ANOTHER SUMMER GONE
> Ah! There goes another Celtic summer spent in the soft cuddle of Toad Hall. I’m en route to Vancouver now, on a tiny flying bit of Canada. As usual it’s hot/cold/hot and noisy: the steady roar of the engines intermingles with the piercing cries of miserable children. But then, that’s the terrain of international transportation.
. It’s become something of an annual ritual for me. With the arrival summer months, my employment goes away- so if my wallet allows it, so do I. My annual destination: seaside Glengarriff in wild west Cork Ireland, where my mother happily dwells in a home named after the abode of J. Thaddeus Toad of WIND IN THE WILLOWS fame. She’s not gettin’ any younger. But then, neither am I, so each trip becomes a little bit more physically trying and that much more emotionally necessary. This year, Arline Liley celebrated her 86th anniversary of being alive- and very soon, I will celebrate my 60th. Time, that once-vital knight, no longer marches purposefully on, but rather limps forward arthritically, encumbered in ever-more rusty armor.
. This 13th Irish sojourn was more low-key than any of the previous visits. Gone are the days when I could take to the wind and flit across the island having great craic from Carlow to Cork, Galway to Donegal, Belfast to Dublin. The U.S. economy is failing me. I’ve been in a downward economic spiral for eight consecutive years, and just can no longer afford the Irish roadtrips that used to be so stimulating and rewarding. I still have that sense of adventure, but costs have risen so precipitously since the introduction of the euro, just as my wallet has grown thinner and thinner. So I make do with the considerable pleasures of compact but charming Glengarriff village, and snuggle in the succor of cozy Toad Hall.
. My days were filled with reading whichever great book my mom picks from her library and thrusts into my hands, and she’s never let me down in that regard. (I am currently working my way through MAD PILGRIMAGE OF THE FLESH by John Lahr, a detailed, possibly too detailed biography of Tennessee Williams, but it was too massive for me to finish during my stay, so I’ve got it tucked in the seat pocket in front of me.) As she gets older, my mother needs more help around the house as well, something I’m glad to do when my body cooperates. We play competitive bouts of Scrabble, have great discussions, prepare and consume wonderful meals, and watch the 6:01 RTE news together every night after the Angelus bells ring. Last summer was non-existent in Ireland. I rained nearly every day I was there. I got considerably luckier this year- about one in four days were clear and warm, even hot! And when the sun breaks through the ever-present clouds, Ireland is a spectacular place to be! On these days I would grab my camera and rush out on fruitful photo safaris. It continually surprises me that I am able to find more things to shoot after so many image expeditions over the same terrain. I’m flying home with over 300 images this time- many of them very good indeed. (There’s something I can do that doesn’t cost a dime, now that I’ve joined the digital revolution!) If I’m well enough, long walks are my favorite Irish pastime and the best exercise I get in my old age. I pay a ceremonial visit to my stepfather’s grave in the town cemetery every year, to see how the tree over his plot is growing, never failing to be impressed by its growth since my previous visit. I perambulate through the lovely glen Glengarriff derives its name from (Gaelic for “rough glen”) and try to make it up to the top of Lady Bantry’s Lookout at least once, for one of the most spectacular 360-degree vantage points on the planet.
DAY JAUNTS TO BANTRY TOWN
> This year, because my mother had to have emergency eye surgery almost as soon as I arrived, Arline was unable to drive for the first month or so, making me the errand-boy sent out to restock the larder. Every Thursday, my mother’s friend (and now weekly housekeeper) Kathleen would drop by with her man Mike and drive me the 9 KM into Bantry for groceries- a welcome diversionary ritual.
. Bantry is a small town itself, but with 15,000 estimated to live within a 10-mile radius, it dwarf Glengarriff, whose population is a mere 800 scattered throughout the surrounding countryside. I can always find some new vista to record in Bantry. This time, the local library was one of my regular sops, where I used my mom’s card to score DVD’s to watch late at night when my insomnia was rearing its ugly head.
. My friends would drop me off at the best natural foods grocer/restaurant for miles around- a place called Organicos, turning me loose for two hours to shop and prowl the town, before meeting-up at their habitual watering hole. As I entered Lucey’s, I would usually find them at the same table: Kathleen sipping a white wine and Mike downing his second pint of porter.
. One evening, by way of thanks, I had Mike and Kathleen over for dinner. While my mom was away for the day playing bridge with The Girls, I spent the afternoon composing an elaborate layered casserole, (kind of a Mexican lasagna), containing flour tortillas, grilled onion and garlic, pinto beans, chickpeas, diced red and green bell peppers, corn, and smoked tofu from Organico, all, bathed in enchilada sauce mixed with tomato past and some Indian salsa, and bound by three kinds of delicious Irish cheese, then topped with tomato slices. These culinary creations seem to come out a little differently each time, but despite the unavailability of Ortega chilies (a key ingredient!), this one was as good as it sounds!
