My friend, Vicki, and I were on vacation in Ireland in May, 2011. I had previously done a day trip (2006) to the island Inis Mór and wanted to stay longer, so we rented the Man of Aran Cottage for two nights. It was a gloomy, rainy morning, lowering clouds and a bit depressing. We took the ferry over and huddled with the masses of soggy tourists, trying to figure out a lift to our B&B, which was on the center of the island. We finally persuaded a shuttle bus to take us over, and we settled in nicely in our warm, dry, clean room.
The cottage is a charmingly restored thatched cottage with a peat fire. It had been used in the film Man of Aran, a 1934 film about life on the island. Our room (#5) was in the next building, recently renovated with wood floors, a decent-sized room with a window overlooking the water, and a rather tiny bathroom. By tiny, I mean by US standards; it was quite normal by European standards.
Vicki was feeling tired after our long journey, so I went out to chat with Maura, one of the owners, and explore a bit. She told me Joe Watty’s, a pub I was looking forward to visiting, served food from about 6 pm to 8:30 pm, and I was starting to get stir-crazy by then – I didn’t travel 3,000 miles to stay caged in the B&B. So, when the sun started burning through a bit, I donned my rain poncho and went walking to the nearby shops.
I wandered into Nan Phaddy’s Café to find a warm, welcoming, toasty fireplace, hot vegetable soup on the menu, and a seat near the fire waiting for me.
Jeff, the organizer of a group of forty visitors from Dublin, entered after a while, and extended an invitation to join them at Joe Watty’s later, even giving me his cell number. Since I was planning on going to the pub anyhow, I told him this would be great. With Vicki feeling tired, I wanted to have someone I knew already there. While I don’t mind going in blind, it’s much nicer if there is at least one person you’ve met before.
I headed back to the B&B. There was no rain for the first couple of minutes, and then it returned with a vengeance. When I got back to the room, Vicki was happily playing on her iPad. I set my clothes and jacket on the radiator to dry. This is when the sun decided to come out and start shining through, even revealing some lovely, much-missed brilliant blue patches in the sky. I decided to take advantage of the unusual weather and set out to walk the 4.5 miles to Joe Watty’s. I could have called a taxi, but I wanted to absorb this rare sunshine.
Since my sneakers were soaked, I put on my other shoes and started out. The walk was long and windy, up and down hills, in and out of sun and rain. I saw several folks driving, another walker, and a biker. Along the route I also saw two donkeys, about a dozen chickens, several horses, and a gang of young hostellers. When I got to Joe’s, I saw several tables marked ‘reserved’ and concluded this is where Jeff’s group was planning on sitting, but no one I knew was there yet. I went up to the bar, ordered myself a pint of cider and a smoked mackerel salad. The smoky, salty flavor of the fish worked perfectly with the sweet balsamic dressing, it was delicious. There was a match on television and everyone was very excited about it – Leinster was playing, and they won. This was evidently a good thing, judging by the cheering and other reactions. I’m rather a dunce about sports, but the mood was infectious.
Jeff and his crowd started trickling in a bit later. They were all part of a group called ‘New and Not So New in Dublin’, a social group which does all sorts of meetups and gatherings. I sat with and talked with several people. Fernando, who was from Mexico and just moved to Dublin a short while ago; Maria was originally from Belgium; Jeff, the social butterfly flitted from group to group; Louisa, who had a huge plate of stone crab claws, and was somewhat apprehensive about being able to get them open; Ken looked like a younger version of Ian McShane and was an accountant like me; Declan, had lived in Thailand for a year teaching English and was about to embark on the same job in Barcelona. Declan and I both loved trivia and history, so we chatted about gaming, films, history, and many other subjects.
After everyone finished their dinner, the pints started flowing. The singer started up, we all danced and sang to songs like The Gambler, Country Roads (really? Is West Virginia so popular in Ireland??), Piano Man, With or Without You, Daydream Believer, Fields of Athenry, Molly Malone, Stuck in the Middle with You, Galway Girl, etc. The place was now packed, with at least one hen party (bachelorette party), several groups of guys, and a couple of outright stumbling drunks.
I went outside for some cooler air, as the wind was still whipping about with bits of rain. There was a pub dog playing fetch with whoever was willing to throw the straw (we couldn’t find a proper stick for him). The wind was raw and wild, so it drove me back inside for more fun.
As it neared eleven, I decided to find a lift back to the cottage – I didn’t want to get stuck walking back in that weather. I made my way through the dancing crowd to the bar, and asked one of the girls to ring up a taxi for me. When I went outside, an older guy in a blue van was there, one who had refused us earlier in the day – he wanted €15 for a five mile drive. I thought perhaps he wanted to haggle, so I offered €5. I had been told €5 was normal. He said €5 wasn’t even going to pay for the petrol – ‘now shut the door, the weather is coming in.’ Well, I went back into the pub, and asked the girl if this was really the going rate, or was he trying to gouge me? PJ, the owner of the bar, heard me, and got very upset. He said it was a ridiculous sum, and he’d take me himself.
Now, the pub was STUFFED with people. He had a great staff, but for him to leave his own pub in the middle of a Saturday night crowd just to take a tourist home was incredible. He was livid about the taxi driver, and wanted to make sure this wasn’t the impression I took away about Irish hospitality. PJ, you more than made up for that man’s attempt to gouge the tourist. Your kindness and help is what I will remember and pass on to everyone who will listen. Thank you!
I am very glad I didn’t attempt the walk back, as it was by now pitch black, and there was NO light on the route. I would have used up what was left of my cell phone charge to try to see and not stumble on some unsuspecting donkey or tumble over a dry mortar wall.
So this was my very long story of a blustery, cold, dark night on an Irish island – and a kind, chivalric pub owner named PJ who wiped out the rude antics of the gouging taxi driver.
This was an excerpt from my new eBook on travel in Mystical Ireland. Please check it out!
Ireland: Mythical, Magical, Mystical – A Guide to Hidden Ireland
You can also find me at www.greendragonartist.com and www.facebook.com/greendragonartist.