Thursday, June 18, 2015

Adventures in Ireland- Trip 11 Recap #1

Molly and I are patiently waiting for Gene to return from picking up his trailer from somewhere he left it the last time he was going to mow his lawn. We were supposed to go for a brisk hour-long walk this morning, but that's been delayed until Gene comes back. In the meantime, Molly and I are catching up on computer work. And I didn't want to wait too long before putting my thoughts into my first trip recap.

Saturday June 13th
The trip to Ireland was perfectly fine. In fact, it was better than fine when, while waiting at JFK, I was called by a gate agent and told that my upgrade had gone through and I'd be sitting in Business Class. I have no memory of requesting any such upgrade. In fact, I thought you couldn't even request an upgrade on international flights. At any rate, I asked no questions and happily sat in seat 1B from NYC to Dublin. It was a huge treat and an unexpected surprise. Unfortunately, I didn't sleep at all on that flight, so I knew it'd be a long day.

Sunday June 14th
After landing and making my way through security, immigration and the rental car nonsense, I was on my way to get Molly at her airport hotel. We ate a quick meal, hopped into the car (tiny Nissan Micra with no AC, which is surprisingly frustrating) and were on our way.

I'm not very much into Pinterest, but when I see photos that people take on Instragram from place I haven't been in Ireland, I throw up a photo so that I can continue my goal of seeing new places. That's how Molly and I ended up going to Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. 

Molly, being a history teacher and all, did a little bit of homework and came armed with facts about each place. Like Newgrange is Ireland's best-known passage tomb that was built around 3200 B.C, which makes it 500 years older than the Pyramids and 1,000 years older than Stonehenge. It's mostly known for the way the light aligns perfectly from the entrance to the chamber on the Winter Solstice. In fact, we learned that there's a lottery in order to get one of the 50 spots into the chamber on that day. Last year there were over 34,000 entrants! And the crazy thing is, there's no guarantee that the sun will actually be shining on that day! Can you imagine winning that particular lottery, getting there and then the sun doesn't cooperate?! 

The Hill of Tara was another place I saw a photo of on Instagram that I wanted to check out. It was believed to be the capital of pre-Celtic people. There's also a very unfortunate phallic looking stone called the "Lia Fail" (Stone of Destiny) that the High Kings installed here around 500 - 1100 AD. The High Kinds were legendary, historical figures who ruled all of Ireland. Allegedly, when the rightful King put his feet on the stone, it would let out a scream heard all over Ireland. That is until one King split it with his sword because it failed to scream. 

After those two adventures, and being in the Boyne Valley in County Meath (which was a new county for me), we made our way to Gene's. But not before I had to pull over and sleep outside a church parking lot for about 20 minutes to keep myself from falling asleep.

As soon as we got to Gene's, it was like no time had passed. Our room was ready for us so we unpacked, made ourselves at home, had the most unusual dinner thrown together by Gene and then napped for a little bit before heading over to the Thatch. It was really fun to introduce Molly to the place. She of course fit right in and within moments, was able to get a full grasp of just how unusual, unique and special the pub and its people are. 

Allo, Stripey Mike, Padraig, Aidan, Pat and Huey were all there making jokes, poking fun at one another and us, and Gene's girlfriend Penny showed up with her adorable 12-year old dog Max. I had my first Guinness in 361 days- having abstained since the last day of my trip last year. And Molly had her first Guinness of her life!
It was a great first full day in Ireland from beginning to end. Being able to share this experience with Molly has been really great and meaningful. We were talking yesterday about how crazy life is. Both of our parents decided to move to Lancaster, NH. And I just happened to try to sell the newspaper to Abby & Hal. While they didn't become one of my Caledonian-Record subscribers, I gained so much more than I ever could have conceived of at the time.

Funny Gene moment of the day: He ran out of Guinness at the pub because there were over 40 bikers at the pub the night before who went through two barrels of Guinness and one barrel of Heineken. I was getting slightly panicky since I had been waiting nearly a year for this pint from the Thatch. But he had a plan to go and borrow one from a nearby pub. He asked me to join him for the ride to Brackens where he asked the pub owner, Liam, for the barrel. Liam was quick to say yes and Gene thanked him and then let him know I was in town from American looking for a husband. Would he be able to help me out? Never a dull moment with this guy!

