Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Adventures in Ireland- Trip 12- Recap #1

I'm back in Ireland feeling quite refreshed, relaxed and happy. It's nice to be able to say and feel that way after the past few months of craziness at work and being on the go a lot lately. This is trip #12 and like all the ones before it, it's quite different and already full of adventure. I've been here for a week already and I have another week ahead of me.

Sunday, June 12th- travel day. I had a flight from LAX to JFK that was an hour late in taking off. Which was stressful since I didn't have a long layover. I figured I'd have just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat while making my way to my next flight. Unfortunately, I landed at gate 44 and had to book it to gate freaking 1. So no food for me and definitely no ability to upgrade my flight to first class (there was a slim chance that I'd be able to). By the time I got to the gate, they were already boarding group four, so I slipped onto the plane and sat down in a sweaty, hungry, huffy puffy mess. The flights were uneventful and I didn't get any sleep, sadly, but I had a window seat and loved watching the early morning flight fly over all of Ireland.


Monday, June 13th- Dublin airport to Gene's to Jamestown to The Thatch. Over the years, I've done some exploring before making my way to Gene's and this year I decided to skip that and head straight to his place to shower and get to bed. It worked out nicely because I had the house to myself when I arrived. And I was able to get to bed easily, especially since I had been up for over 20+ hours without any sleep. When I woke up, I went for a drive and walked around a nearby town, Jamestown, where I was able to enjoy being in the country and surrounded by nature.

Walking along the countryside
A beautiful night in Jamestown
After my walk around, it was time to go back to Gene's and finally have my very first pint of Guinness in nearly a year. As always, it was wonderful to be back in the Thatch and to enjoy the company of the lads that I miss all year long.

Enjoying my first pint of Guinness since the last day of my 2015 Ireland trip

Tuesday, June 14th- Gene's to Glencar Waterfall to Strandhill to The Thatch. I had another day on my own exploring solo. It's only been two days, but I'm not used to spending so much time by myself. I'm finding that I have to sort of pull myself away from a little bit of anxiety surrounding that. I usually travel over or meet up with people here and split my time half exploring around with someone and half doing my own thing at Gene's (which means I'm mostly palling around with him). My car radio also can't seem to find a signal, so it's really just me and my thoughts and the gorgeous scenery.

I follow a ton of Ireland-based photographers/accounts on Instagram and I find that it's a perfect way for me to see a piece of the world I love the most when I can't be here. It helps with the longing and also provides inspiration for future trips. So today's major destination was the Glencar Waterfall that I'd seen various photos of over the years. It was a pretty and easy drive to get there and I was delighted to find that there were just over 200 steps surrounding the waterfall! It was a short walk up to the waterfall and I mostly had the place to myself, which allowed me to tinker around with my camera settings to get the silky effect I wanted of the actual waterfall.

Glencar Waterfall
From there I drove around a bit wanting to explore this part of Ireland that I hadn't been to before. But I found myself heading in the direction of Strandhill, a place I go to frequently when I'm here. I wanted to get some more exercise in and found myself walking along the beach for a couple of miles.

I headed back to Gene's and finally got to see him. As always it was wonderful to see his big smile and be back in his energy. He was in the middle of a project, which I was mostly unaware of from the night before, where he was just trying to prevent the pub from being flooded. As it turns out, he came back in the middle of the night and was working for hours emptying buckets of water. I am so glad I slept through this because I so would have offered to help.

Making sure the pump is working so, you know, the pub doesn't flood
I ended my day at the pub with more of the lads dropping in, including Allo and Huey tonight. We caught up, laughed, drank a lot more than we had anticipated and ended up leaving around 2:00 a.m. I went to bed with a belly full of Guinness and a smile on my face.

Each person who sees me says something along the lines of "You're very welcomed home" or "How long are you home for?" It warms my heart that these people recognize that I consider this to be (another) home for me. And it's crazy that it feels that way for me, but it truly does. I think of all of these people with so much fondness when I'm not here and when I am here, I feel so happy to be in their company and to be dropped into their worlds for just a small bit of time of my year. I hope they know how much they and this place fills up my soul.