THE GHOST OF JIM DOWLING PIPES ON
> This year my Irish visit luckily coincided with the 4th annual ‘Jim Dowling Uilleann Pipe & Trad Festival’- a three day bacchanal of drink and traditional music and Drink… with a Celtic soundtrack. Unfortunately, Drink and I are on less friendly terms than usual, so where I used to stomach multiple pints, I can now enjoy one glass- maybe two if the session is long enough. This, (coupled with the considerably inflated bar tabs since the euro came in and murdered Ireland), tended to put a damper on things. In the end, I didn’t get nearly the fix of trad music I would have liked to have gotten. I really wanted to see one young group called ‘Coonla’ enough to be willing to part with the 20-euro admission fee… But I got the days confused, thinking the festival began Friday, when it actually began Thursday night. I had planned on seeing ‘Dervish’ at the Eccles Hotel, but did not feel up to it when the moment came. (After a year, I am still suffering from the lingering effects of some nebulous internal malady that sidelines me with some regularity.)
I did manage to catch one of the free sessions in The Blue Loo, and it was pretty good- a whole lot better than the one session I was able to catch in 2015. It was a cadre of young folks, and what hey lacked in seasoned technique, they made up for in passion and spirit.
. At one point I looked over to the barstool next to me to find it had a new occupant: a three year old Irish beauty, barely balancing on the high stool. (It reminded me of one of my favorite passages in Frank McCourt’s ANGELA’S ASHES, when the publican peered over the bar to see two toddlers in a pram, exclaiming: “Jaysus! They’re gettin’ younger every day!”) I looked about to see everyone in the vicinity keeping a sharp eye on the unsteady youngster, ready to spring into action should the toddler begin to totter. Soon, her da came forward and helped her down, and on their way out into the bright afternoon sun they danced a jig together to the delight of revelers.
. Later, I packed myself up and headed out to hear a traditional singers session. I really love this music! But when I arrived at the appointed hour- the pub was all but empty. None of the singers had had enough to drink yet, I suppose. But I did not have the money or the stomach to drink, and where I might have been able to get away with this in the midst of a crowded, swinging pub, a non-paying patron would stand out like a sore thumb in a quiet, sparsely populated bar. After lolling about as long as I could get away with it, I moved on back home to Toad Hall, disappointed.
. The following day I set out for Jim’s Coffee House a few doors up the street- a nice, new establishment that was hosting two musicians for a free 4 o’clock session. Traditionally, nothing ever begins on time in Ireland, so timing arrival about 20 minutes early I thought I would have no problem finding a nice spot near the performers… But to my shock and consternation- the session had actually begun early and Jim’s was packed to standing room only, with what seemed to be primarily older and taller and smellier men, exuding cologne and perspiration. I asked the waitress with the gorgeous blue eyes what happened, and she said the performers had conflicting obligations and were forced to begin an hour early- meaning the session was just winding down as I arrived. The duo sounded good- but a relatively short fellow like me could not see them at all, and the crowd had made the café uncomfortably hot- so again, I turned away in sorry disappointment, returning to throw the Scrabble gauntlet down at my mother’s feet. (A rude thing to do, since it’s hard for Arline to bend over to pick up stuff. She gets nosebleeds…
. Considering all this, the festival was much less than I’d hoped for. Too bad! I had once met and shared a pint with the man the festival was established in remembrance of. Way back in the blissful fog of 1994, my younger mother drove me out to meet him at the pub/caravan camping site Jim Dowling ran on the Castletownbere road. When we arrived, his bar was nearly empty, but the celebrated man himself recognized my mom, and greeting us heartily, Jim welcomed us in, drew us some Guinness and pulled out his pipes to give us a private concert! It was a very memorable experience, showing me firsthand why this soulful Uilleann piper was so fondly remembered by the locals. Long live the memory of Jim Dowling!
THEATRE & CINEMA
I always try to see some like theatre in Ireland, if possible, and go to the movies at least once- and this time I was able to do both. I saw THE BFG at the Bantry Cinema and caught a performance of the Fit-Up Theatre Festival in the little parish hall I performed at myself, on my 56th birthday.
