Episode 6 - St. James's Gate At Last

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March 6, 2006

The last time Bobby wrote, we were experiencing a freak cold snap that was due to last a few days. Ten days later, we are breaking records for the longest and coldest stretch in recent history. What luck! We have awoken the past couple of mornings to frozen pipes, and so there’s no water till it warms up, which is usually right before dark. However, the cold days have meant brilliant sunshine, and who can really argue with that?

This week, we took a trip up to Dublin to visit our friend Malcolm. I met Malcolm while I was working Wednesday night Irish Sessions at the Radiobean, so it’s really no coincidence that we are both here now. He is a physics professor and is here on sabbatical, supposedly to work on his curriculum and to restructure his approach to teaching. But the “trad” music that brought him here seems to occupy most of his time, and why not? In Dublin especially, there are sessions in nearly every pub and on nearly every night, and Malcolm seems to know ‘most everyone in the scene. We ended up one night in the Palace Bar (famous former haunt of such writers as Flann O’Brien and W.B. Yeats) and someone just handed Malcolm a fiddle and sat down to chat with Bobby and me while Malcolm took his spot amongst the musicians. (During our chat, it came up that the Irish government takes about 20% out of paychecks, which is less than many Americans find gone every week. Unbelievably, the Irish waste these valuable tax dollars on education [free all the way through university] and universal health care. What they don’t have, tho, is an imperialist military bent on taking over the world, but I say that’s their loss).

Anyway, Bobby and I, being country folk, found Dublin to be a bit overwhelming. It’s truly huge, larger than Boston but not nearly as diverse. It feels somehow ambiguous; aside from the fact that it was teeming with “traditional” Irish pubs (many of which are actually modern tourist traps), we felt like we could have been almost anywhere in the white-bred world. But Malcolm knows his way around the city (and the pubs), and we had a great time. We spent most of it just walking around, talking and eating a lot and enjoying numerous pints. We eventually found ourselves close enough to the Guinness brewery that we had no choice but to check it out. We had heard that the cost of the tour included a pint and considered it our duty as tourists to find out the truth. The 15 Euro entrance fee nearly scared us away (I mean, that is four pints right there), but Malcolm happened to have a friend working there that day and she cut us a deal. It turned out to be a self-guided tour through six floors of displays, diagrams and television sets, but we thought it to be pretty interesting. And then, sure enough, the seventh floor was a circular room with glass walls and a bar in the middle. So we enjoyed our “free” pints while gazing across miles of Dublin sprawl. It was quite a view, and the Guinness really was the best we’d had.

After all was said and done, we ended up back at our hostel, where “this is the worst hostel in Europe” was written on almost every available wall. Maybe it was. The toilets didn’t flush and the showers are not suitable for anyone who has less than two strong arms. But it was cheap, and right next to the bus station. We took the bus there so we wouldn’t have to worry about parking, etc., and we are planning on making the long drive up to Donegal at the end of this week. Didn’t want to overdo little old Ma Ford. She’s our lifeline.

Today, we went for a drive up over the mountain pass to the east of our house. Eventually, we ended up in Gougane Barra Forest Park, a beautiful place where wild goats and sheep roam freely in the hills and still manage to poop on every square inch of the trails. On the way back, we saw a sign that said “Walking Loop” with an arrow, and because it was a beautiful day we followed it. We walked for a ways, winding through pastures of grazing cows and crumbling ruins, wondering when it would start to loop back around. When eventually it started raining we turned back, and once back at the car we looked in our guide book and discovered that it was a 196km loop around the Beara Peninsula. Maybe tomorrow.