Our Irish adventure is now history. It was a whirlwind week.
We arrived in Dublin early on Saturday morning, the 29th. We got to Corraquill at about 12:30 and picked up our boat, The Dutch Courage. Our great adventure was about to begin.
When Nancy and I looked at the brochures piloting a 50 foot barge didn’t seem too difficult. Once we were on the water, however, it was a different story. We spent most of our time lurching starboard, then over-correcting to our port side. The first leg of our journey takes about 3 hours for an experienced canal pilot. We made it to Ballyconnell in five and a half.
Our first night was pretty uneventful – dinner at a pub called the Angler’s Rest and a night of much needed rest. On Sunday morning we were on our way again. This leg took us from Ballyconnell to Ballinamore, another three hour journey. After a couple of hours we began to feel like seasoned pros. We made our way through the locks with relative ease. One of us would steer the barge, one would man the ropes, and another would take care of the electronics of the locks, letting water in or out as the situation dictated, etc. But, then we had an encounter with a bridge that shattered our illusions of professional competence. Thankfully, we only sheared off a “wee bit” of the port side of the cabin.
We tied up at Ballinamore at about 6 P.M. By 6:30 we were enjoying a pint of Guinness and some good Irish beef at the Commercial Hotel. Our waitress was a woman who appeared to be in her mid-sixties, about five feet tall and all of about 90 pounds. What she lacked in youth and size, she more than made up for in zest and courage. At some point during the evening a surly soccer fan came into the pub side of the establishment and sucker punched one of the regular patrons. That’s when the diminutive waitress took over. “Not in my baaahhhr!” she shouted. “It’s out with ya’ and don’t ya’ come back.” A few minutes later he tried to test her resolve by stumbling back into the bar. It was a mistake. I couldn’t see what happened, but I heard it. There was the sound of a solid left hook to the jaw, followed by a thump as something or someone hit the floor. When she came back to our side of the hotel I asked her what had happened. She smiled. “Oh, I gave ‘im a bit of a pop and that was that.”
Before we left, Steve Corbin told me he’s been looking for a bouncer. I believe I found her.
The next night we were back in Ballyconnell, with the Dutch Courage no worse for the wear. We took a day trip by car to Athlone to visit Dillon’s Castle, which my kids have wanted to see for some time. Then it was back to Ballyconnell for what turned out to be a very entertaining jam session. Four or five of the local patrons, knowing we were leaving the next day for Dublin, gathered up a guitar, a boudran (a native Irish drum), and a couple of teaspoons, an off-key American (me), and the fun began. Nancy got several videos of the merrymaking. I’m hoping, for dignity’s sake, they never make it to the big screen.
We spent two memorable days in Dublin. We went to the library of Trinity College and saw the historic Book of Kells and the massive collection of old vellum manuscripts. Incredible! Nancy and I did a pub crawl which included the obligatory Guinness and readings from the works of great Irish writers like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, and Brendan Behan. The performers also gave us interesting little tidbits about the authors. Behan, for example, was a roaring alcoholic from the age of eight. He was once asked by a reporter if he had a drinking problem. His response was brilliant. “I’m a drinker with a writing problem!” When asked what “Waiting for Godot” was about, in keeping with his existentialist philosophy, Samuel Beckett said it was about “absolutely nothing.”
On Friday we toured Kilmainham Gaol, the infamous British prison of the mid nineteenth and early 20th centuries. During the great Potato Famine young Irish children were incarcerated there for stealing bread. The leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were held there until they were executed in the exercise yard. One of them, poet Joseph Plunkett, was allowed to marry his sweetheart, Grace Gifford, a few hours before he faced the firing squad.
That’s Ireland. It’s a mix of tragic history, vibrant culture, toe-tapping music, lively conversation, and, of course, a good pint of the bitters.
Hopefully I’ve done it a bit of justice in 800 words.