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the Goliard

June, 2005


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The Snapper's Tour of Ireland    Part 1- Dublin

Part 2: Galway

When my train finally pulled into Galway, the wind off the Atlantic was driving the rain sideways and, as I jumped down onto the platform and was almost blown back across the tracks, I realized if I wasn't careful it might do the same to the Snapper. Somewhat disoriented, I bundled myself as best I could, lowered my shoulder to the bluster, and followed the signs towards Eyre Square which I knew from my reading was a place I could catch a bus. I had arranged to stay at a bed and breakfast in Salthill, a little resort town which I had selected because it was only about a 20 to 30 minutes stroll along the ocean from Galway and I thought it might be remote enough to seem like it was off alone in the Irish countryside. In the rain and wind however, I figured I'd forego any lonely strolling for now and opted instead for public transport. This decision was made even easier by the fact that I wasn’t exactly sure which direction I needed to head along the coast to even get to Salthill. Huddled in the entrance of a Bank of Ireland and nearly soaked to the bone, I spied a bus with the word Salthill on it and hurried aboard. My blunder became evident soon however when I found that I had ignored the bus number figuring there probably wouldn't be a bunch of busses heading to such a small community. I had boarded a crowded bus which did indeed go to Salthill, but it was not the desired routing that would drop me anywhere near my B and B. I ended up as one of the last ones aboard, across town somewhere, and peering out the rain streaked windows. At that point I did what any savvy world traveler would do and stayed on the bus until it had dropped every last passenger and returned back to the same stop where I had first gotten on. I then exited that bus and walked three steps to the bus parked behind which turned out to be the bus I should have been on in the first place. I was, of course, the only passenger on the second bus.

When I arrived at the Carraig Beag B & B, the proprietress Catherine Lydon met me at the door and showed me to my room. My first floor nook was cozy and had an in-room bathroom and shower. The house is a five minute walk from the beach and has a social breakfast table. Catherine is also full of information and recommendations and can book day tours to various destinations around Galway. For this evening, Catherine pointed me in the direction of a hot meal and suggested that I consider spending the following day in the Aran Islands since the forecast was for clearing and intermittent sunshine. This sounded like a good suggestion and I decided that I would purchase the ferry ticket in the morning.

I dropped off my things and headed down to Salthill. It was still raining and I didn’t really feel like trekking all over tarnation to find food so I stepped inside the first cozy restaurant I passed which was called The Galleon. I ordered a pint of Guinness and an entree called "The Cod and Baked Potato". The meal was warm and satisfying if a little bland and provided a pleasant reprieve from the rain. I set out for a post prandial and was walking past a pub called Killoran’s when I heard from within the sort of din that only emanates when folks are watching some serious sport. As I headed for the door I was greeted gruffly by a craggy bloke leaning against a wall having a smoke. “Er's good beer inside but no women,” he rasped. As it turned out, there were a few women but it was primarily a tough fisherman crowd all of whom were completely engrossed in the European Cup finals between Liverpool and AC Milan. The crowd was naturally supporting Liverpool. I ordered a pint (at this point in the account it is no longer necessary to identify what was in the pint) and joined the cheering section. A dejected ruffian leaning on the bar caught me up on the action and explained that "the tossers" from AC Milan were ahead 3-0 at halftime. Now I'm far from a fanatic soccer fan (am I being redundant?) but am familiar enough with the game to know that 3-0 is usually an insurmountable lead in most matches. Liverpool however had other ideas and came back to tie the score and send the match to penalty kicks. When Liverpool finally prevailed, the crowd went ballistic with full on back slapping and high-fiving and extemporaneous speech making regarding the superior stock of certain groups. I was glad I stopped in Killoran's despite the shortage of females.

