Saturday, April 26, 2008

From Cashel To Cromane, Part One

I am back in California now, and there are still plenty of stories to tell about Ireland. I would really like to get as many of them down as possible, but I know myself. If I set out to write out each day chronologically, I won't get far. So I'll tell them as they come to me. Some time later, my editor can arrange them. I'll be the best storyteller I can be.

I woke up in Cashel on a bright, Wednesday morning. I stayed in what was definitely the nicest hostel I'd been in. I said good-bye to Roger, a lonely Canadian man I'd met the night before. Of course, his story is another story. I attempted to give him a little Good News Gospel of Luke, but he bolted. "I'm not religious!" PING! (that was a bullet-like sound effect of him running.) I don't often attempt such blatant things, but I figured there's a time for it. Oh well. We're called not to succeed but to try.

I walked for perhaps thirty minutes through the small town of Cashel to the other side, where I was hoping I'd get a westbound lift in the direction of Killarney, perhaps through Tipperary. Whether it was a long way there would depend on my fortunes in thumbing. My goal was to reach the Ring of Kerry, a beautiful coastal range that everyone told me I had to see.

The last time I hitched, I had purchased a red marker that didn't really work, and made a little maple leaf on a piece of cardboard. It's good to let people know you're a visitor, and not just a local axe murderer.

I walked to a roundabout, and put out my thumb, with my maple leaf proudly displayed. Hmm.... Not... much... traffic... here. Maple leaves won't help the traffic pick up, will they. Well, I trust in the Lord, not traffic patterns, right? I thought I just felt like walking anyway, so I stuck out my thumb and walked.


Eventually I came to another roundabout, with a sign pointing in the direction of Tipperary. Aha. More traffic here. Very good.

Soon a little red car pulled over. As I approached the door, I noticed the driver grab a small, wooden stick from the back seat and put it next to him. It looked like a coffee table leg. Now, I would have been more concerned if not for remembering my friend Jimmy. This is exactly what he would have done. Safety first. This guy doesn't know if I'm a psycho.

Stephen turned out to be a good man. Serious, but friendly. I even noticed him cross himself quickly as we passed a church. We chatted, and he mentioned what almost every person who picked me up mentioned. "I used to hitch a lot." He got me as far Tipperary without beating me to death. It was not such a long way, after all.

After just a few minutes, a great, big lorry rolled up. "Sweet!" I was hoping I'd get a ride in a big rig some time. I climbed in and was greeted by a young man with a strong brogue named Eddy. We talked, and he took me to Limerick. Ah, Limerick. If only I'd known what would happen in Limerick just a few days later.

I climbed out of Eddy's truck, and walked to the other side of the roundabout, and under an overpass. I waited for about 20 minutes, holding my little cardboard maple leaf, standing by a big road sign, my finger pointed at "Killarney: 120 km".

A little van pulled over, and I hopped in. He was going all the way to Killarney. Thank-you, Lord.

David was a working man. His business was glass and glass installation. His company provided the windows for one of Ireland's major airports, and he received a few phone calls while we drove.

David's wife and daughter lived in Germany. Though the split was amicable, a split is still a split. We talked about hitching, and how few people do it anymore.

"Just ten years ago, you used to see people thumbing all the time, but now everybody's got their own car. No one does it anymore. The country's changed. People are more materialistic now. You gotta have the house and the car and all the nice things. All that gets you is a separation and a daughter in another country."

I had a really good time with David. We stopped at a petrol station, where he bought me a coffee and a chocolate bar. Later on we stopped at a lookout point to take a couple pictures.

We eventually pulled into Killarney, a place where Bing Crosby claims it is good to spend Christmas, and David asked a cabby where the tourist office was. He figured that would be the best place for me to find my way around from. I half wanted to invite him to hang out for a while, but he had a client he had to see. I stepped out of the van and grabbed my bags. A solid handshake later, David was pulling away.

I approached the tourist office to figure out where the heck I should go. I knew I needed to see the Ring of Kerry, but it's big and I didn't know where to begin. The girl at the desk pointed me in the direction of Kenmare, a small town at the edge of the Ring. There would be hostels there.