. You can read my review of THE BFG in my cinema column, but live theatre better reflects a country’s culture back, in sharper focus. The annual ‘Fit-Up Theatre Festival’ brings professional drama to rural Ireland, and it’s a pretty special thing. The play on offer locally was an original one-man-show called ‘FORGOTTEN’, written and performed by a well-trained Irish actor named Pat Kinevane, in which this raw, vitally physical actor plays four characters at various nursing homes across the island with a… kabuki motif (?) that was fun to watch but just baffled me. Again, I set out expecting to be early for the performance, but arrived to find a big line of expectant theatregoers, dressed up nattily for the special occasion. I joined the back of the queue and sulked a little, remembering the sparse turnout when I did my own one-man-show at the same venue, because the priest “forgot” to announce it from the Sunday pulpit. By the time I got in, I found myself in the back row! When the show began, there were only three vacant chairs in the packed house. Good thing! I loved seeing so much support for homegrown live theatre, and this fellow Kinevane was so damn good, he really deserved the standing ovation he received at the curtain. (Apparently the acoustics in the hall are much better if the chairs are occupied by people…)
ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION (or The Art of Fouling Your Own Nest)
> One observation I hate to have to return to: the marine trash that used to accumulate in the furthest eddies of Bantry Bay has been growing scarcer and scarcer. Another good development! In my early trips, I used to feel compelled to make regular forays down the embankment to collect the bobbing plastic refuse, filling bag after bag with that shit while locals watched the crazy fecking American piss into the wind. They didn’t see the point. More trash was always coming- carried on the next high tide. Increased enforcement seems to have abated the ocean problem somewhat. I wish I could say the same about the land. The Irish live in a lush green paradise, but treat it like one big open garbage pit. I am continually dumbfounded to see so much litter strewn about. They eat ice cream… A LOT of ice cream… daily. (And it shows. They are well on their way to being the roundest denizens of the European Union.) And when they’re done? As many wrappers are thrown on the ground as end up in the rubbish bin.
. This time I noticed an extraordinary and alarming thing: When the embankments were created to widen the N71 highway that leads through the village, nobody bothered to first pick out the litter for disposal. Instead, they seem to have just plowed it to the side, where over time, it became part and parcel of the landscape. Bits of plastic bags, soda bottles and ice cream wrappers are embedded in the roadside scenery. It’s disgusting. Stupid, shortsighted and disgusting. Check out the photos below to get a sense of what I’m talking about. The final shot shows a tree that was knocked over in a windstorm. If you look closely, you will see a coke bottle intertwined with the uprooted roots! It’s a mindless and offensive hypocrisy, considering how eager every little town and hamlet is so eager to be designated a “tidy town” in the annual survey. Once a year, repairs are made, buildings repainted, benches installed, trash barrels added and litter swept away, in an effort to receive the coveted recognition. The rest of the year, when it comes to their environment, their attitude seems to be summed up in two words: “Screw it!” See for yourself:
. Lovely! No?
AN OVERNIGHT PIT-STOP IN DUBLIN
> My final day in Ireland was taken up with travel and waiting for the following day’s departure. Now driving again, Arline took me to Killarney where I caught the train to teeming Dublin. Love that journey.
. And love that city- even though I am not generally a “city” kinda guy. Arriving in Heuston Station on an uncharacteristically warm afternoon, I stepped outside to see my the bus I needed just sitting there waiting for me to board. Almost as soon as I did, it took off, taking me right to where I needed to go on Upper Drumchonda Road, where I had booked a room in a B & B called Ashling House.
. I walked in and greeted the affable but busy host Michael, who deemed me considerably friendlier than his average guest. (Nice To be characterized that way!) He showed me to my room which was slightly larger than a coffin, but clean and bright, and explained that despite the sign outside, Ashling House was not really a B & B”, but just a “B”, because it offered a bed, but no breakfast. No problem for me. I rarely have any appetite for breakfast anyway, and had to leave fairly early the following morn.
. The toilet was just across from the bed- no barrier of any kind. Good thing if you had Mr. Guinness’s Revenge, I suppose, but not a very pleasant arrangement for the boudoir. I don’t really want to sleep in the same room I poop in.
. Is it me, or is this hardly the ideal arrangement? The shower stall was right next to the loo, and I fairly leapt into it to wash off the journey.
. Now I was hungry, so, freshened up, I went out to find some grub then maybe a pub. Who should I see on my stroll, but Michael, coming up towards me on a bike. (Very cool arrangement there, for co-habitation of all types of transport: the sidewalks were so wide, there was room for a bike lane running along the street side, and lots of bikers were using them.) Mike hailed me and asked what I was up to. I told him of my quest to be sated, and he suggested both a pub and an eatery.
. Taking his advice, I slipped into a little quasi-French restaurant just up the lane a piece and had a tall, cool Carlsberg and a tuna melt to die for. It was the pesto underneath and the excellent Irish cheese. So damn Good! And everybody was really nice. Guess I didn’t expect that in rough, antsy Dublin. The waitress seemed to genuinely engage me, and I guess I was caught a little off guard. (I should know better than that in Ireland- or anywhere for that matter. One should never be surprised when people are merely decent.)
