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the Goliard

June, 2005

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The Snapper's Tour of Ireland


Part 1- Dublin
Part 2: Galway

Part 3: Trim

The morning after my memorable last night in Salthill spent at O’Connors, I savored my breakfast, said my farewells to Catherine, and was out the door of the Carraig Beag B & B. I wandered down the road to the bus stop, which was opposite the sea and on the fringes of a blustery golf course. As I waited for my bus for nearly an hour, I watched in amazement as groups of stocking cap clad golfers attempted to drive their balls into the teeth of the gale force winds. Since I could barely stand up straight against the blow, I couldn't imagine that the golf was all that enjoyable but you wouldn't have guessed it by the number of people that seemed to be playing that morning. I guess if you sit around waiting for perfect conditions out on the old courses in this part of the world you probably wouldn't end up playing much golf. I watched one grizzled bloke sky his tee shot straight up and have it actually blow back and land behind him. That's got to be frustrating given that the point of the game as far as I know is to advance the ball forward. Anyways, I was so thoroughly entertained watching the duffers battle past that I lost track of time before I suddenly realized that I had less than an hour to get into Galway and catch my train back to Dublin. Since there was still no sign of the bus, I got jittery and decided to play it safe and hail a cab. I didn't see a bus anywhere on the road during the drive in either so it seemed like I'd make a good call when the cabby whisked me to the front of the station. I waved goodbye to Galway and jumped on the train.

Unlike my trip from Dublin, my return train left at 11 on the dot and arrived in the heart of the city right on schedule. I grabbed a sandwich and walked out to jump on the #90 bus that runs between Dublin’s two main train stations, Connolly and Heuston. The bus also has a scheduled stop at a bus station in between the two so when it made the stop I hopped off to take a stroll around and stretch my legs. I happened to glance up at the board and noticed that there was a bus for Trim leaving in fifteen minutes. It's not often you actually get to improve connections so I decided to change plans and grab it. The bus was half-empty and it was a comfortable hour ride out to Trim passing through sleepy burgs with names like Drogheda, Slane and Navan. The bus dropped me off in the middle of town opposite the castle and tourist information. I got my bearings and headed to my B&B which was a short walk away off on the outskirts of the village.

I arrived at Tigh Cathain B&B at the same time as a French couple and a tall dark stranger. The stranger, it seemed, somehow just emerged from the shrubbery that surrounded the place. Mr. Keane who was mowing his little side lawn with his grandson came over to greet us and informed us that Mary Keane, the proper hostesss, had just taken a jaunt down the road and would be back shortly. We all stood around shuffling our feet since the Mr. seemed a bit at a loss but eventually he got it together and showed us to our rooms before getting back to his mowing. Tigh Cathain has a rural country vibe to it and I immediately felt completely relaxed in my big cozy room. I freshened up a bit and decided I'd better head back into town to check the status of what public transportation I would have to navigate to get back in to the Dublin airport. I arrived just as the TI was about to close but I was told that I would have to catch the bus back to Dublin and connect to the airlink bus from there. I was pleased to learn that there were four busses leaving between 6:45 and 8:00 am on Monday so I would have little problem making my 11:45 AM flight.

The castle was about to close for the day so I decided to save Trim’s most spectacular tourist attraction for Sunday. It was a nice evening though so I spent the rest of it wandering the grounds of the castle and along the Boyne River. I visited the old ruined Benedictine abbey of St. Mary and the sprawling ruins of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. As I walked back over the green rolling hills beneath the ruins of the “Yellow Steeple,” I came upon an elderly man training a beautiful sorrel horse. I stopped and chatted with this Irish country gentleman and got a chance to pet the majestic animal (whose name it turned out was Hugo) a couple of times on the snout. I'd heard that the Irish love their horses and it especially appeared to be the case in this part of Ireland known as County Meath.