Tuesday night with some of the Thatch's best customers

Wednesday, June 15th- Gene's to Strandhill to Knocknarea to Strandhill to The Thatch. I started the day off helping Gene clean the pub and getting things ready for the busy night that we were anticipating. One of the biggest changes on this visit is that Percy is no longer behind the bar. It's a big loss for the Thatch and one that just makes things feel ever so slightly off. I miss his presence at the pub, but have called in to see him twice now since I've been home. What this means in the grander sense, however, is that Gene handles more of the day-to-day things that Percy always did- like the cleaning. So I'm helping out to earn my keep.

Because I have no real specific plans, it leaves me open to last-minute things that inevitably come up for Gene. He's decided to go to Strandhill to play golf, so I catch a ride with him, knowing that it'd be better to tag along than to stay at home. It's raining on and off, but we're taking our chances with our outdoor activities. We get to the golf club and I immediately ask someone where I can access the hiking trail for Knocknarea (a hike I've done a few times before but having accessed it from a different side). The man tells me where it is and Gene overhears saying "She's American you see. She wouldn't know what you're talking about." I assure Gene and this man that I can figure it out, but my new friend insists on driving me over "behind the Sligo Rugby Club" to start the walk. I say no as many times as I reasonably can and next thing I know I'm in Des's car hitching a ride.

The walk itself was really, really great. As I said, this time I did the newly added hiking route and was completely surprised (and ecstatic) to discover that there were over 500 steps built to create the trail up to the top of Knocknarea. It was a bit harder than I had anticipated, but I loved it and was glad to experience this new route.

There were over 500 of these steps built recently throughout the forest for this hike up to Queen Maeve's tomb
In heaven with all these stairs. Sligo Airport and Strandhill stretches before me.
I was a little freaked out on the way down because as you can tell from the first photo, the steps aren't actually that wide AT ALL. Luckily I didn't pass anyone on the way down, so I just counted the steps out loud to keep my concentration. I counted just about 525, which was so cool! 

Once down, I walked some more to Shells Cafe (another place I've been to frequently) so I could enjoy a peaceful moment with a tea, scone and a delightful book I've just started Lily and the Octopus, while waiting for Gene to wrap up his game.

A perfect afternoon at Shells Cafe in Strandhill
We headed back to the Thatch since it was music night and Gene needed to be there by 8:00 p.m. It was a crazy packed night at the pub due to a bus load of something crazy like 25 people who got dropped off around 8:30 p.m. The night just never really let up and I ended up helping out at the beginning and end of the night play barmaid.

The music was on point, as usual. There are some musicians that I am used to seeing that weren't around tonight (Mick and Gorgeous George), but my very favorite musician Malachy was there and it was wonderful to hear his songs live. There were some other musicians that I hadn't heard before- Francis who had an unbelievable voice and Dick who was amazing on the banjo. I stood to the side, taking it all in, feeling my soul fill up and as often happens, I thought of my dad and how much he would have loved all of this, and without being able to keep them at bay, tears formed in my eyes. I didn't take many photos, but this one pretty much sums it up of Deasun:

Last night was a blur!

Thursday, June 16th- Carrick-on-Shannon to Westport to Croagh Patrick to The Thatch. I had an exciting and exhilarating day, tackling something on my Irish Bucket List: Croagh (pronounced Crow) Patrick. But first, I got to spend some time with my friend Brittany who is working in Ireland with her dad's company. I'm short on details, even though Britt's told me before, but I'll just say she's obviously very lucky to be working in Ireland and I'll be living vicariously through her experiences. Britt and I go way back. She was my trainer for a few years at Equinox, but left Los Angeles a few years ago to relocate back to Austin. We've remained in touch and when I heard from her a few weeks ago asking for suggestions about Ireland, we realized we'd be there at the same time! So I arranged to pick her up from the train station in Carrick-on-Shannon and then drove her to Westport, a nearly two-hour drive, where we managed to talk non-stop! It was so wonderful to see Britt and while I had hoped she'd join me on the hike up Croagh Patrick, she had to stay behind and work. So we said our goodbyes, but hope we'll see one another again on this trip!

