A Walk Through Ireland With Me Da
Chapter 2: To Anascaul and Antarctica
The morning came with a little leprechaun riding around inside my head like Eamon Morrissey’s character in Eat the Peach, banging away with his shillelagh. But I’m still warm throughout with the memories our first night in Ireland. And the last drams of Paddy whiskey distilling its way through my system.
My dad had already risen and was watching the local news in the lounge with a confused look on his face. I could hear John clanking around in the kitchen.
“I’m having a hard time understanding what anybody is saying with their accents.” My dad whispered to me.
I whispered back. “That’s because they’re reading the news in Gaelic.” A language that is only remotely understood after a minimum of four years of schooling or an equal number of pints. Actually, even with the busty blonde beauty of a newscaster reading the headlines, it still sounded a bit like the Swedish Chef after smoking a fatty.
“Look what everyone at the bar did.” He handed me a birthday card signed by the townsfolk at the Junction Pub last night. Today was, in fact, my dad’s birthday. He mentioned it last night in the hopes of getting a peck on the cheek from one of the barmaids. I looked up from the dozen or so signatures of strangers that had now become friends at my dad’s grin. I couldn’t have planned a better kick-off to his 64th year.
We sat down at a small table near the picture window that gave us an early morning gander at the entire peninsula. Green rolling hills. Diamond sparkled waves. Even the sun came out to check the scene. Ahhh, the Dingle Peninsula. It could also be called the Dangle Peninsula since its wee phallocentric land mass flashes out into the vast Atlantic Ocean like Gary Coleman trying to mount Bridgette Nielsen.
“And what would you boys be wanting for breakfast?” asked John, wiping his hands on a towel he had tucked into his dress pants as a makeshift apron. His blue-striped silk tie was flipped over his shoulder.
“Give us the full fry up.” I said. I glanced at my dad who wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but found it hard to argue with anything that had the word ‘fry’ in it.
We chatted with the other occupant’s of the cottage—an elderly Englishman and his even more elderly mother. Although she seemed to have been topped off with enough piss and vinegar to outlive us all. They had driven from London and come across on the ferry for a driving tour of Ireland.
John came out and put down our proper Irish breakfast; plates laden with eggs, bangers, Irish bacon, black and white pudding, fried tomatoes and soda bread to soak up all the grease. For once in his life, my dad’s jaw fell open and words didn’t come out. But I could tell he was wishing he didn’t load up on all that fruit and cereal and yogurt beforehand.
After John had retreated to the kitchen to make breakfast for the English couple, my dad leaned over the toast rack in the middle of the table and whispered. “How much does breakfast cost?”
“Dad, this is a B & B. The first ‘B’ stands for ‘bed’. And this,” I said pointing at the glistening goodness of cardiovascular disaster on the plate before me, “is the second B. What did you think it stood for? Boobs? Actually, that’s a great idea. Part country cottage, part brothel.”
After polishing our plates, we loaded up our daypacks and made ready to go. The tab for the night was 75 euros. My dad was shocked; he thought it was that per person. Even after doing the euro to dollar calculation in his head, he thought it was a steal. This alleviated one of my worries because my dad has always, shall we say, kept a firm grip on his money. I think he got it from his mother, who would drive forty miles out of her way because she had a coupon for thirty-five cents off of vacuum cleaner bags. Dad stopped short of making us use both sides of the toilet paper growing up, but it wasn’t far off.
John told us how to find Adrinane House B&B in Anascaul and then told us how to get on the Dingle Trail from here. I was thrilled that the directions included guideposts such as “left at that big tree over yonder” and “past the break in the hedge”. We thanked him profusely for his hospitality and we were off. We followed his directions, wandering up a small road into the heart of the hill behind the B&B and finally found a signpost with the ‘yellow hiking man’ that was to become our silent guiding star for the next week. We were finally hiking the Dingle Trail.
We kept climbing up a gentle slope in between two massive hedgerows that blocked our view. But the leafy barriers were little worlds unto their own. There were massive holly bushes; trees by any definition. Their waxy leaves and siren red clusters of berries reflected the sun, giving them a fake plastic look. The hedges also burst out with runs of tiny white bells, cascades of waving red heart-shaped lanterns and scatterings of purple horns. All held together with dew-drenched Spiro-graph spider webs stretching between them.
Most of the trail consists of abandoned country roads called ‘boreens’ and narrow farming trails. When the view opened up, it looked similar to some areas I’d been in England and Scotland, but different. Greens shifted to darker shades as the hills dove down into the valleys. There were open fields where black-faced sheep looked up with mouthfuls of grass following us with thoroughly bored expressions. Maybe they were inwardly amused at watching us try to jig around the droppings they’d carpet-bombed the path with.
“They’re called ‘smart pills’.” my dad said, referring to the droppings. “Why do they call them that?” he continued, playing his own straight man. “Try some. Okay. They taste like shit. See? You’re getting smarter already.” He would repeat the joke every day for the next week. But I laughed at it every time because, well, I don’t know. Maybe it was the fresh air. Maybe it was his way of saying he was already having a good time.
Even though we stopped often to admire the views the day progressed quickly, mainly because everything was so new to us. I spent almost as much time admiring the countryside as looking at the “Holy shit. I’m here.” look on my dad’s face.