. Another staff member paused, with pride, to show me some cool pictures on the wall of the same building we were in, back in the monochromatic 1920’s. Very cool! I thanked the chef on the way out, and it seemed to really mean something to him.
. Returning to my tiny rent-a-room, I kicked off my shoes and took advantage of the passing desire to nap. I was only down for about an hour, but it was a very rejuvenating hour. Grabbing my camera, I shoed my feet and took off to that pub Michael suggested. It was lively, and loud… No: LOUD. VERY, VERY LOUD! I’M NOT SURE ONE COULD HAVE HEARD A JET PLANE LANDING ABOVE THE DIN. BUT THERE WAS GOOD VEGETARIAN FOOD ON OFFFER, SO I SAT IN THE MAYHEM TO ENJOY A GREAT BOWL OF POTATO LEEK SOUP AND RATHER CHEWY BROWN BREAD. WHAT/ NO- NO BEER, THANK YOU. JUST THE CHECK, PLEASE!
. After some Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream that I knew better than to buy (Bad Kevin! Bad!), I went back to Ashling House to chill. I encountered a German man at the doorstep who seemed a tad agitated, and very relieved to see me. At last! Someone was there to let him in to his room. Um… No. I’m not the manager. I can’t sign you in. No I don’t know where the manager went or when he’ll be back. No I don’t know where your key is. I’m just a guest here myself. The dude was chapped, because it clearly said on the reservations to check in before 10:30, but how could he do that when the guy wasn’t here to check-in with? Perhaps, but it was only just 10 PM. Another kindly guest helped me settle the Germanic traveler’s nerve,s as he settled in to wait for Michael’s hoped-for return, hopefully within the next half-hour.
. I set-up my computer in the common room, a comfortable non-breakfast/non-dining room I had all to myself, where I went to work on this missive in the well-lit solitude. Things were groovin’ when I heard a sharp rat-a-tat knocking on the front door. I chose to ignore it, as it’s not my place to let someone into someone else’s house. But the knock sounded again, even more insistently: RAT-A-TAT! RAT-A-TAT! Guess the wayward Michael had not yet made his reappearance to rescue and assuage his disgruntled German guest. Now a rapping came on the window. Hello? HELLO? I got up and went to to open the door. There, I encountered yet another keyed-up stranger, who also took me for the man of the house. Why didn’t yer answer when you got a big sign out here that says ya got ‘VACANCIES’? Well, no- that wasn’t me, he sought. I was just a guest. He was looking for Michael, Absent Lord of Ashling House. And Lord Michael was currently M.I.A.- out of touch, incognito. The fellow was absolutely incredulous. I told him he was welcome to stay and wait for Michael, but there was no indication he would be back before morning. They guy was furious! Good Lord! What kind of way is this to run a business?! He seemed to wait for an answer. I agreed, yes. Helluva way to run a business! This agreement did not seem to satisfy him, and he continued to believe that somehow it was in my power to do something about his plight, snapping at me, viperlike: “So then, where are people supposed to SLEEP for the night!” before he stomped off in disgust.
. Shortly thereafter, my German worrywart came knocking timidly on the non-dining room door. It was still me? Good. He wanted me to know he found a key in the lock to room 40- and since the room appeared empty, he decided it must have been intended for him- and thank-you for letting me in! An hour later, silicon earplugs embedded in my ear canals, I bucked the odds and had my first night of uninterrupted sleep in weeks, despite the burden of knowing that I would have to get up at daybreak to hit the road home. That just never happens!
. The following morning was such an ordeal! I woke up relatively refreshed, had some instant coffee, and dashed off to the bus stop that was all the way across the street, where I endured an excruciating one-minute wait for the bus straight to the airport, which arrived just as the electronic countdown said “DUE NOW’. I knew to have precisely 2 euro, 70 in my pocket- exactly the required fare to catch a chill run to Dublin Hairport, about 15 minutes away. Halfway through, I rose to offer two old ladies my seat- a gesture that made them smile. Arriving with plenty of time to do everything required of me, there was no rush, lotsa time for lotsa coffee and a rather leaden egg sandwich on white bread, a bit of reading and- oh look! It’s time to board my plane. Security and American immigration where lightning-swift and clockwork-efficient. Had I stumbled, unannounced, into an alternate dimension? When travel works the way it’s supposed to, it’s a dream come true.
> Now: back to life in Santa Cruz, California. Gotta get to work to pay off the credit union, whose Visa card bankrolled the last two months for me… Thanks fellows! I’ll pay ya back. Honestly!
– Then it will be time for me to start saving for the summer of 2017…
* * *
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2020. 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.