Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ireland- Day 9 Kenmare to Carrick-on-Shannon and at Night at The Thatch

Yesterday Katie and I had a long day of driving to make it from Kenmare to Carrick-on-Shannon. If it's Wednesday and I'm in Ireland, you can pretty much bank on me being at The Thatch. Despite having to go about 550 miles, I knew it'd be well worth it to experience another Wednesday night music session.

Having spent so much time in the car the day before, and taking A LOT of photos (265 to be exact), Katie and I made it a point to just try and jam through the ride without too many stops. A couple of rainbows threw us off a couple of times, but it was well worth it and very picturesque. And trying to limit the photos we take in Ireland is a pretty challenging order to try and follow.

All the same, it was necessary because we had a visit with George and a trip to the grocery store (I had the bright idea to make dinner for him) before arriving at Gene's.

Katie and I called in to George (Gorgeous George, George the Piper) to pay him a visit. He welcomed us into his beautiful home with a turf fire, tea, mushroom quiche, gingerbread cake and a lot of music. We talked quite a bit about George's previous life (he was a detective in Northern Ireland for 30 years) and then had a private concert while he took out not, one, not two, not three, but four different instruments and played music for us. First he took out the Irish flute. Then came the Uilleann pipes (Irish bag pipes). A wooden concertina made in Italy. And finally, Bavarian bagpipes made out of the lining of a sheep, or something insane like that. It was crazy and totally awesome.

Although it was raining pretty hard, and inside George's cottage was super toasty, we had to take off so we could get ingredients to make dinner for Gene. I had called Gene the previous day and asked if he'd be up for us making him dinner, wanting to make sure he'd actually be home and he said "I don't know until 10 minutes before." It's his typical response to anything if you try and plan too far in advance with him. I think it's funny and fantastic, but I don't have to make plans with him often!

Luckily, when I called to confirm we were still on, Gene was still up for it saying that it'd be easier for hi to do the cooking, "You don't know my cooker." I assured him that we'd pick up the ingredients and could do the cooking together, letting him run the cooker (oven). Gene also asked if George was coming too. I hadn't thought to invite George to dinner at Gene's on my own, but he did end up joining- and thank Gods for that!

My plan was to make salmon, mashed potatoes and a salad. I ended up picking up a couple of steaks at the last minute because George doesn't eat salmon and as we were pulling away from his house en route to the grocery store, he yelled out "And I don't eat anything green." I'm glad I got the steak because, as it turns out, Gene doesn't eat salmon either.

Making dinner was a bit of a disaster for a few reasons. First, Gene's cooker is newish. I'm not sure he knows how to use it properly. I can tell you for sure he doesn't know how to clean it. There was so much smoke coming out of the cooker every time I opened it. I honestly thought I was going to die from smoke inhalation. Gene didn't care, which was nice to not add to my already elevated stress level with each passing second. But his response was to just open the door to his kitchen (which leads right outside) and turn the fan on. I had to leave the kitchen at one point to cough. At another point, Percy walked through the kitchen door and was wearing his safety jacket (which is like one big fluorescent yellow reflective coat so he doesn't get hit while walking from his house to the Thatch and back each night). For a second I thought it was a frickin' fireman coming to see if we were setting the kitchen on fire. I think I was more surprised that it wasn't someone from the fire department! Second, there was no potato peeler. I mean, Katie turned out to be a pretty remarkable potato peeler, but it wasn't how we intended for that to go. Third, the steak was so overcooked because I absolutely couldn't get the timing down, the f'n potatoes would not boil/cook and the oven- oops, sorry, cooker- was not set to the right temperature. I'm not so sure anyone knew what to set the right temperature to, so it was just crazy and smokey. Really really smokey. Fourth, despite Gene's insistence that he run the cooker, this is what he looked liked while I was running around his kitchen trying not to die:

At one point, he looked up to Katie and said "I'm not getting involved in this." The story, as Katie pointed out, is much better this way. And the memories are going to be far better in the long run.

Here's what I'll say, the potatoes were delightful. My salmon was actually quite delicious. The company was the best ever. Everything else, well, it's really not worth mentioning.

