Dingle Penninsula, Ireland - July 1997
After bicycling through four countries, alone on the road for over three months I arrived in Ireland for some "real" vacation before heading home.
From London (Euston Station), I took a train to Holyhead, the port in Wales, and at 3:45AM sailed on Irish Ferries across the cold, dark sea of Ireland towards the dawn and Dublin. After a confusing ride through the empty streets I found the train station and hopped immediately onto a train bound for Cork, where I spent two days in empty college housing near the Beamish brewery.
Then on to Dingle. It was great to stop moving and relax so I
spent a week at a budget B&B in town - near the pubs. I went on
lovely, serene bicycle rides (without my packs and tent!) and spent the
rest of my time at music sessions sharing good craic with the locals and
foreigners and soaking up my allotment of pints.
This is a small road on the northeast tip of Dingle Penninsula near Ballydavid in Smerwick Harbor. I was bicycling to Ballydavid because I had heard there would be a session at Begley's Pub with good craic and without the ever present, suffocating crowds that fill the pubs of Dingle town. In Ballydavid I got to experience a real Irish pub without the usual mob of tourists.
When I got there the place was near empty, but slowly the Ballydavid locals trickled in for some dinner and pints. The four musicians I'd met at O'Flaherty's Pub the night before were jamming away on pipe, whistle, guitar, bodhrain, and mandolin. The evening sun through the windows made framed boxes of light on the floor. Little kids chased a puppy under the tables, around the bar and out the door. A toddler swayed around the floor like a drunken fisherman. Glasses were being lifted and clinked together. You could hear the tap breathing nitrogen and Guinness into pint glasses. The aroma of home cooking swirled about the room. I had lamb stew with brown bread, washed down with Guinness, of course.
The bar was just about filled when a lean, wrinkled old fellow came in, pulled out his aging, out of tune harmonica, sat next to the band and began stomping out jigs and reels at breakneck speed. The other musicians joined in as best they could.
A big, ruddy faced, smiling, curly headed fellow who looked like he'd worked hard all his life stood by the bar, raised his glass and sang a song about a tragically vain lass named Deborah Miles. Later he sang a hilarious song about an experience with a drunk driving arrest. ("I blew in the glass and the crystals turned pink, so they took me to the station for a sample of my how da ya' do . . . Now I'm sitting in my cell waiting for my judgement . . . I'll be walking for the rest of my life.") I laughed out loud and applauded him letting him know how much I personally enjoyed his song. He leaned over me and asked, "are ya' a vicitm?"
"Well, . . . yeah," I chuckled.
"Hey all," he says, his voice booming out over the din of the pub chatter, "We have us a victim!" As all laughed heartily I realized there were a few other "victims" in the room.
"Well, what's your name and where are you from?," he asked quietly, leaning over me again.
"Name's Chuck, from Colorado."
"Well Here's to ya', Chuck." We saluted each other with a pint glass and both took a long draw. "Can you sing, Chuck?"
I hestitated nervously. I am a bit of a musician. I play guitar and I do sing from time to time. "Yes," I meekly admitted.
He thrust his black glass of Guinness some seven feet in the air (he was a big fellow) and cried out, "Hey everyone! Here's Chuck from Colorado and he's goin' ta' sing us a song!"
My brain raced. What to sing? I know and like one very old English folk song that I've heard Irish folk singers allude to, so I sang three verses of "The Water is Wide" (You can't hold people's interest with that song for too long. It's a slow melancholy ballad with some fifty verses in existence). The crowd joined in on the second and third verses. I thought it a weak and tortured rendition but when I was done I received a rousing applause. I'd finally landed in music heaven, Dingle, County Kerry, and been welcomed to my new home.
From the pass around the north side of Coumaleague Hill on Dingle Penninsula looking west to the Atlantic and the Blasket islands; the western most point in Europe (America is just over the horizon). The Great Blasket Island, which can be visited via a commercial ferry service, is the bigger island to the left. I spent the afternoon there. I hiked beyond the end of the usual trail, three miles out to the site of 1000 year old stone dwellings built by monks. Upon finding an ancient stone circle some fifty feet across, I sat in the middle and made an offering (I left some food) to the great spirits. I shed a tear or two as I looked to the sky one more time and thanked my friends, the old ones, for all the guidance and protection they'd blessed me with throughout my entire four month journey. I lifted my penny whistle to my lips and played "Amazing Grace" for them one last time. Then I asked for one final favor - a safe journey home. I'd just bought a ticket on an Aeroflot from Shannon to Chicago.
Three and a half months on the road "and now I am bound for America."