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November 1, 2002

With the Irish 01


 


The following is a report to friends from a lecture tour to Ireland, to Carrick-on-Shannon to be specific.


To a black crow it's offspring are bright

Or so it goes in Irish, a form of Gaelic.

Met Nancy as planned in Dublin and together we had a rainy, wet, and fortunately brief exploration of Dublin. In a matter of hours visited the Natural History museum--itself a museum of museums past--and the National Art Gallery. Then we boarded a train.

As we say to ourselves: another adventure. Let's say everything works--pretty much--and we got to our destination without mishap. Though even natives have some difficulties with Irish trains. For example to get off the train, you have to know how. We're always a little nervous about getting off at the right time and so we're on edge. As we were standing in the space between cars Nancy said, "did you read how to open the door?" I hadn't. I thought you just push on the bar. Nosirree. These were old, very old, BritRail cars from days past. Of the four doors only one had these instructions: "to open door, pull down window, reach outside and turn handle." Ok, that window was open. No problem I think. But the train pulls up to the station and the platform is on the other side. Ok, there's an Irish woman there, she knows how to do it. Wrong. She just stands there staring at the door. So I reach past her, pull down the window, which promptly wants to spring right back up, then I stick my head and shoulders out, find the handle, turn it, the door pops open, and we're free--into a pouring rain. Black as coal outside, stones glistening with rain, not another building in sight. Hmmm, not looking good. Carrick is supposed to be a regional center but this is one small station. So we grab our bags and haul them down the stone steps. Still not looking good, cars lined up, no sign of a taxi, no sign of a city, drunken men pissing on the wall (yep, in front of the parked cars with the families inside). One car is parked just outside the others and it has a hand lettered sign in the window. It's raining so hard I can hardly see out of my glasses, so I walk over and peer through the windshield. "Cab" it says. Praise the lord, a taxi. To make sure I ask him. Yep, he's a taxi. We tell him where we're going and he says sure (well, I am not sure what he said, I had a hell of a time understanding anything he said). So we wait for him to open the trunk (we do have a lot of gear with us). He finally gets the idea and gets out, loads our stuff and off we go.

Kind of the way Ireland is. It works, mostly, sort of. Reminds me of Chile, not quite a developed country, not quite an undeveloped one either. I think most middle-class yankees would have had a problem with the train station in Dublin. It was new, but dirty, broken down in places--the left baggage area was in a shipping container--but it worked. There was a train. People would answer your questions. You could find a seat, preferably not near the heavy drinkers, and the train left pretty much on time and pretty much got to its destination on time. And there was a lot--a lot--of drinking on the train. A group of men sat down near us. Carpenters into Dublin for a big building show. For some reason not one of them had a beer. I wanted to ask why, but thought that might be prying too much. I'd already got all the details on house construction in Ireland and how it differs with the states. "We like to think we build much better houses here," a young apprentice said.

We got to our four star hotel. I had my requisite two half-pints of Guinness. Had breakfast this morning and now we're ready to explore. At breakfast (full Irish breakfast includes white and black fried pudding--you don't want to know more) the radio played Irish and Country Western music and read obituaries. Yep, quite a mix.

Paul y Nancy

Carrick-on-Shannon (Cora Droma Ruisc

County Roscommon

Eire


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