The boys, Gene & George, were very gracious about it all. And George was actually quite helpful in the kitchen, although we were very limited with our options and kitchen tools and what not. In fact, it made me realize- and not for the first time- how lucky or maybe excessive we are about everything back in the good ol' US of A.

I cleaned up the kitchen and then cleaned up myself- most especially since it smelled as if I had been hanging out inside a fire pit (which I was, technically) for a while- and then we mad our way over to the Thatch.

What I love about that place- besides everything- is you can never ever predict the kind of night you're going to have. I was initially disappointed because Stripey Mike and his brother weren't there and it seemed like it was a lighter crowd than the previous Wednesday as well. But I should know better than to judge anything about the Thatch based on stuff like that.

The people who were there- like Deasun, Mick, George, Gene and a bunch of other regulars made it such a fun and memorable night. Mick- who friended me on Facebook because I liked some of the photos he posted on the Facebook page for The Thatch, and offered his home for me and Katie to stay out without ever having met us- came earlier to show me how to play the bodhran. I saved the night last Wednesday, when a crazy drunk guy from Austria pounded on it like a real drum and I thought Mick was gonna hit him, by asking him if I could have a turn. But then I had to actually try and play it. And Mick was gracious enough to give me some pointers. This week, he showed up and gave me two of my own sticks for the bodhran and gave (and Katie) additional tips on how best to play it and practice without actually investing in a bodhran. (Relax Steve, you have nothing to worry about).

On top of all that, I was able to play bartender again. Although Damian (the regular bartender who runs the show after Percy leaves) was a little territorial (who could blame him) and there weren't as many people there that I'd actually need to bartend for, it was still fun. Of course.

Now...details get a little fuzzy. But. I can say that I made several Irish coffees for myself, for Gene, for George and even for Katie. There were some additional private music sessions long after every single person left the pub. Gene played the piano and the guitar in addition to his fiddle and the concertina. It was awesome. There were plenty of conversations about who knows what. Conversations that I'm too nervous to go back and listen to from my iPhone. (I've gotten in the habit of using my Voice Memo feature on my iPhone to record the music and the conversations so that when I'm getting homesick for the Thatch, I just have to play that and boom! it's like I'm there).

What I do know is that I didn't go to bed until nearly 5am. Gene and I were the last to leave the pub because we ran the wash one more time and George was too drunk to drive home. He grabbed a sleeping bag from his car and set up shop in another room inside Gene's. It was madness. And it was awesome. And I couldn't have been happier with how it turned out.

Until I had to wake up just over five hours later for the drive to Dublin. Katie and I pulled our shit together, leaving most of it behind at Gene's (because thank the Lord above, I still have one more night at the Thatch to look forward to on this trip), and headed off to the airport to make our flight to Scotland. Gene popped out of bed right before we left asking "Where you two pair of bitches off to now?" I think he may have still been drunk, either way, Katie and I have already gotten lots of laughs from that. Annnnyway, he was insisting on making us breakfast (I politely declined), asking if we had money for the toll (we did), telling us he was tempted to join us in Scotland (could you EVEN imagine- it'd be the most fun ever!) and then gave us a kiss and watched us off to Dublin.

I am certain that the alcohol still coursing through my body made it unsafe to drive. But off we went for the 2 1/2 hour drive. We had no problems dropping off the rental car and making it to the airport with more than enough time to catch the flight to Glasgow. But I'll save that quick post for next...

The night was beyond memorable and although the travel after eight hours of drinking and 5 1/2 hours of sleep was really really rough, I wouldn't trade it or change it for anything. I will not soon be forgetting this evening and I hope the smile I have on my face now (and anytime I'm at the Thatch really) stays with me forever. The joy and fun and happiness I feel at the's unmatched by almost anything else I experience in this world. And I'm so grateful I know and love this place and that people like Gene, Percy, George, Mick, Deasun, Stripey Mike and all the other locals embrace me and make me feel so welcome there. And I'm even more grateful that so many people in my regular life (especially Steve), have been there with me and are part of my happiest memories.

Pictures from the drive and then from our insanely fun night at the Thatch:


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