We could tell she was Irish by her greeting as she sat beside me on the aeroplane at Heathrow. We were about to fly to Ireland as part of our first big overseas adventure.
As the plane started to taxi toward the runway she gripped my hand and I could feel the sweat on her palm. The look on her face and her mumbled explanation told us she was scared of flying.
Crossing the Channel her grip remained steadfast and was only released when she jumped up to be first to exit as the plane came to a halt at Dublin Airport. This was our introduction to Ireland and its people.
Hiring a car at the airport, we decided to travel south. We were sightseeing, but we were also keen to learn more about the country’s history, its culture and its people.
After ordering two half pints of Guinness one of the locals at the bar would invariably ask us where we were from.
This started a conversation that would enlighten us about where we were and where we were heading on the next leg of our journey.
As we entered a small town where we found bunting and flags down the main street, we soon learned how the Irish love to celebrate. In this case they were celebrating the anniversary of a battle that had been fought and lost in the town during ‘The Troubles’. It seems the Irish never won many battles so they celebrate the ones they lost.
We stayed at B & B’s and generally selected the ones well off the main roads. Here we met so many wonderful people who genuinely made us feel welcome and treated us as part of the family. We found the Irish love Australians and love to talk about our politics and our football.
On one occasion we asked directions from a policeman. He leant his arm along the car window ledge and chatted on, seemingly with no regard for the line of cars behind us waiting for us to move. He finished by saying he had a brother in Sydney and did we know him?
Saturday night in the local pub is the place to go to enjoy ‘the craic’. It was on one of these occasions where a local farmer and his wife had befriended us that we learnt an important lesson.
As the evening wore on, the whisky and the Guinness flowed freely and the ambient noise level increased accordingly. The farmer put his arm around my shoulder and slurred “Pete, thars sumptin’ yer need to know”.
I looked at his slightly blurry face, for all the half pints were beginning to have their effect on me as well. “Pete” he said, “real men drink pints”. He then gave me a wink and a nod to be sure I understood his drift. Since then, I have only ever ordered a Guinness by the pint.
It was midnight and the band were playing but the dancing, the laughter and the talking stopped as everyone rose to their feet. This was the Irish National Anthem and here were its people, hands on their hearts, some even with tears in their eyes, in a show of National fervour, the extent of which we had never experienced, not even at an AFL football grand final. In the South they truly believe that the English will be driven out of Northern Ireland some day and Ireland will once again be united.
While on the subject of football, we were in Donegal where we learnt that the Aussies were to play the Irish that day in Dublin in what has become an annual event. The teams play a game that is governed by a combination of rules from both the Aussie game and the Gaelic football game. Being Aussies on Irish soil meant we just had to go to support our team.
The locals could not understand how we would drive all the way from Donegal to Dublin, a distance of around 240 km, just for a football game. It seems just travelling out of their County is considered a journey only undertaken in extreme circumstances. The locals just shook their heads at the oddness of these Aussies.
We met some Australian friends who had travelled over from London to watch the game. We all bought some green and gold scarves to cheer on our team and joined the local Irish supporters in a nearby pub for a few nips to warm us up before the start of the match.
After the game started, it soon became obvious that the local supporters were more interested in the physical clashes than watching the players exhibit the skills that were on display in the fast, play-on style of game, we were watching.
Leading up to half time there still hadn’t been a fight and the locals were egging on their players to throw a fist or three. As the siren went for the half time interval, what the crowd had wanted, happened. There was an all-in brawl on the field and this brought everyone to their feet. There was cheering, yelling and laughter. Blood had been spilt. The crowd was happy.
They were not so happy when the Aussies came from behind in the last minute of play to snatch a slender victory. All went quiet in the stands and with looks of disdain at our green and gold scarves, they spilled towards the exits and the local pubs. Here, we thought they would probably drink on well into the evening, for this was yet another Irish defeat in battle that needed to be celebrated.
We felt our visit to Belfast would have been pointless unless we visited the Falls Road and Shankhill Road area. While we had been warned against lingering too long in this flashpoint area, I wanted to photograph the wall murals I had read so much about.
With my wife driving and me and with the passenger window down and the camera at the ready, I got a few photos. I complained my concerned driver was travelling too fast and I missed a shot that I wanted. I asked her to take the next turn to the left. This accomplished, I reasoned we could easily ‘go around the block’. It wasn’t to be that easy as we ended up outside a building whose bold signposting left us in no doubt we were in front of the Loyal Orange Lodge.
The people on the street outside were giving us what could only be described as dirty looks and my driver was shouting at me to hide the camera and put the map on the dashboard so they would obviously recognise us as tourists. I don’t think the Dublin number plates on our car helped the situation either. Without hesitation, my would-be Formula 1 driver accelerated and wouldn’t stop, or even slow down at what I considered interesting photo opportunities, until we were well away from the area.
A quick glance at the map showed us we needed to travel in a north-easterly direction, past the Belfast airport to get to see the wonders of the north coast. With me in the navigator’s seat, still a bit cheesed about the missed photos, I just pointed to the arrows showing ‘To the Airport’ and directed my still ‘hot under the collar’ driver in that direction.
It soon became obvious that the sun does not set in the north-east, even though we were in Ireland. Checking the map, we found there are two airports that service Belfast, one in the north-east and one in the west. The navigator had done it again! My suggestion that we do a ‘youee’ across the concrete median strip of the freeway on which we were driving was treated with a string of invective that I felt could well have had something to do with the commencement of divorce proceedings.
My wife, Ursula’s maiden name was ‘Murphy’ and one of the aims of our visit was to attempt to trace her ancestry. Even though every town seems to have a pub called Murphy’s and every third person you meet also carries the name, we were fortunate in tracking down her side of the family to a little town called Kilfenora in County Clare.
It is exciting to look at land that has only a heap of stones on it and realise that this was where her ancestors lived many years ago.
Ireland was wonderful. The scenery is rugged and beautiful and the people are so warm and friendly. We found evidence still in existence of the early civilisations and the history surrounding the many castle ruins we explored is fascinating. Given the opportunity, we would return anytime to continue our travels around this fascinating country as 18 days was only sufficient time to whet our appetite.
IRISH PHOTO SCRAPBOOK
It’s upside down….. Cobh, County Cork –
but that’s the way it’s done! Last port of call for the Titanic
County Cork – Co.Kerry- Killorglin-
Blarney Castle Where the little people cross My ancestral home?
County Cork – Mizen Peninsula County Kerry – Dingle Peninsula
County Clare – Cliffs of Moher County Clare – Dolmen
County Galway – Cleggan County Galway – Aughrus More
County Galway – County Galway –
Connemara National Park Lough Inagh
County Galway – County Meath – St. Patrick lit a fire
Kylemore Castle Hill of Slane for Christianity
Where the Mountains of Mourne Country Antrim –
come down to the sea Giant’s Causway
County Antrim – County Donegal – County Donegal –
Ballintroy Fintown Countryside
County Antrim – Dunluce Castle County Cavan – Virginia