Post-lunch with Brittany in Westport!
I headed about five miles out of town to get to the base of Croagh Patrick. Full disclosure: I started to do this hike in 2008 and I got about 10 minutes into it and thought "I don't actually want to do this" so I took a photo on the mountain and then turned around and left! I was fully determined to do the full hike this time knowing that I had it in me, but that it'd be difficult. While the sun doesn't go down until after 10:00 p.m., I was still worried that starting at 4:30 p.m. was not the best decision. But up I went.

I read about the hike and knew that it'd take about two hours to get to the top and then an hour and a half to get down. I was hoping I'd be moving along a little quicker than the average person, but the hike took exactly that in both directions. And it was really hard. Like I'm glad I didn't know how hard it was. My friend Robin had told me about her experience about it the one and only time she did it years ago. The short of it was that it was one of the hardest things she'd ever done, she hated every second of it and was crawling on her hands and knees at some points. I'm happy to share that I didn't have as extreme of a reaction as she did. I mean it was one of the hardest hikes I've ever done and you couldn't take your eyes off the path directly in front of you for a moment and the last 30 minutes or so are enough to break you as a person. But I loved conquering this hike and was rewarded with beautiful views from every single angle. I thought of my dad a lot as I did this hike. I knew he'd be happy that this was how I was spending my time- that I had the willpower (one of his favorite words) to keep going.

It was a wee bit windy
This was the "path" for the last 30 minutes. It took everything in me to not turn around. Apart from being all loose rocks, it was a very steep climb. 
Clew Bay- according to tradition, there are 365 islands- one for every day of the year.

It was 8:00 p.m. by the time I got back down and while I had an invitation from Gene to meet up with him in Galway, but it was a two hour ride and my body was so unbelievably wrecked after the 3 1/2 hour hike up and down Croagh Patrick. I was in desperate need of a shower and an early night. And as much as I LOVE my adventures with Gene, I just couldn't imagine making that drive (45 minutes longer than what it took me to get back to Gene's) and going out and about in Galway. I doubted my decision for quite a while, but with each yawn I took, I knew I had made the right decision.

Once back at Gene's I had a quick shower, a couple of pints and was in bed early (early for Ireland Molly is any time before 2:00 a.m.).


Friday, June 17th- Carrick-on-Shannon. Today was a stick close to home day. Gene's friend Seamus has been staying here, which has been really nice. I've met him before, but this was the first time I've really spent more than a few minutes in his company and I really have enjoyed spending time with him. He tries to come up to Gene's every few weeks as he's also very close to Percy. So for the past few mornings, I've gotten to visit with Seamus and Percy while they eat their hard-boiled eggs, and brown bread with cheese. I like the comfort of their morning habits and getting to sit around the kitchen table listening to them talk about everything and nothing, about no one and everyone.

After cleaning the pub quickly, we all scattered off in our own directions- Seamus and Percy to run some errands, and myself to read and write at a coffee shop in town. I had a really relaxing time continuing reading Lily and the Octopus and eating a delicious dessert. I walked around town and then came back to Gene's where Seamus was just getting ready to leave and go back to Dublin. He was conflicted about wanting to go and call in to see The Boyd's and I offered to go with him. They live just up the street and in fact, before Gene's house was remodeled with the two rooms in the front of the house, I'd stay at Mrs. Boyd's B&B. She wasn't around, but I had a cup of tea and caught up with her daughter Aileen (one of the first people I knew in this town when Steve and I came for our honeymoon) while Seamus visited with Aileen's father.

One of my favorite things about Ireland is how people just "call in" to see each other. Calling in means stopping by to visit. I've probably written about this before, but each time I come back home, I remember how much I love this. Back home it's just not part of our culture. You don't just stop by someone's place unannounced. And when you do, you're most certainly not offered "a tea and biscuit." It was a really nice visit and one that happened only because I've been mindful to not have every second of this trip planned.