We wandered in between tight hills for awhile, admiring the stone fences that snaked up like spines to their summits, before emerging above a bay. We were looking down at Inch. A wee village that claims to be the only place “where an inch is actually three miles”. (Well, ask most guys about their junk and they’ll tell you the same thing.) Our elevated position gave us a great view of a stunning beach bracketed on both sides by crashing waves that scalloped the golden sand. It dissolved (or evolved perhaps) into wetlands on its far side. Reeds stuck out at all angles like the unkempt hair of a five-year old. While it once served as the site of Iron Age forts, it was keep and castle these days for many species of ducks and wading birds. It was also used in such movies as Ryan’s Daughter and Playboy of the Western World. So apparently if you’re a charming rogue coming to town, there’s a great chance of you scoring if you take an Irish barmaid for a horseback ride along the strand.
Having forgotten our riding clothes and being unable to discern a way down through the maze of hedges and fences, we continued on, rounding the far side of another hill and coming up on a farm. We passed through a number of them during the day, strolling by the houses and out buildings before disappearing into the rows of stone fences dividing their fields. At this particular one, a scruffy dog came bounding out after us gleefully hopping from front to back legs like furred rocking horse. He decided to follow us; even though we had to tread across a literal river of cow poo emanating from under a nearby metal shed. Had it been any deeper it could have been the inspiration for the phrase ‘Up shit creek without a paddle’.
On the far (and upwind) bank of the River Crap we stopped for a lunch of trail mix and crackers along a section of fence that had stones that seemed to approximate the shapes of our backsides. While we sat, a herd of curious cows came over mistakenly thinking it was their feeding time. The dog yapped at them, making them flinch back momentarily. You could tell by the way his mouth curled up, leaving his tongue flapping out, that he was showing off.
Towards early afternoon, we crested a hill and found ourselves staring at a Roman straight road arrowing its way through the middle of Anascaul village. Even though it was downhill, my dad was slowing down, saying his feet were hurting. He had flat feet and he was a cop. Did I mention that? I always think that’s funny.
Coming into the village, I began eyeballing buildings and muttering directions out loud. “Okay, there’s Herlihy’s pub. So we go past it and our place will be on the left.”
“That’s not right.” said my dad.
“No, John said to go past the pub…”
“That’s what I mean. Why are we going past a pub.” He turned and headed for the door.
“Good lad!” I shouted. I have an attraction to old pubs that must extend from a past life and I’ll be glad to discuss it at length (over pints, of course). But this was a good sign to see my dad already catching on to the camaraderie found within their cozy confines.
After a quick Guinness and a couple packets of salt n’ vinegar crisps we wandered past a little park and saw our B & B tucked into a tidy yard surrounded on all sides by high hedges nearly as tall as the house itself.
A burly middle-aged man answered the door. He had a bit of mutton-fed heft to him, but you could tell there was strength in there still. He would have made a good extra in a Guy Ritchie gangster movie. Put him in a leather jacket and some trainer pants and let him just glower in the background muttering about stuff going ‘pear-shaped’. But what is it with guys running B&Bs, I thought? Where are the little old ladies with aprons and homemade jams? Mr. O’Donnell told us we had arrived a bit early and our bags were still being delivered. If we wanted, he said, we could grab a pint at the South Pole Inn right across the street.
Sounded like a good idea to us.
The South Pole Inn got its name because it was once owned by the most unfamous famous Arctic explorer Tom Crean. He was a local boy who undertook two expeditions with Robert Scott and Shackelton’s immortal journey aboard the Endurance. While waiting for my pint to settle I wandered around the few tiny rooms looking at all the historic photos on the walls. There were a couple of Sir Edmund Hillary, who had visited here to honor him. His giant red face filled the foreground, standing at the bar, surrounded by admirers right where my pint was waiting.
As we were working the bottom half of our glasses, a couple walked in. We recognized them as the Aussies who had passed us on the final descent into town. We struck up a conversation and soon learned that Murray and Deb were also hiking the Dingle Way.
At our Mr. O’Donnell’s suggestion, we supped at the Randy Leprechaun further up the road. On the way, we counted about six pubs to two other businesses. The Leprechaun had decent food, but it was clear it was the college student party backpacker hostel-staying crowd.
Betwixt the pints, the hike and the remnants of jet lag, my dad was pretty beat. I trusted him to find his way across the road and into our room. I took a right turn and headed back into the South Pole Inn. I ran into Murray and Deb who were just finishing up what looked like some amazing burgers. Irish beef is supposedly the bomb. We stayed for a few more rounds of the ‘dark stuff’ and got to know each other a little more. He was a psychologist and she was a nurse. Their kids were back home looking after their place while he was here for a conference and she came to join him.
Debs admitted something she asked me not to repeat to my dad. They had seen us at The Ashes the night before and Murray bet her we were also hiking the Way. But she saw my dad and said he looked too out of shape to be doing it. I laughed, but had to admit that despite my dad’s still prominent beer belly, he kept up on the hike. Granted, we had gone slower and stopped more often, but he did it. And I was impressed.
I stayed for one more after they had gone before making my own way across the street. Instead of heading into the hedge that hid the B&B, I veered left (voluntarily if I remember) into the little park that had a life-size statue of Mr. Crean. I just stood in the moonlight staring at his legacy forged in copper that had grown a verdigris the color of the surrounding hills. He had joined the British Navy at 15, lying about his age to get in. He’d hiked hundreds of miles in attempts to get to the South Pole. He had been on board the Endurance for god’s sake. He has a glacier and a mountain named after him. And all this was before he served in World War I. And came back home to open a pub. He was a lot of man for a man. After all that, it was a burst appendix that did him.
All I could do was stand there on a small part of land that he had put his boots on and, out loud to the dark, proclaim him a bad ass. I was a mere traveler in the presence of a true adventurer. I raised an invisible pint to his honor and wobbled my way back to our room. Where my dad was already snoring like a walrus in heat.
[In Our Next Episode: “Now this is a hardware store!”]