As if to contrast the pastoral equine experience I'd just had and remind me that some things are universal despite any seemingly idyllic landmarks one might encounter, I next walked directly beneath the Yellow Steeple and was drinking in the historic beauty when I encountered a group of teenagers who were huddled behind it to do some drinking of their own. They were pounding down what appeared to be a full rack of 24 bottles of beer and one of them asked me in a sardonic Irish lilt if I liked the “Yellow Steeple.” I didn't want to seem uncool and stodgy so I said that it was alright I guessed and they responded with “It is only a bleeding pile of stones, Man!” True enough I supposed and muttered something about them being 14th century stones that had seen quite a bit of history. "Oh toss off," one of the youths remarked. "Here's a little history for you," He then pulled out his member and proceeded to urinate against the ancient wall. As I was strolling away, hoping they wouldn't decide to pick up some of said stones and pelt me in the back, I was reminded of a James Michener line I once read that talked about how the hallmark of a true native is to be totally unmoved in the face of such historical grandeur. Or something like that. Anyway on that note I wandered inside the Castle Fish and Chips and ordered a platter of their best. I ate my dinner at a picnic table below the walls of the castle trying to envision what it would have been like in its heyday in the 1220’s. It was certainly easy to understand why this castle was chosen as a location for the movie Braveheart.

Gustatorially satisfied, I strolled along watching as the sunset fell over the castle until I came to the James Griffin Pub where I ducked in and ordered a pint. I struck up a conversation with an Irish couple who were around my age and all atitter about something. They eventually explained that the final episode of American Idol had just concluded. "Enough with the reality checks", I thought to myself. "What's next, ordering up a pint and getting a Budweiser?" When I expressed disbelief that the show was even on in Ireland the couple tittered some more and explained that not only was it on but many folks had been placing bets on who the winner would be and a bloke up at the bar had won something like 200 Euros. I didn't complain when whoever the lucky sot was bought us a round. Overall, I found the James Griffin to be a very friendly pub with a great atmosphere. It was comprised of a series of little rooms with plenty of old photos of county champion Irish football teams plastered about. Once the thrill of American Idol died down, everyone was talking about a big county Irish football match the next day between West Meath and Kildare. I was told to come back Sunday afternoon to take in the match if I wanted a sample of what real sport watching in a pub was all about. It didn’t take very much persuading and I said that I'd be there. I walked back to the B&B where the breeze was blowing in across my sheets from the Irish countryside. I crashed into a deep sleep.

I awoke the next morning and took my place at the bountiful breakfast table. The French couple who, it turned out were relocating to the area and were searching for a place to live, joined me first and explained their situation. They both worked for the European Union and would be taking posts in the ministry of agriculture whose offices were located in the county somewhere. The other folks that ended up dining that morning were a middle-aged couple from South Africa and the dark stranger who, under closer inspection turned out to be a fancy looking dandy bloke named Jose Maria who didn't say where he was from and also didn't waste any time fluttering his eyes at me and letting me know, as he peeled a banana, that he wouldn't mind getting to know me a little better. Despite the distracting pathic coquetry, the breakfast was filled with stimulating conversation about the upcoming French and Dutch vote on the European Constitution. One of the aspects I most enjoy about staying at B&B’s is the people you meet and the international flavor to the conversations that inevitably take place. Jose Maria must have had the same idea since he let it slip that he actually lived right there in Trim but chose to habitate B and B's in order to meet the travelers that came through.

It was a beautiful day and I savored my walk into town at least until I noticed that Jose Maria seemed to be tailing behind me at a distance. I decided to ignore him and joined the first guided tour of the day inside the castle gate. I was not disappointed. Trim Castle is the largest Norman castle in Ireland and serves as an ominous reminder of the continuous and tenuous Norman presence in Ireland during the 13th century. As we wandered the castle keep and listened to our knowledgeable tour guide, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the Norman lord Hugh de Lacy and his family living within these 70 foot high walls. When the tour ended I went off exploring and climbed high within the turrets up winding stair cases to enjoy the view. As I turned to descend from one of them,  I found Jose Maria coming up and blocking my way.

