From Dublin to Dingle, and All Pints In-Between
Dia Daoibh, Ernie and Hadley!
Apologies for ignoring you both in my missive from the UK, but between stories of spiders, mice, and fleas, it appears you’ve both had your paws full. Suffice it to say, the UK was a lot of fun, but because much of my route took me through cobblestone and concrete, I was looking forward to getting a little green on my shoes once again. And while I wouldn’t exactly succeed in my first stop – Dublin – it is the quickest ticket from Belfast. And besides, it’s feckin’ Dublin!
Even though Belfast to Dublin is technically an international trip, everything I’d read said there should be no need for Covid Locator Forms, which are convoluted enough to make an IRS man doff his cap, but changes are happening almost overnight, so I boarded the train with my required CDC vaccination card, a pocketful of hope, and a couple cans of Punk IPA, in the event of an emergency. In the end, you’ll both not care, in that way your kind simply doesn’t, that I arrived in Dublin unmolested, and without delay or disruption.
In addition to this being my first visit to Ireland, Dublin would mark my first stay in a hostel, at Jacob’s Inn, on Talbot Street, on the edge of the city center. I’m actually on a pretty strict budget, which neither of you would guess had you seen my bank statements from Iceland and the Faroes, so I thought it was time to tighten the reins a bit and expand my little adventure beyond playing tourist.
My hostel reservation was for a four-man room, with pods for beds. You read that right. Pods. Like those little things you read about Japanese businessmen using when they stay overnight in Tokyo. I always pictured them as ever-so-slightly more plush MRI machines, rolled into a wall, like a file cabinet, or morgue locker.
I’ve also always envisioned hostels themselves as offering dimly lit bunkhouse rooms with beds lined foot to head to foot, where you have to sleep with one hand on your backpack and the other on your wallet, with nothing left over to cover your nose from the smell of decades old feet, a smell that has seeped into the very woodwork, concrete, and steel itself.
That, this was not, and if there are more like this, I will do it again.
My Dublin experience was similar to Belfast in that my visits were primarily to tourist hot spots, restaurants, pubs, and places most have heard of. Once the physical sights have been seen, however, it’s a place that’s better suited to visiting as a couple or a group – and on a proper budget.
The highlight of my tour, however, was geeking out in The Long Room, the famed Trinity campus library, where students and select others can still access any book, regardless of its age or value. You can’t stuff it into your backpack with your gym shorts and socks, but it will be brought to you by a librarian wearing white gloves, and you must do the same. A previously stern security guard was more than happy to share these little facts with me, before adding, in a strong Irish brogue, “It’s totally mental.”
And he was right. It was totally mental.
That evening, in the hostel bar, after a long and wonderful day, was not without some melancholy, however. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it, but then realized I was, simply, very tired. While I’m still in decent shape, and 54, just days from 55, isn’t exactly old, it isn’t exactly young, either. I’ve spent most of the past decade in my own home, in my own bed. Everything I needed within reach. Too many clothes, shoes and hats to possibly wear. Full bookshelves. Well stocked fridge and cupboards. Wifi. Music. Cable. Patio. Gardens. Hammock. A boat and kayaks. And if I needed something I didn’t have, I just hopped in the car. I don’t have as much as many, but I have a lot more than many others, and certainly more than I need. In a phrase, I’m pretty fucking lucky.
But I’d been on the road for nearly three weeks, and while I’d traveled this long for work before, I’d never slept in so many different rooms and beds, with so little and yet so much strapped to my back. Keeping track of gear and passport and wallet and phone. Juggling confusing bus and train schedules nearly every day, not knowing where – or what – my accommodations will be just hours from any particular moment, and suddenly walking 6-10 miles per day. I knew the first few weeks would be like this, a training camp of sorts for a year of constant travel, as my body and mind adjusted to a new routine. I’d simply forgotten that this was one of those moments – until I remembered. And just like that, voila, it all made sense again. What I needed was to stop playing tourist 24 hours a day – I’ve a long year ahead – and get some rest.