I woke up the next day at 7 am with the smell of Irish sausage and bacon wafting under my door from Catherine's kitchen. Figuring there would be nothing like the full Irish breakfast to prepare me for an all day trek around the Aran Islands, I helped myself to seconds and thirds and chatted amicably with a young couple and their two young children who were living in Germany but were originally from Denver. Two other adventurous lasses from Washington D.C. were also at table and were also on their way to the Aran Islands. Catherine was right, the day was beautiful and sunny. The 45-minute ferry ride was invigorating with the salty spray of the Atlantic blowing in my face as we bobbed over the white caps. I talked to the girls from the B and B a little bit on the way over and they had me snap their photo but I didn't see them again after that.

When the ferry arrived at Kilroanan which is the main port on the largest of the Islands, the less savvy of the passengers were swallowed up immediately by mini van day tours, horse drawn carriages, and renters of bicycles. I managed to dodge them all and head off on foot to see the islands as my own man. The windswept expanse is criss-crossed with stone walls, ruined abbeys, old forts and Gaelic cemeteries. I spent the day ambling through all of the above and mainly enjoying the rugged peace and solitude that this desolate place had to offer. I especially enjoyed the mysterious Black Fort, which is a crumbling stone mass perched on the edge of sheer cliffs that drop straight into the Atlantic. Next stop to the west is Nova Scotia! I sat on the cliffs for an hour or more thoroughly relaxed until I sensed an encroachment from behind and found that my solitude was suddenly being overrun by a French walking tour. A couple of the French girls plopped down next to me on their stomachs and I thought about striking up a conversation but suddenly the time just seemed right for moving along.

I rode the bus all the way back into Galway City thinking I would locate some much needed supper before having a few pints. I was in fact starving having only eaten a Mars Bar to left me over since I pushed away from Catherine's morning spread and breathing the crisp sea air and walking all day had left a hollow in my pit. As I wandered up Mainguard Street, a lively pedestrian only byway with Irish music emanating out of each and every pub, I counted seven such watering holes within a hundred yards. The saucy tunes from coming out one door in particular caught my ear and despite my hunger and against my better judgment, I decided that it couldn't hurt to down at least one draught before seeking out some chow. As it turned out, I would not emerge for another few hours after consuming five pints and shattering another. So much for drinking on an empty stomach!

The name of the pub was the Tig Coili and the sign boasted that it was “home to traditional Irish Music.” The walls were indeed covered with pictures of musicians that had played at the pub over the years. It would have been a lucky bloke indeed who could have been manning a stool in there on all those nights and getting to hear the talent that passed through. I took a seat at the end of the bar with a view of the musicians at their table. Towns like Galway bring back sentimental memories of my graduate school days in Durham, England. The windy cobbled streets and all the gleeful students finishing up their exams. Galway is home to Ireland’s largest university and the term was in the process of ending. The air seemed replete with the familiar vibe that comes with the end of term and change of season.

I had stayed my hour and was contemplating moving on until the beautiful and talented Julia came on shift and took her post behind the bar. The Tig was not yet busy and Julia seemed somewhat ambivalent about it all at first as she snacked on some Planter’s Peanuts and leaned on the back bar. She noticed that I was jotting down notes and asked me what it was that I was writing. Still coherent at this point, I replied that I was taking down some travel thoughts for the Goliard while they were still fresh in my mind. She of course wasn't familiar with the publication but then I remembered that I had a wrinkled business card that one of our editors had given me a stack of once and extracted it from my wallet and handed to her. Right about then, the bar started getting crowded and Julia kicked it into gear and worked the room with a mesmerizing talent, sparkling smile and contagious enthusiasm. She undoubtedly had her admirers and I can understand why. Julia asked if I was going to write nice things about her. The answer was, of course, yes.

As the music played, the pints flowed and Julia worked her magic, I struck up a conversation with some locals. After about five pints and some lively gabbing back and forth about how the damned French had voted "non" on the EU question I realized I needed to head to the Loo. The problem was that the toilet was located all the way on the other side of the bar and it would be necessary to make my way through the shoulder to shoulder crowd if I was going to use it. Given that I had swallowed five pints on an empty stomach, this simple trip was becoming a much more formidable task than it normally should have. It was necessary to brave it however and I shuffled forth through the crowd murmuring my excuse mes and shoe horning my way along. I had almost reached my goal when I made a false move that coincided with the animated gesticulations of an innocent patron and resulted in me knocking a pint out of his hand. There is no mistaking the silence that seems to follow a shattering pint glass in a crowded bar, especially when you're the one that caused the offense.