I took the opportunity of being on the upper step to pull rank and finally make it clear to Jose Maria that I wasn't interested in his overtures and he of course acted like he hadn't been making any to begin with. He said he simply wanted to tell me this tale of how he and some friends from a "heritage society" had joined some protesting 'modern day Celtic warriors' and invaded Trim Castle at the beginning of the Saint Patrick's Day Parade the year before. According to Jose Maria, they had entered the castle at night by climbing the wall with a ladder and then hung a banner stating 'No Hotel Here' opposite the building site of a proposed new lodge. I was able to find a picture later of the sign so I guess the story is true on some level. Apparently the Trim Town Council had approved plans for a four-story structure of some kind directly opposite Trim Castle, which I had just learned on the tour was Ireland's largest and most important medieval fortification. And this despite the fact that fifty thousand pounds had just been paid out of EU restoration money to buy and restore the site and ensure it's historical sanctity. Jose Maria added that 11 nuns had already been exhumed to make room for a parking lot for the castle and he and his mates didn't want to see any more modernization. He mentioned as well that a local developer had been making plans to add something called 'Braveheart's Disco' and his group was planning more protesting and mayhem.

The ongoing scandal, explained Jose Maria, was that the Minister for the Environment, a Mr. Cullen, declined to accept a recommendation from Heritage officials that an appeal should be lodged, saying he was satisfied that the scheme to build the lodge had been revised to mitigate its impact. Cullen was something of a bastard, according to Jose Maria, and had done little to protect the castle and the area immediately surrounding it during his tenure - even though an EU plaque on the castle's wall celebrating the protection of heritage bares his name. As fascinating as I found this story, I was tiring quickly of Jose Maria, who was getting more and more shrill the further along in the story he got. I managed to extricate myself from his company when he stopped to introduce himself to a group of unwitting school boys from Wales who were using the narrow hallways for a little roughhousing and a few games of pinch bottom.

Following my castle tour I didn't have any other pressing tourist type engagements so I bought a Sunday newspaper and a cappuccino and settled into an outside table at a cafe opposite the castle. I had planned for Trim to be a relaxing wind down at the end of an active trip and with the sunny mild weather I was pleased with my decision as I settled back to read the paper and get a local's perspective on things. I watched a Guinness delivery truck rumble past and then went for another walk along the river Boyne and back into town, followed by lunch and more newspaper. I of course made it back to the James Griffin for the big Irish football match between West Meath and Kildare. Irish football is a cross between soccer and rugby as far as I can tell. A kick between the poles gives the team 1 point and a kick into the goal gives the team 3 points. Other than that it seems to be pure carnage but very entertaining. I drank my pints and watched as Kildare prevailed 14-11.

By the time I stumbled back to my room, it was all I could do to pack and prepare to fly back across the Atlantic. The next morning I made good connections, catching the 7:00 a.m. bus to Dublin where I made an easy jump onto the airlink to the airport. I was at the airport in good time, checked in and headed to the terminal cafe to read the paper and prepare for my journey back to reality. This reality came at me full on as 500 passengers for two Air Lingus trans-Atlantic flights packed into a waiting area designed to hold 200 passengers at the most. In short order however I was in the sky looking down on the miles of ice that is Greenland and before long we were banking hard on final approach over the beaches of Santa Monica. I stepped into the terminal at LAX tired yet invigorated by my trip and armed with the pleasant memories of the emerald island and the comfort of knowing I will return again one day. 

Notes from Trim:
 
Tigh Cathan B&B: 4 Goliards
Castle Fish and Chips: 4 Goliards
James Griffen Pub: 5 Goliards
Trim Castle: 5 Goliards
Trim: 5 Goliards
Pints of Guinness in Trim: 6 Goliards
Total Pints of Guinness in Ireland: 30 Goliards
Ireland: 5 Goliards

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