And so I was walking out of town again, thumb poised for a hitch. I stood next to a field where a lone horse casually ate his grass, and only gave me a passing glance. It took a while, but I was quite surprised when the person that decided to pick me up was a girl with a toddler in the back.

Sasha had done a lot of hitching, so she wasn't afraid of picking me up. We drove one of the windiest roads I'd been on, which is saying a lot. It was a breathtaking drive through thick trees, beside mountains, and next to rivers. Sasha and her son got me as far as Moll's Gap, a place on a mountain where the road divides.

It was very, very windy and cold.

I put the flaps down on my old newsies cap, stood by road, and hoped for the best.

Little did I know, that the best was yet to come.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sleeping Under The Stars in Limerick.

I was in Dingle for a few days, with many other stories to tell, but I'll tell the one I just wrote out in an email for my new friend Simon.

I walked with Simon to the roundabout, said bye, and walked up the road a bit. I looked back. There was another hitcher behind me. He looked like a local. I asked him where he was heading and he said Anascaul. I wished him luck and thought I'd either wait him out, as nobody stops for 2 guys, or if I found you I'd see if you wanted to run up there.

Anyway, I walked around the corner, I saw Robert, the guy who practically got me to Dingle two days before! He's a 68 year old Irish guy who's never seen his country, so he's driving all over the country. He ended up giving me a ride to Tralee, and purposefully took the scenic route for me. I got another ride from Tralee to Newcastle West. I stepped out of the car, and what's across the road but a little circus tent. "Why not." think I. I went to the circus. It was so cool! It was the kind of circus that hasn't existed in the States for 50 years. Just a small, family-run circus. It was absolutely magical. Balancing acts, ponies, spinning plates, clowns. I was even brought up with a couple other guys to assist the clown.

I sat next to Billy and his little daughter, and I had a great time. When it was over, I walked back across the road and pulled out my little Canadian flag sign with 'Limerick' written on it.

Billy pulled up.

"My daughter said, 'It's too cold for that man to be hitch hiking, Daddy.' So you've got her to thank."

Billy and Sarah took me to Limerick.

If you do an internet search, Limerick will appear to be like every other town in this country. Full of hostels. The internet lies. I realized quickly that I was in need of a small miracle. I walked to a Best Western to see if they'd know anything. They didn't. There's nothing. I eventually walked to the Franciscan church, where mass was about to begin. Two women stood out front collecting for a charity. I asked them if they knew of anything. Nope.

I was very tired and my back was aching, so I decided to just go in for mass and trust God for a miracle. After mass, I pulled out my bible and once again read the 23rd Psalm. As I read on to Psalm 25, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The young lady from the charity asked me if I wanted to stay with her tonight.

"Uhh... Sure!" says I.

"Please don't be a weirdo." says she.

After walking to the bus station and trying to reach hostels in Galway just in case, and realizing they were all full, we set off for her brother's apartment. She was staying there tonight. It was good to have a while to walk and talk and make sure neither of us was said 'weirdo'.

We sat and watched Conan O'Brien and some Irish talk show and I went to a nice, warm bed. I pulled out my Liturgy prayers, and noticed the glow-stickers on the wall. I turned out the lights, and realized I was sleeping under the stars.

An angel came to me in the form of a vegetarian atheist bran flake.

Now I know how Jesus will feel when he'll say, "I was a stranger, and you took me in."

Then there's how I got to Galway and met a lady on the bus from Alaska who gave me 50 Euro when we pulled into Galway, but that's another story.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Good Shepherd and Hitchhiking.

So I've been in lovely Glendolough for a couple days. I did some work for them, and they gave me a free bed. It's an amazing place. But that's another blog.

Yesterday, I went to a small mass in a small church, and a lovely young Irish woman sang the 23rd Psalm, and I nearly cried. But again, that's another story.

After mass, I walked back to the hostel, gathered up my things and said good-bye to Trish, Tara and Pam. I walked up to the crossroads, stuck my thumb out and then the second car picked me up. And really, it was the first viable car, as the first one was a single lady. Pretty cool. Mick, a white-haired Irishman with a smallish black dog in the back, drove me for 45 minutes or so, and we had good conversation and enjoyed the scenery.