The rest of my day was all about the pub: doing inventory with Gene, going to the distribution center for bar supplies, restocking the pub, yoga (for the second time since I've been here), dinner and then off to the pub around 9:00 p.m. to write out postcards.

In all my times coming here, I've always been exploring on the weekends, so this is my first Friday night in the pub and I'm not sure what it'll be like. According to Gene, during the summer there's always music on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The pub was quiet until around 10:30 p.m., which is when another musician showed up and Gene asked me to tend to the bar while he played music. That lasted for over four hours and I had SO MUCH FUN pulling pints, talking with everyone and trying my best to keep the bar going. The conversations are so engaging, the people on the other side of the bar (many who I'd consider to be friends of mine at this point) are so fun and encouraging (pulling a pint isn't rocket science, but it does require a very specific pour and these guys expect their pints a certain way) and I just couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I had a fantastic night and Gene and I closed up the bar around 2:00 a.m. and off we went to bed.

Just playing the role of bar maid on a Friday night in my most favorite place on Earth. In other words, IN HEAVEN!

Saturday, June 18th- Carrick-on-Shannon. Today was another lazy day. I was planning on going into Dublin via train with Gene, but as it turns out, I'll be doing that tomorrow. And again, as much as I'd love to go off adventuring with Gene, I opted to stay put. I read, wrote, caught up on some personal emails, organized all my stuff and then called into Percy to see if he wanted to come with me to clean the pub. I knew he'd just give me the keys, but I didn't trust myself enough to not set off the alarm system. Luckily my request lined up with a break before the "football" started and so we spent an hour getting the pub all set up for what Gene was sure would be a busy Saturday night.

With my chores behind me, I went for a drive around the area, stopping only to take one photo, and then got myself some Chinese food in town before coming back to do more reading and writing. I also caught up on some personal email, opening up my laptop for the first time in a week. It's been great to take a break from technology. I haven't looked at work email and won't until June 27th. I have no desire to even peek to see what's going on or even to see what my current email count is. All of that can- and will- wait.

The pub tonight was a lot of fun. Damien was working behind the bar because Gene was definitely going to be playing music. There were some new musicians that I hadn't ever heard before and I really loved their music and they most certainly kept us entertained for most of the night. Because it got pretty busy in there, I ended up working behind the bar with Damien for about five hours in total. 
I was flying around the place going from the far room to the bar and back so that people didn't have to get up and I could collect glasses while Damien stayed put behind the bar. Around 2:00 a.m., Damien went home and the bar stayed open for another couple of hours with me running the show solo.

As much as I love being behind the bar, there comes a point when it's actually not fun. And that is when Gene says that you're not to serve any more pints (his theory is that one point means another 30 minutes) and everyone left in the pub wants you to pull them a pint anyway. They all think that Gene won't notice or he won't care or that I'll just do it anyway because it's not really my job. Sometimes I give in, but most times I don't because the last thing I wanna do is piss Gene off.

At any rate, around 4:00 a.m., with a big smile on my face, Gene and I closed the pub and went off to bed for a few hours. 


Sunday, June 20th- Gene's to Dublin via train to The Thatch. I didn't sleep that well thinking that with all the Guinness I had the night before and the very late night/early morning, that I'd miss my alarm. So with about five hours of sleep, I got ready and headed out to the door to catch the train to Dublin. My friend Mike is currently traveling with the Rhianna tour (she's playing in Dublin on Tuesday night) and I was gone while he was in Los Angeles. But by a stroke of luck, we were both going to be in Ireland at the same time, so I jumped at the chance to see him. 

It's another rainy day. I don't seem to be as lucky with the weather on this trip as I have been the previous two years I've been coming in June. So I don't mind to be on a train for nearly four and a half hours. 