Monday June 15th 
After getting a really solid night of sleep, Molly and I got up and headed out for a hike up Knocknarea. I'd done it before about a year and a half ago. But this time around it felt like an entirely different experience in the warm summer sunny day. The last time I did it, it was windy and wet, so this was a nice change. It felt like we stopped every five feet to keep taking more photos. We couldn't help it. 

After Knocknarea, I introduced Molly to Shell's Cafe and Strandhill- one of my favorite places in Ireland. We had a delicious meal and a fun chat next to the ocean before we wandered around Sligo and made our way back to Gene's.

It was a quiet night at the pub with only one man in there, Frank Dowd, with his 7-year old son Frank. Gene was watching the TV (on as high as it would go) and making us be quiet and not talk so he could listen to this scary program about Irish bombings. Good times. He closed up the pub early and we thought that meant we'd go home and get into bed but Gene had other plans. He thought we should go back to see Liam at Bracken's for a pint. Well one pint turned into three. And we were there until nearly half one.

Funny Gene moment of the day: Gene volunteered our services to help Liam at the bog tomorrow. "Never again will you get an opportunity to help out at an Irish bog." We left the pub with Gene committing me and Molly to meeting Liam at half two so we could join him in the bog. 

Tuesday June 16th 
Today started off with a brisk four-mile walk through town with Gene. He's an insanely fast walker and likes to say "Come on, put some effort in" to try and get me to walk at his pace. Sometimes it works, most of the time it does not. After we power walked through town, we went back to Gene's to lay low. 

Actually, we called into Liam's, but we were there at 3:00 p.m.- about 30 minutes later than we were supposed to. So sadly, we didn't make it to the bog. Molly and I felt equally relieved and disappointed. We weren't really into doing it, but felt like it'd be a funny adventure had we done it.

Today laying low meant reorganizing the closet in Gene's spare room when he asked for our help finding some sheets to make up the room for some English lads arriving on Friday. Molly and I took every single sheet and towel and piece of clothing and did a full on makeover of the closet. We failed and didn't take a before/after photo and I really wished we had.

We were rewarded with a delicious home-cooked meal from Gene- beef stir fry- and George joined us. We had to eat really quickly because we had to go into town to volunteer with Tidy Towns. It was a bit stressful to scarf our food down and drive into town to get there before everyone was dispersed to their assignments. And of course we got there and no one was around. Gene called Deasun only to find out that it didn't start until 7:30 p.m. Naturally. So we waited around for nearly 25 minutes until the rest of the team arrived.

Last year when I first got into town, I joined Gene to volunteer with Tidy Towns and it was a hilarious experience. This year with Molly along as well, we had just as much, if not more, fun. With our Tidy Town safety vests on, we helped clean up the back of this disgusting parking lot for nearly two hours. I really do like doing it because I feel like I get so much out of the town and the people here. So giving back in some small way and contributing to helping make it an even better place feels very right to me. After clean-up was done, we all met up for some conversation, some tea and some bread (that is truly called spotted dick bread).

Upon our return to Gene's, we were rewarded with some pints of Guinness (after I finished helping Gene water the 12 hanging flower pots around the house) and more hanging out with Seamus, George, Aileen, Padraig, Pat & Aiden. I helped out behind the bar for a while, which was fun until I had to stop serving people. It's hard to tell some of these guys no. And when they've had a bunch of pints, they just want them to keep coming.

The day ended "early" around 1:30 a.m. with me and Molly happily and easily going to sleep after a long, fun, adventurous day. 

Wednesday June 17th
Today was off to a slow start because we couldn't figure out what we were going to do- fish, go in Gene's boat, go for a walk, go to the seaweed baths. It was one of those days where the weather was changing every few minutes. In the end, we opted to go for a walk at Lough Key- one of my favorite places in the area. Molly really liked it and it made both of us feel like we could have been back in New Hampshire for parts of it. One of the things I love about walking around in Lough Key is all the birds chirping and singing. It makes you feel like you're in the middle of a Disney movie. 

As often happens when you're with Gene, we topped off the walk with some 99's. Which in America means a soft serve vanilla ice cream cone. In Ireland they also top it off with a stick of chocolate shoved into the ice cream. It's delicious.