Next, I waited near a gas station for 20 minutes before Eddie picked me up. Divorced father of 7, his oldest son was 22 when he died. Drowned, and had been missing for 10 days. Murder is suspected. He's in court to try to see his other children. Nice guy.

Eddie dropped me off, and then I had the longest wait in my hitching career. It was probably at least an hour or more. It started off very nice and sunny and I was standing by a green field with lambs scampering about. Then the rain came, and they sky darkened. I don't expect cars with women or children to stop, but single guys? Come on! Help a brother out! I was not despairing, but I was starting to figure out what I needed to do if it got too dark and I was stranded. There was a farmhouse whose door I could knock on. "Just tell me what to do, Lord." "Stick your thumb out."

A young guy in a working-mans sporty car drove by. Then I heard a beep. There he was. God's Servant in a blue sports car. I hopped in and Djyann gave me a ride. I actually have little idea what his name was. His accent was so thick, I couldn't quite get it when I tried to repeat it back. It could be Dan, or Dean, or Dirty Diana for all I know. Anyway, he was a nice guy. He let me off in the next town, where I found a washroom in a gas station and bought a cup of coffee. The sun was out again.

I looked out from a hillside view of the beautiful small town and its big, old, stone church just across the way. I sipped my coffee and smiled. After 15 minutes or so, a nice little grey car pulled up, and I jumped in. David, as I later learned his name, was a well-kept man. Actually, he looked a bit like Le Chiffre from Casino Royale, but pleasant and without the weird bleeding-tears thing. We talked, and I told him all about my work back home, my friends, and my life. He took me all the way to Kilkenny.

As we're pulling into town, he asks, "Would you like something to eat? My treat?"

So we went to a nice old hotel in Kilkenny, and I had fish and chips. Steady conversation for a long time, and then desert and before I could say a word, an Irish coffee. Mmm. We walked out of the hotel and into the street, and found a pub. I was starting to think of what I might need to say if this got weird. He was being really nice to me. That being said, I wasn't overly concerned. I really wasn't getting any kind of off-setting vibe from him. I know when someone's a big weirdo or starting to get creepy. I think he was truly just nice, and probably a little fascinated by my story.

Anyway, he took me to Kyteler's pub and bought me a pint, while a lively Irish, middle-aged trio sang folk songs loudly. One of the musicians said about me, "And over here is Colin Farrel!"

I finished my pint, we walked back to his car, and he drove me to a hostel just down the street. I checked in, and when I came back out to get my bags, he and all my luggage was gone. Just kidding. I got my bags, and he handed me a folded-up Euro and said "This is just a little something." I only had time to say thank-you, and he was waving good-bye. I checked the Euro's he gave me. Two fifties. No kiddin'.

I checked in to the hostel, and brought my bags upstairs. While I was very thankful for the Irish coffee, I knew it would be some time before I'd be able to sleep. So, I headed out the door and walked for a minute back down to Kyteler's. The band was playing, and I had a Smithwicks ("Smithicks").

Did you ever have a dream come true that you didn't even know you had?

They sang some American tunes, and when they began Ring of Fire, the singer called me up to sing. So I sang Johnny Cash in a pub, with a folk band, in Kilkenny, Ireland.

Folks, it just doesn't get any better than that.

Afterwards, I stood outside the pub smoking my pipe. The fellow from the band that called me up paid me the highest compliment as he walked away. "You should be an Irishman!"

I came back to the hostel, and as I lay in bed (for what turned out to be hours. thanks, Irish coffee.), I literally could not stop smiling. I started the day not knowing where I would be or how I would get there, and ended it singing Ring of Fire in a pub in Kilkenny.

Truly, He restoreth my soul.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


...while I'm in Ireland.

Captain's Log, Supplemental.

Today I moved into the Citi Hostel. I sit on my bunk bed as I write. I am very tired.

I saw the Book of Kells today at Trinity College. The college has been around since the 1600's. The Book of Kells, and illuminated manuscript of the four gospels, has been around since 800. It was pretty amazing.

I did a lot of walking today, trying to stay awake until it was actually night time here. Observances:

Everybody's really, really Irish.
Everybody smokes.
Everybody looks cool. Many look like they could kick your A.

Till next time...