Late the next day, after catching a morning train out of Dublin, I arrived in Galway. I had done absolutely zero reading up on Galway, and hoped to find a small, quaint little town where I could have a quiet pint in a quiet pub. What I found instead was a miniature version of the French Quarter, which was also just fine. I didn’t know at the time there was a televised soccer match between Galway and a nearby competitor, many of whose fans had traveled to Galway to watch, cheer and jeer. It was an insanely fun atmosphere. During the day I walked the town, the harbor, the shore, along their river and to their Cathedral – and of course to a pub or two.
The next morning I found myself on a tour bus, driven by an entertaining Kerryman named Damien. When a passenger asked why he didn’t have much of a Kerry accent, he replied without missing a beat, “I worked in London years ago, and that’s where I left my accent, and my freedom – for that’s where I met herself.” His wife would also be the person we would call if anyone stumped him with a question, as “she has all the answers.”
Our trip took us along the Wild Atlantic Way, to County Clare. One of the most memorable sights along the way was not the beautiful coastal towns and harbors, where kids and adults frolicked around in the very cold Irish sea, or that of the castles that dotted the landscapes. There were stone walls everywhere, similar to those at home in New England, stones that, once stacked, become property lines and paddocks and garden walls. But the walls that stuck out most were those that went on endlessly, in relatively straight or slightly meandering lines, over high hills across the landscape, and off into the distance. They weren’t property boundaries, Damien told us. They were “Famine Walls.”
The story goes that during the famine the British had taken up a decidedly neutral approach, a policy referred to as “Laissez-faire,” in which they essentially acknowledged that the Irish were experiencing famine, but formally refused to intervene with handouts. What they did do was, instead of having them help build roads or railways, bridges or buildings, they had them build these walls, these useless walls to nowhere. And then, of course, they never paid. Not in money. Not in food. And that lack of food, in addition to back-breaking labor, took its toll, and the farmers died in droves from exhaustion, hunger and disease.
Those farmers are gone, but the Famine Walls remain. “As a reminder,” Damien told us.
We would board a ferry to tour beautiful Inisheer, the smaller of the three Aran Islands. Along this trip I would meet Manos, a funny and personable thirty-one-year-old from Greece, living in Germany, who was in Ireland to attend a wedding, and for whom I become unofficial photographer. Manos asked incessant questions of guides and boat staff, which would prove to be an invaluable travel lesson to me down the road.
I also met Bashar and “Ice,” as the latter called herself, both from Turkey. Fresh out of college, they were living and working in Dublin. When I told them where I was from, they excitedly told me their roommate was from Rhode Island. They texted her, and she sent back an equally excited and expletive filled voice message, which they played for me, saying that she was from Cranston, and that “he must be fuckin’ loaded!” (being from Narragansett and all). Inaccuracy aside, it was pretty funny to hear a Rhode Island accent, f-bombs and all.
Back at the AirBnB, I would meet “Kiki,” from the Netherlands, who was studying English Literature at the university and living in the AirBnB for the semester. She hopes to become a publisher one day. “I’m not a writer,” she told me. “But I love to read, and someday I hope to get true writers published.”
Her friends from home were staying on campus, but she was looking forward to living in the wonderfully appointed and homey AirBnB, getting to meet travelers from all over the world.
When I left in the morning, I left her my extra food – eggs, coffee, butter and the like, and, thinking of Dad and what he might have done, hoping that others would have done the same for his college-bound kids or grandkids, I added a 10-pound note “for a pint, or a sandwich.”
I would arrive in Dingle later that day. Its peninsula is quite a famous travel destination, but I was there for different reasons. Dad’s maternal roots have been traced here, those of Anne Hickson. His paternal roots, back to James Daly, are across the bay, in Glenbeigh.