My first stop after getting into Dublin is a pub called O'Shea's so I can meet up with Teddy. He's another friend of Gene's that I first met during my New Year's Eve trip back in 2012/2013. We've managed to keep in touch over the years and I was excited to get to see him albeit briefly. He had Father's Day responsibilities, so we had a quick two pints together while we caught up and said our goodbyes. Then I was off to another part of the city to meet up with Mike. We agreed upon The Stag's Head, which is one of Ireland's oldest (and most traditional) pubs. 

I can't remember the last time I saw Mike. But I can remember that his laugh is one of my favorite sounds in the world. Our paths crossed, like many people in my life, because of the 3-Day. We have a delicious and easy time catching up- as if no time at all had passed. The two hours we had together went by so quickly and I found myself wishing there were a later train for me to catch. Sadly, there wasn't- I was on the last one going to Carrick-on-Shannon that night and had to say our goodbyes after Mike walked me to the train station. 

I spent the train ride to Dublin playing catch-up in my journal and used most of the ride back to read Lily and the Octopus. It also helped keep some of the sadness at bay I was feeling. Father's Day, without my dad, has its ups and downs. Some years it's fine in that my emotions are in check and I'm not overly sad about it. And I thought this year I'd be okay since I was in Ireland. But I found myself being more emotional about Father's Day this year. Sometimes the onslaught of Father's Day wishes on social media is too much. Too much of a painful reminder of what I no longer have. And being in Ireland wasn't as comforting as it has been in past years. I thought of my Dad being here with me, or at least loving that I was here. I thought of being able to share this with him in some way. Of going through my photos with him. Of telling him all about my trips. And I wondered if he were alive all this time, if he would have met me over here and experienced The Thatch. Sigh.

By the time I got back to Gene's I was a bit of an emotional mess because of my book, Lily and the Octopus. I'm not giving anything away here when I saw that Octopus actually means tumor. So you know how the book ends before you even get started. Needless to say, being tired, having an emotional day because of Father's Day, and reading a book about a dog with a tumor is a pretty bad combination! But I managed to pull myself together and went into the pub to hang out with a great group who came in for some Sunday night drinks. 

Gene said that Sunday night is oftentimes his favorite night at the pub because it's when the locals come in and there's no music but just hanging out and conversation. And he was totally right. I spent most of the night playing the role of barmaid again and really enjoyed talking with Huey and his wife Marie (I love watching them together- they so clearly have so much fun together and when they get each other laughing, it's one of the most heartwarming things to watch), Allo, Aidan, Padraig, Jim, Claire and a bunch of other locals. Jim and Claire also brought in their black lab, Allie. I didn't think it was possible to love The Thatch any more than I already do and then a freaking black lab is hanging out in there. 

This was another one of those nights where we had to kick everyone out. I think the night went until 3:00 a.m. or so. Gene was literally passed out on the bench while I was trying to get everyone to wrap up their drinks. Once everyone was off (I may have had to personally escort a farmer to his truck), Gene and I closed up and it was off to bed.

This one's for you Dad!

Monday, June 20th- Carrick-on-Shannon. Today was another lazy day staying around Gene's. I'm a little anxious not having plans and going here, there and everywhere while I'm in Ireland. But I'm really trying to listen to my body and my head that sleeping, resting and relaxing is more important than racking up a bunch of amazing photos and driving around all corners of this country. It's been a hard thing for me to resist though and I the anxiety has come up more than I wish it would. So I just keep pushing it down and sort of settling into the quiet and calm.

I started my day with Gene waking me up at 10:45 a.m. announcing that breakfast was being served in five minutes. This was music to my ears. Now I know it sounds like sleeping in when I don't get up until nearly 11:00 a.m., but let's remember I didn't go to bed until after 3:00 a.m. So it's just shy of eight hours of sleep. Which is good for Ireland Molly.

Although I've been coming here since 2000 and am 12 trips in, I still can't get used to the pub culture here. That people come into the pub to start drinking after 10:30 p.m. is beyond my comprehension. As someone who is 100% in bed by that point and most times asleep, I can't wrap my head around coming into a pub to start your night so late. But I get it. Most of these men are farmers and as Gene likes to say "the music starts after the cows have been milked." So I understand that they maximize the nearly 20 hours of daylight hours they have to do their jobs. And whenever that wraps up, then they can enjoy a pint or more. It's nothing I could do on a regular basis. But I feel so fortunate that for two weeks every year, I do get to play in their world and immerse myself into this part of the Irish culture.

