On the Road Again

Trip Start Sep 06, 2004
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Trip End Nov 23, 2004


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Flag of Ireland  ,
Monday, November 1, 2004

On the move again, riding a bus through the Irish countryside. I caught the 11 AM bus for Dingle--a 6 1/2 hour ride due to transfers and waits in Limerick and Tralee. Impressions... A flock of geese in a farmyard. Trees with their trunks covered in vines, and their leaves changed to yellow, sometimes edged with orange. A thatched-roof whitewashed cottage. A sign that reads "Reverse into space." (!) Rolling farmland. County Kerry has no stone walls like County Galway (fields are divided by hedges), so the north-eastern part of it looks just like the Prairies but greener. The towns, like Limerick and Tralee, are often in grey concrete, giving them a dingy feel; but Gort and Newcastle West are picturesque. Townhouse doors may be red, blue, yellow, green, etc.--some with knobs in the centre (they don't turn, you use them to push or pull the door--now I know where Tolkien got the idea).

Something to capture the imagination: As the road rolls along, there are occasional unmarked tower ruins--castles? Walls with no roof, covered in ivy. Just sitting there in the middle of farmland, casually. Part of daily life and the collective unconscious. (Near a town called Rathkeale, passed a sign for Castle Matrix--isn't that from the book A Wizard Abroad?)

Something else for the imagination: Near a town called Listowel, the road winds through a grove of trees that seems to have a presence, crowding about the road. The trees are mostly leafless, with some ivy draped about them, and not that old. But something about them grabbed me, and I decided I would return to Listowel.

Other observations: The mid-Kerry accent (e.g. Listowel) is quite heavy, though not stereotypically Irish. The bus system in Ireland isn't particularly friendly, in that you have to know what to do and where to go--not just when getting off at minor stops (which usually aren't announced) but also when trying to take buses for long distances--they don't tell you whether you need to change buses, for example, or how long you'll have to wait for your connection, or what number the bus is, or what destination it's going to display on it. Good thing Ireland is an English-speaking country, otherwise navigation would be hopeless. You have been warned.... Probably because of this, bussing all day is surprisingly tiring!

More impressions, now of the Dingle Peninsula (after Tralee): Mountains! Low, rounded, lumpy, green. Hiding in the middle of the peninsula between the mountains is a flat bogland. Sheep. Fields--not square, but marked off by rock walls again rather than hedges.

Was trying to contact hostel at Dingle (Ballintaggart) because it's in a 300-year-old mansion, but no luck. I finally had to conclude it must be closed for the winter. At 4 PM in Tralee I finally secured a bed for the night, 1 1/2 hours before arriving in Dingle. €26 for a B&B (good deal)--Ocean View B&B, though my room would be on the landward side. Arrived at 5:30. Had nap (in the luxury of a room all to myself). Then went out to John Benny's pub down the street for a cheap (€9) haddock supper and a trad session.

From my diary:

"I'm sitting in a medium-sized pub in the village of Dingle (population 1600), listening to an accordionist and a guitarist improvising harmonies. They're a bit rough around the edges, but once they get going they're a lot of fun (musically) and they're also having fun. This is what I came to Ireland for!

This is a friendly old pub. Parts of it need paint, and there's a leftover 'Happy Birthday' sign and a popped balloon on one wall. Orange paint, a worn piano, lamps casting a yellow glow. The stools are well padded. The clientele isn't dressed up to see and be seen, as in Galway--they're mostly older and are sitting quietly listening to the musicians go at it. I don't know how many are locals--the pub is mentioned in my Lonely Planet guide. I've just had a substantial meal of haddock, mashed potatoes, mashed carrots, 'untastely' green beans--all for €10. (Restaurant meals cost €15.) The wood furnishings are dark or red, like all Irish pubs. I seem to be the only one here alone, but tonight I'm happy for the solitude. If a rockin' pub can be solitude. I guess it's not really rockin'--just the musicians are, but they're making up for the rest. They're really enjoying themselves. But how could one not enjoy oneself when playing or listening to cheerful Irish trad?

However, people are starting to filter out now. I forget, living in Galway where every night is for partying (especially Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), that people have to go to bed early to get up for work. And after all, it is after 'half ten.' In Galway pubs are open until 11:30, or 12:30 on weekends. I wonder what time this one will die down.

I'm not drinking alcohol tonight--I've already done it twice this weekend, and while it feels slightly weird to be sitting in a pub with just a glass of water left over from supper (tasting strongly of lemon by now from the wedges floating in it), it's what I feel like doing. And this part of the trip, finally, is all about what I feel like doing.

For example, I feel like going to Listowel (pronounced Lis-TOW-all), even though I'd never heard of it and it's not budgeted into my itinerary, simply because of the trees. I looked it up in my guidebook and there's a literary/cultural centre and a 12th-century castle there too--but it was the trees that caught me. (I'd also like to go find Castle Matrix, but I don't know if I will.)

The two male musicians have been joined by a female alto flutist who is keeping up as fast as any fiddler. The pub is emptying out now, but I'm not going anywhere until they stop playing! The flutist just paused to take a drink (of water) and dove right back in without hesitating for even a second. At the end of the set they started talking in Gaelic! (I think.) Wish I hadn't left my phrasebook at Katherine's, though my guidebook has a bit of Gaelic in as well. Anyway I still have no idea how to pronounce anything, even the several words and phrases I know by sight.

Have moved now so I can see the fronts of the musicians instead of their backs. I appear to be in the older people's room--the younger clientele are in the next section over, but the best view is here! The musicians are winding down a bit now, they take breaks to chat amongst themselves while the accordionist keeps playing absent-mindedly (apparently), then they start up again and run along at full tilt for a while. Then they pause to chat with their friends in the by now very small audience in a strong accent, and start out on a few tunes before settling into one and getting stronger as they go along. The guitarist waves his instrument back and forth as he plays (with one knee up like a classical guitarist). Between the musicians and me is a fireplace in which sits a black woodstove. The accordionist seems to be driving the music--he's the one who guides them into the next song.

Sleepiness is overtaking me now, despite the segue from a slow song to a fast one. It's past 'half eleven.' Will the musicians outlast me after all? No, they're packing up and the accordionist has wandered off to talk to some of the audience. The dialect is so thick I keep thinking it's Gaelic. I think they are using Gaelic here and there, but mostly it's just Irish English. It's almost midnight--time to flee the ball. I have to get up in time for the B&B breakfast tomorrow!

Had a conversation with Katherine via text. We agreed our fight had been stupid, and put it behind us. Whew!
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