hitch a ride. It wasn’t long at all, before I got a lift from a man who was on his way to enjoy the annual road races about to get underway there. The racing fan deposited me right in front of the Letterkenny bus depot. Checking the schedule inside, I saw that my next destination was accessible only by the local ‘Lough Swilly’ bus, a private line which serves the more remote villages along the coastline, but only in the summer months. The rest of the year, people are on their own, I guess. I had just missed the first run, and the next departure was still several hours away, so at his suggestion, I left my gear stashed in the office of the Letterkenny stationmaster, safe in his keeping he assured me, so I could set off the see the small town unencumbered.
. There wasn’t much to Letterkenny, but what there was had a real country charm. I went window shopping, dawdled in a health food store scouting for munchies, and stopped into a pub to get a sandwich. I decided to find a pretty outdoors spot to eat and watch the Donegal day pass by, settling on a deserted public mall, a thin slice of concrete that seemed to slice the town in two. But just as I began to unwrap my lunch, the unpredictable whether turned again from wan sunshine to cold drizzle. Taking refuge under the welcome shelter of a lonely gazebo- I munched peacefully on my absolutely delicious smoked salmon and prawn sandwich,watching as the soft day descended on the sleepy hillside town.
. Returning in plenty of time to catch my 1 P.M. bus, I was dismayed to find the stationmaster gone, an “OUT TO LUNCH” sign hung in his window and the office locked, with my pack inside! “Surely,”, I reasoned, “the fellow would be back any second… He knows which bus I’m waiting for, and when it’s due. He promised to be right here when I needed to pick it up…” When the Lough Swilly bus pulled into the parking lot, the driver stepped out, leaning against the dusty coach to enjoy a smoke. After explaining my situation to him, the driver tried to calm my fears. “Don’t worry!”, he exclaimed, puffing long and deep. “If the stationmaster said he’d be back to get your bags for the one o’clock bus, then I’m sure he’ll return from his lunch break at one o’clock. If he’s late, we’ll just hold the bus a bit.” But, true to the Irish lack of respect for Time, the offensive official was not back at 1 P.M. He was not back by 1:10. There was still no sign of him by 1:20, when the driver decided he could tarry no longer. So it was that the bus I had waited over three hours to catch, the last bus of the day- left the station without me.
. I was outraged- furious, pacing back and forth in front of the station, eagerly waiting to give that dumbshit a piece of my mind. About five minutes later, the stationmaster came strolling up whistling, hands in pockets, content as a cat. I watched, steaming- as he unlocked the office and took down the OUT TO LUNCH sign, then stepped forward and lambasted him. Why did he take responsibility for my gear and then just disappear when I needed it back? Why didn’t he clearly post the hours of his lunch break in the window? Didn’t he realize that he was a public servant? Now that I was stuck overnight in Letterkenny- where would I stay??? Frowning, the negligent reprobate stroked his stubble.
. “Come with me!”, he barked, snatching my backpack off the counter and leading me outside to a company car. Throwing my gear in the trunk he jumped into the driver’s seat, calling: “Let’s go!”, and revving the engine. I thought he was taking me to a good spot to hitch or something, but to my amazement we tore off down the back country roads at terrifying speeds, trying to catch up with the bus!
. I was skeptical about our chances for success, but sure enough, after ten minutes of this madness, we skidded around a curve, and there it loomed: the tail-end of the coach, belching diesel fumes just ahead! My madcap escort weaved behind it, waving his arms out the window, flashing his lights and honking his horn to get the bus driver’s attention, until finally he was noticed. At the next layby, both vehicles pulled over safely onto the side of the road.
. Thanking the aggressive stationmaster who had taken our lives in his hands to rectify his transgression, I sure felt silly and embarrassed for having gotten so bent out of shape by a little thing like a missed bus! Hadn’t I learned anything from the Irish yet?
. As I gave him the fare, the driver quipped: “Welcome aboard! Didn’t think I’d see you again!”. Humbled, I took my seat on the Lough Swilly coach sheepishly, grateful to be moving.
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.