Naturally I offered to buy the bloke another pint. The problem was that once I had used the facilities and purchased the beverage, I returned to the spot of the foul but couldn’t remember, or at least identify, who the person was among the crowd of other drinkers. The table that I could have sworn the guy had been standing near now seemed to have three women sitting on it, one of whom said "Why doncha get along ya" as I unsteadily sipped the pint and tried to snap their photo. I pinballed about some more and attempted to inquire of at least two other amazingly similar looking blokes if it was they who I owed the pint and did this by proffering it unsteadily towards them. When they both looked at me and my now half full pint as if I was crazy, I realized I was simply too hammered to function and the time had come for me to bid Julia and the Tig Coili farewell. As I was contemplating my exit, the front door seemed a long way yonder and navigating the room to get there without dashing another pint glass to the floor seemed almost an impossibility. Instead I grabbed my pack and jittered out the back door by the kitchen hoping nobody would notice as I disappeared into the windy streets of a Galway night. Not the exit I had planned but then again no one really sets out to make a complete ass of themselves. So, if you didn't throw the card away Julia and happen to read this, drop me an email and let me know if I am welcome back in the Tig Coili. I'd like to visit it again someday as, despite my humiliations, it was truly one of my favorite pubs!

The streets were strangely deserted as I skittered down various alleys trying to get my bearings and it became clear that I was drastically in need of some food. Quite possibly, I was equally in need of the bracing walk back to Salthill but the trouble was that I was totally our of gas not to mention completely discombobulated geographically by this point. Finally, after I oriented myself toward the sea, I hugged the coast and straggled along back towards the B and B. Since it had somehow gotten to be 11:30 in the p.m., I was severely running out of options to get any kind of food in my stomach but just as I had about given up and set about stumbling to bed hungry, a bright orange sign in the distance illuminated my answer. Dynasty Chinese Take-Away, open until Midnight! I crashed through the door and was pointed to a menu that must have had over 100 options. I chose Kung Pao Chicken with Pork Fried Rice. The food tasted more like sweet and sour duck and cashew shrimp and was generally pretty brutal in quality but it saved me nevertheless. The next morning, I awoke to find that my small cozy room smelled like a garbage dumpster due assumedly to some particularly noxious nocturnal combustion brought on by my suspect gastrointestinal efforts of the day before.

The Irish Breakfast invigorated me once again however at the break of a new morn and this time it was augmented with the added power of three cups of strong black fisherman's coffee. I decided to take the day tour of the Connemara Peninsula. This particular tour did not get off to a great start as we were dropped at a type of tourist trap and told we would have 30 minutes in which to browse through the trinkets. Since I didn’t need to load up on overpriced souvenirs, I decided on more coffee. We then boarded the bus only to be told that we would be switching to a smaller bus since the first one had a flat tire. Despite the slow start the day progressed much better as we drove through the rugged beauty of this western fringe of Ireland. The highlight was the spectacular Kylemore Abbey and I wrangled a bloke into snapping a shot of me standing before it. This impressive neo-Gothic country house was built in 1860 by a wealthy English industrialist but was later sold to a group of refugee Benedictine Monks who were forced to flee Belgium during WWI. Today, the Abbey is home to an international girl’s boarding school.

