It’s time for our monthly update from Anne Driscoll, an American living in Ireland, who shares her Irish adventures and insights into what it means to be Irish, and to become Irish.
And so, without further ado, let me hand you over to Anne…..
Introducing Ireland To Friends:
It’s exactly three years and eight months since I first arrived in Ireland and in the last month, I returned to Ireland after being away in Boston for two weeks and was surprised by how much longer the days are now stretching. Last night the last light was fading away at 11 pm.
Two days after my arrival back, two American friends Jody and Sue arrived and in a single day, I took them to turn turf on the bog and to collect shells and coral at a rare coral beach, Trá an Dóilín.
We used the public toilets there and Sue was so fascinated by the fact that the toilet seat was made of two wood strips fixed into the toilet with screws, she took a photo.
The Galway Hooker and Currach Races:
For the kick-off of the Galway hooker and currach race season, the priest said mass and blessed the boats, including mine. He talked about Cincís, the time of year between Easter and Whit Sunday when the seas are unpredictable, volatile and dangerous and the fishermen avoid going out. They are not being superstitious; I am told there have been many drownings and disasters at sea over the years.
We do go out in the Irishman’s wooden currach that he rebuilt – an ark of a boat that easily carries 12 people with plenty of room to spare, but stay within the bay.
We have a close up view of the fleet of fine wooden Galway hookers, unlike any boats sailing the seas. The red sails and black hulls contrast deeply against the blue skies and seas, the white caps and clouds. “We are in a painting,” Trish quips.
All Things Turf:
The following week, the Irishman and I spend some time footing turf, the practice of stacking five or six sods of turf upright, leaning one against one another in pyramid shapes, which helps the turf to dry further after the turning.
My turf skills just continue to keep growing: Turning. Footing. Stacking. Laying down a fire.
Keys To The Castle:
We stopped at a bed and breakfast in Navan and when the host was showing us the room, she said, “I can give you the keys to the castle back there out your window if you want” as if it was totally normal to offer a bed, breakfast and castle access, too.
I head onto Dublin from Navan to see friends and wish Anita well as she packs up and moves to Cork. It was supposed to be an impromptu pub crawl of all Anita’s favorite pubs but it begins and ends at the Dice bar. In the Dice bathroom, I see graffiti on the bathroom stall door that says: “Three things I hate: 1. Vandalism 2. Lists 3. Irony.”
Fun Fact: We learned that night that Nora had starred in a Bollywood music video in which she appeared in a yellow bikini by a pool and did a dance that seemed more like a Zombie walk. She graciously demonstrated her dance techniques for us all.
I said my goodbyes to Anita, with teary eyes, and a love confessional. She has no idea what her friendship has meant to me since I landed on these shores.
Coastal Life In Galway:
Last weekend I brought a donation to a currach marathon to benefit the volunteer lifeboats, organized in part by one of the owners of the Galway hooker, the True Light, which once capsized and the people on board were saved by the lifeboat. Weirdly, the True Light was the only boat that was spared in a 1927 maritime disaster that claimed 45 men and eight boats in Cleggan Bay.
I got to talking to a woman about Omey Island and she said she frequently walks there. She gave me directions on how to find the ancient church that had been buried in sand until the 1980s.
I asked her if she knew Pascal Whelan, the last man living on Omey Island who had died there in February, leaving behind a car, a caravan and a dog.
She said yes and she told me his dog didn’t want to leave the island. “No one is sure whether it is because he loves the island or because he misses Pascal.”
She said that people from the mainland were taking turns, following the tides and going out to feed the dog. She is not sure what is happening now with the dog, but she hopes the dog is okay.
I told her I had just been thinking about the pets left behind when someone dies, when their season is over. A man in the area recently died leaving behind a cart, a caravan, a house, a dog, a donkey and a Connemara pony and I watched sadly as a man lead the horse into a trailer to be taken away.
I am growing accustomed to the seasons here. There is the lambing season, followed by the calving season. And now it is the season of the students who swell the population by half in the village. They come to live and study in an Irish-speaking region of Ireland to brush up their language skills and prepare for the leaving cert exams.
Life is strict for them. Lights out at 10:30pm. Wake up at 7:45. Breakfast at 8:15. No English. Irish only. And I can only imagine many a worried woman throughout the Gaeltacht whose oven has croaked or freezer malfunctioned just as they are about to welcome 15 students to stay at their home for three weeks.
The Irish language is an important income stream for this area. The big white buses transport the students to class. The families put them up and feed them. The shops sell them drinks, chocolates and crisps, but only certain sizes and certain kinds – all proscribed by the Irish school.
There is always the turn of seasons here – when the turf is turned, when the seas are rough, when the hookers race, when the students come, when friends leave, and when old men die. And there is a quiet beauty and steadiness in that.
How To Follow Anne’s Adventures:
If you enjoyed this blog post, check out Anne Driscoll’s mini-memoir series, beginning with Irish You Were Here: My Year of Matchmaking Festivals, Fairy Forts and Mugging My Mugger in Ireland.
Irish You Were Here is for both the armchair traveler and active adventurer, the dreamers and the daredevils, the writers, poets and storytellers, and all the activists out there lead by their passions.
This is an Ireland you won’t read about in tour guides and it’s one you won’t soon forget. It’s for everyone who is Irish and for anyone who wished they were.
You can find Irish You Were Here at Amazon Kindle here.
A big thank you to Anne for another wonderful installment of her Irish tales. Wishing her a very happy summer in County Galway.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)