Sunday, March 21, 2010
A Post St. Patty's Day Memory
I already understood why they poured you a draught pint of Guinness in any Irish public house upon a request for a beer. I had been to the Emerald Isle several times.
When traveling Europe, my wife and I always made it a point to go where others didn’t, because culture study demands more than a trip to a crystal factory. Eating paella on a small side street in Madrid, where the elderly lady plops down two unmatched dishes and serves a bottle of wine that would be ten times more expensive in the States, is more our style. It was natural for us to wander through Ireland.
We spent a few days in Kinsale on the western side of County Cork, and we were supposed to meet some of our New Hampshire friends in Kilkenny. We were already a day behind, but since everyone knows I don’t believe in time, it was not unexpected. Nevertheless, there are limits, and we were pushing them. Using a map that must have been drawn by St. Patrick in quite a hurry as he drove the snakes to the sea, we ventured about thirty kilometers down a narrow, one-way dirt road bordered by a precipice on the right and a stone wall on the left. By the time we realized we had made an error of judgment, we came to a required stop – that is required by the large bull that stood in the middle of the roadway. With about an inch to spare on each side of the vehicle, I was unable to back up thirty kilometers. There we stayed, about forty-five minutes Earth time, before the bull meandered down the road for another twenty minutes or so, and then vanished through a small passage way cut into the stone wall. Finally, we came upon a little village, where we learned we were hell and gone from Kilkenny.
I asked a woman in the town if there was a more negotiable road back to the main drag near Kinsale. I mentioned our travel plans, and she saved the day. There was a ferry not three kilometers from the town center, and the trip across the water to the bottom of the main road leading to our destination was only a half hour – Earth time, of course. She was accurate. We boarded the ferry and were on our way – that is until I struck up a conversation the ferry operator. Discovering immediately we hailed from the USA, the gentleman told me of a little known, authentic Irish Pub, which had probably never seen a tourist in fifteen hundred years. All we had to do was make a left instead of a right upon exiting the ferry, and we would be in for an experience we would never forget. We did. He was right.
In less than ten kilometers, we saw the pub. It was magnificent, all stone, and obviously ancient. The lot was full of cars, which we expected since the ferry operator assured us this was the local draw for a large segment of the southern section of County Kilkenny. As we approached the entrance, we could see the large wooden door, which looked like the portal to a castle in the Robin Hood days in the UK. I pulled open the door and we were greeted strangely, indeed. Five or six people hugged us as though they had not seen us in a dog’s age. A burly lad carrying an arm full of beer practically shoved a couple of pints into our hands. I was on my second Guinness before we made it to a table in the corner, slightly behind the extra long wooden bar. We no sooner sat than people began bringing food to the table, and we were joined by a number of other establishment guests, all in a festive mood. I recall whispering loudly to my wife that there were no friendlier people on the planet.
Taking it all in stride, we lived it up for awhile, believing we were savvy travelers melding with the locals. And then it hit us hard. We caught on that most of those folks appeared to be related. We had crashed a private party. And it got worse. I thought it best to make our error known quickly, offer our apologies, pay our fair share, and bolt. I revealed our mistake to the lady sitting to my left, who immediately sounded a shrill yell that could have awakened the dead. In fact, that was close to the truth. We should not have offered apologies, but condolences. We were mourning Uncle Gerry, as only the Irish could.
As we sat mortified, the crowd gathered, and to our delight, the first aunt on the scene yelled out, “Gerry would have loved it!” thank God. We actually became celebrities for the day – the entire day, and night as we continued to learn more about our newfound friends.We made it to Kilkenny eventually, but were unable to touch base with our New Hampshire friends until a week later at the Temple Bar in Dublin, where they introduced us to four visiting Chinese businessmen who had never heard of Guinness and didn’t know how to order a pint. Knowing how it felt to be alone in a strange new place, I offered to help. My apologies to Beijing.