I once again visited Galway City but this time I decided I would get some food in my stomach up front. I made a trip inside McDonagh’s Fish and Chips and 15 minutes later I was full and properly fortified with Atlantic Cod, chips, salt and vinegar. I was ready for a few pints. After deliberating for a moment, I decided against revisiting the scene of last night’s crime, the Tig Coili and instead headed back out towards Salthill to the landmark pub called O’Connors. I almost gave up on the place and began walking back to Galway when I read the sign on the door that said "Will return at 7:30 p.m.". Instead however, I decided to pop back over to Killoran’s for a pint and then give O’Connors another try. On this night, Killoran’s was filled with an even rougher crowd than the last time I was in. No soccer tonight, just hard drinking characters and without the distraction of the soccer match on the telly I found that I was being not so subtly sized up. I didn't want to run the risk of drawing their local ire due to some U.S. fishing policy or some such that I wasn't even aware of in the event that they heard my Yankee accent so I finished my pint quickly and quietly and took my leave. 

I headed back to O’Connors and when I walked through the doors, I was instantly mesmerized with the sheer clutter of the place. Every square inch of this bar including the ceiling was filled with antiques of every size and variety, from glass fishing buoys to old lanterns, to cracked wooden paddles, to ancient stained spittoons. Nothing I can say would prepare you for the perfectly festooned and absolute hodgepodge of O’Connors. The inner bar is comprised of a series of privately situated candle lit tables in various alcoves and cubbies. This is a place to sit and spend some time. The Irish music starts at 9:30 p.m. but an eclectic mix of great music plays through the speakers until then. The place was more or less empty when I first arrived so I had my pick of seats. Soon the room began to fill with a wide range of clientele which included students of all nationalities, tourists, and locals.

I enjoyed two pints but why stop at two when you can have three. Since I love to watch people, I was in business. The table to my left was especially interesting. A beautiful German traveler and an Irish lad who appeared in over his head and who no doubt had brought the lass to O’Connors to impress her with the ambiance and uniqueness, plopped down. He immediately began floating his local knowledge. This seemed to be a good move for the lad and she had a sparkle in her eye when he mentioned that the traditional music would start fairly soon and added the tidbit that his parents knew some of the band members personally. I thought to myself that he was playing his cards right as we both listened to tales of this woman’s travels, him with a stupid grin on his face and me surreptitiously. He didn’t seem happy though all of a sudden when his cell phone chirped. I knew something was up when he fumbled to turn it off only to have it vibrate across the table a few minutes later.

I suspected that things were beginning to go south for this fellow when I heard the traveler ask him some question regarding an apparent girlfriend that he was clearly trying to down play. I had a fleeting sense of false hope that the joker would be forced to scurry home soon and the German woman would then slide over to my table once she noticed me writing in my travel journal and detected an erudition and cut of jib that she had not often encountered in other men about the world. Before my reverie could get too involved however the Irish bloke’s situation began to unravel further as he kept getting spotted by his mates who would then come over to the table and demand introductions to the new gal. As all good mates will, they also made a point of asking after the health of his steady woman. Somehow I knew that in a small town like Salthill, word would travel and this bloke was going to have some explaining to do. I entertained the idea briefly that the poor sap was merely showing a weary world traveler the inside of a traditional Irish watering hole with no ulterior motives but I doubted that was the case and who could really blame him. Just as the music began to play I overheard something about how they now had to hurry off because the apparent girlfriend had cooked a meal and they were expected over at the flat ASAP. As the two exited stage left I made eye contact with the German woman and her glance seemed to say that she was wishing she could stay and join me at my table. That's what I like to think anyway. I went to bed that night wondering where her travels would take her next and whether I could arrange to be there waiting. If it happened to be Trim where she was headed, that would work out fine since I was heading there myself in the morning.

Notes on Galway: 
Carraig Beag B&B: 5 Goliards 
Galleon Restaurant: 3 Goliards 
Killorans pub: 3 Goliards 
Aran Islands: 4 Goliards 
Tig Coili: 5 Goliards 
Chinese Dynasty: 2 Goliards 
Connemara Day Tour: 3 Goliards 
Kylemore Abbey: 4 Goliards 
McDonagh’s Fish and Chips: 4 
O’Connors Pub: 5 
Galway: 4 

Pints of Guinness in Galway: 14 
Total pints of Guinness in Ireland: 24

Part 3 - Trim

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