So yeah. Breakfast by Gene was wonderful and gave me the energy I needed to clean the pub while Gene puttered around the house getting things in order. Around midday, he left and I ended up going into town with my new friend Sharon. Sharon and her friend Lynne are from South Africa and found out about Gene and The Thatch because it's massively recommended on some RV site. This doesn't surprise me because Gene is insanely generous and accommodating and from what I understand, he doesn't charge for people to park in his lot.

I've had a nice time the past few days getting to know Sharon and Lynne and being inspired by their current lifestyle- traveling around in an RV since April (I believe). Their plan is to keep traveling around for the rest of the year and then possible relocate. I feel fortunate to have crossed paths with them on this trip, and with Gene gone, it's been nice to have other people here (well, by here I mean in an RV behind the pub, but still).

Sharon and I popped into a few stores and walked around the town a bit before I finally got my first 99- the most delicious and creamy vanilla ice cream cone with a chocolate flake placed inside the ice cream. It was as delicious as I remembered from last year!

Back at Gene's I did some yoga, started my blog recap and then went to the pub for a few pints and some great conversation with Damien before closing down the pub with Aidan and Padraig just after midnight. I thought it was funny that I went to bed the earliest on the longest night of the year.

My view of Gene's backyard as I did yoga

Tuesday, June 21st- Gene's to Carrowkeel to Gene's to the Thatch. I woke up around 8:30 a.m. and knew that I had to go outside and do some exploring. As much as yesterday, and the other days I've had with not a lot going on, I knew there was nothing that was going to stand in my way of exploring- not even the rain that was coming down just as I finished getting dressed and was ready to head out the door.

Not too far from here is a place called Carrowkeel. It's a "Neolithic hilltop passage tomb complex consisting of 14 passage cairns." This was a place Gene and Teddy took me to back on New Year's Day 2013 when I came over with Elisabeth, Kramer and Susie. I remember feeling so happy that was how I was spending the first day of the new year- "hill walking" and being out in nature, even if it was rather chilly.

I was fortunate today that the sun mostly cooperated, or at least that it didn't rain on me because it's been showering on and off all day. The walk itself wasn't bad at all. Although I suspect nothing I do post-Croagh Patrick will ever feel that hard! I had to drive on a really narrow road (photo below), open and close a farmer's gate so the sheep wouldn't escape, and the parked my car at the start of the walk.

It didn't take long to get to the top and I was overwhelmed at just how beautiful it was. I say and think that a lot in Ireland. Sometimes the breath is knocked out of me or I just smile with tears in my eyes at the beauty I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by. And this was no different. On the way there I was listening to the Hamilton soundtrack (thanks again for letting me be your plus one, Cyrena!) so when I got to the top all I kept thinking was "How lucky are we to be alive right now." See for yourself:

The road leading to Carrowkeel- I was fortunate to not have passed anyone and to miss the TOUR BUS that came while I was still walking! 

I'm back at Gene's now, about to do some yoga and maybe take a nap before going to the pub for a few drinks. There's talk of going to a pub down the road, Brackens, that I went to a couple of times last year. But I know better than to count on anything being definite until it actually happens.

With eight days behind me and six days ahead of me, I'm truly feeling relaxed and happy. I miss Steve and Clancy and Katie and the comfort of my own bed and my exercise routine. But I love having little planned and seeing where the day takes me. I love the unexpected adventures I've found and the comfort I've found in doing so much on my own- something I'm not very good at.

Tomorrow Robin and I will meet up and I can't wait to see her for the next few days. And most importantly for her to finally get to experience the Thatch and to see why I love it so very much!


Cyrena June 21, 2016 at 6:25 PM  

What a great recap, sounds like it's just what you needed. And, Hamilton songs and lyrics continue to run through my mind at all sorts of random moments, it's so good.

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