Gene planned on making us dinner- steaks, onions and potatoes. So we went into town to get those ingredients and then went back to the house where Molly and I were looking forward to enjoying some Duvet Day time. Unfortunately, Gene had other plans and asked me to join him for the drive to Drumbshanbo where he needed to mow the lawn of his other house. Not being able to say not to him, I grabbed my book and my journal and tagged along. I figured there'd be some sort of adventure. The lawn mowing was cut short due to a faulty lawn mower, which was fine with me since I was sitting on the sidewalk writing in my journal while Gene did the yard work.

Back at Gene's he threw together dinner in maybe 12 minutes, running around like a crazy person because now we were pressed for time since the pub needed to open at 8:00 p.m. and Percy wasn't going to be opening up. Gene divided the tasks- Molly cleaned, I had to water the plants and Gene took care of opening up the bar. Miraculously it all got done and we were all cleaned and at the pub.

Even though we were the only two people in the pub at 9:30 p.m., I assured Molly that it was hugely misleading and she couldn't imagine how the place would transform in about an hour's time. And true to form, exactly that happened. It was slamming busy in there. I had to get behind the bar and help out until Matthew showed up. And even when he was there, I was still helping out- clearing tables, bringing orders to them so they didn't have to get up to the bar, pulling pints, etc. It was amazing and I loved moving about the pub helping make it hum and run for the busiest night of the week.

And it was so, so great to see so many familiar faces who were all so genuinely nice and mutually happy to see me as I was to see them. I love the Thatch and how welcoming everyone is there and how I've come to really get to know so many people. The music was on point and the night was truly magical. Malachy sang a new song and it filled me with such happiness. His songs are amazing and I love getting to listen to him sing.

The night was long and Molly and I not only were the first ones in, but the last ones out. By the end of the night it was just me, Gene, George and a musician I had never met before, Tony. They serenaded us with more songs, including My Irish Molly, and then I helped Gene close up the pub. It was 4:30 a.m. by the time we got out of there. Looking very much forward to crawling into bed, I of course got pulled away when Gene wanted to walk up the street to Mrs. Boyd's so he could figure out what tag to put on his trash container that needed to go out since the trash is picked up at 8:30 a.m. Finally when that final task was done, it was off to bed.

Funny Gene story: While walking around Lough Key, he told me and Molly a few jokes. My favorite one was this:
Gene- "What has four legs a tail and goes meow?"
Me- "A cat?"
Gene- "Oh. You've heard this one before."
I laughed so, so hard. And even harder when Gene said that sometimes people say to him "No. I haven't." Such a dumb joke, but I love it!

Thursday June 18th 
Having gotten maybe five hours of sleep, I woke up this morning rough around the edges and feeling a little fuzzy and pretty tired. With Galway being our final destination, Molly and I packed up our things from Gene's and then got on the road (while Gene was still in bed). We went straight to Moran's Oyster Cottage- where I try and go to every time I'm in Ireland- and had a delicious meal before making our way to Robin's.

We walked into town and met up with Robin. It's so great to see her and be in her company. We always have such a great time. And I feel so grateful that we always pick back up so easily.

After our late nights and boozing since we arrived, we're taking a bit of a break from the drink. So we had a nice meal in town with Robin before coming back to her place where we've been able to catch up on computer stuff with her speedy internet and relax a bit. Gene was talking about coming to hang out with us in Galway, and while it would have been a lot of fun to recreate the night I spent with him in Galway last year, I don't think my liver could have handled another night of heavy drinking. It's definitely better this way, although him not coming here does mean that Molly didn't get to say goodbye to him since he was still sleeping when we left this morning.

The next few days are chock full of adventure and driving and I'm really looking forward to seeing my Dad's family again and getting to see some new parts of Ireland.

So far the trip is going so well. Molly and I are traveling really well together. Being at Gene's and using his place as our home base has been a huge blessing. And we've both really liked having the opportunity to be in one place for the past four nights. We've laughed a lot. We've seen so many pretty and amazing things that we're trying to not use those words so we can be more descriptive with our adjectives. (That's not working so well).

I feel so happy and grateful to be here and I can't believe I still have so much more of my trip to look forward to!


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