I didn’t come armed with the research Mom and my brother Steven had been meticulously compiling. I hadn’t even planned to come here at all, to be honest, but a trip like mine has allowances for unexpected routes. I came, mainly, just to raise a pint to my Dad. And in my two days in Dingle, I would do just that, in Paddy Bawn Brosnan’s, Foxy John’s Hardware Store and Pub, and at The Dingle Pub.
The next morning I would interrupt two men working on a house to ask about an old foundation that was supposed to be nearby, of what had been known as “The Hickson House,” half expecting them to be more than a little perturbed to be interrupted at work. On the contrary, I walked away 25 minutes later.
“Sure. Used to play in it as a boy,” the younger of the two told me.
He would tell me the roof had been removed – to save on taxes. It’s also why some houses have smaller windows and half doors.
“Taxes,” he said, the smaller each was, the less the tax from the British.
“So then, the foundation is still there?” I asked.
“Oh no,” he said. “They built the school on top of it. It’s gone now.”
He went on to tell me that Dingle was known as a smuggler’s town many years ago, and when the British sent officials to investigate these claims, the visiting officials were entertained at the Hickson House the evening of their arrival. While they were being entertained, the townsfolk were smuggling out the smuggling evidence.
“Dr. Conor Brosnan,” he would go on to say. “He’s the man you want to talk to. He’s the town’s history expert here in Dingle,” giving me directions to the medical clinic where he works, before adding, “but you don’t want to visit him there, he’s workin’. Y’know who you want is Tom Fox. He’s the town’s history expert here in Dingle.”
He went on to give me directions to Tom Fox’s house as well, which included, “you’ll go by the Doctor’s office, but like I said, you don’t want t’interrupt him t’day, as he’s workin’, though you could stop in and tell him you’re going to see Tom Fox. Then y’ill come to where the road goes like this,” he said, giving an indecipherable hand gesture. “And then it splits a bit. Then you go up the road until y’see four houses kinda stickin’ out inta it. Tom’s is the eh, second house I believe.”
“T’ird,” said the older man, who turned out to be the younger man’s father.
“Right, t’ird, second from the last. It’ll be the one with two books in the window. That’s Tom’s. If ya can’t find it knock on any door, everybody knows Tom Fox.”
I did knock on Tom Fox’s door, me a complete stranger, thousands of miles from home, wearing a mask and carrying a backpack. And we talked for half an hour. I also talked to Bella Daly, daughter of local crystal glass maker Sean Daly. I stopped into the local library and spoke to two wonderful librarians for twenty-five minutes. From there, I would walk the town, harbor, and much of Dingle Bay.
I would leave Dingle the next morning and travel to Glenbeigh, getting stuck for a night along the way, in Tralee, due to a cancelled bus. My stay at the Glenbeigh Hotel, in search of Dalys and Dodds, Dad’s paternal roots, had been cut in half.
“Dodds about Killgorlan,” I was told by “Francy” in the hotel pub. Francy is a 147-year-old local who left a trail of marrow dust as he shuffled back and forth from the bathroom, whose few teeth and exceptionally strong brogue meant most of our conversation was me apologizing for not understanding a thing he’d just said. “Dalys, there’s a few around. Not here in town, though, no.”
I bought Francy a Guinness upon paying my bill – he’d had two already – and was comforted by the fact that the hotel had opened as an Inn in 1798. Best we can tell, James Daly was born around 1815 or so, which means the Inn was here, in this very small town, when he was in his prime. James and Anne lived and were married in Glenbeigh, before moving to Dingle, so the odds they were inside this very Inn, perhaps had a pint, or even spent their honeymoon here, was good enough for me. At least that’s the story I’m going to tell.
I was off for Rosslare Harbor the next morning, where I would spend one last night in Ireland, having a pint in The Railway Social Club, maybe the most Irish place I’d been in this entire trip. Inside, two older gents with guitars and pints sang songs at their leisure, while locals drank, smoked, and sang along, a soccer match on in the background. The morning after that I’d be off for Wales, and on my way to France.
To this point, I can say with firm conviction that those damn Irish, as a whole, are just about the nicest and kindest people I’ve ever met.