Thursday, March 17, 2016
Wept for my Daddy-o
In the past, I've posted excerpts from my unedited 2005 Ireland journals in order to mark St. Patrick's Day. Those previous entries can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. Hoping to wrap it up a bit more quickly, I will post the final three pieces over the next few days.
In the morning I jumped on a three-day Paddywagon tour of the south. Joey our driver was a bit of a nutter, suddenly launching into song or impressions of Gollum, claiming to hear voices. Throughout the day, he'd sing a dozen or so old Irish folk songs, plus a pop song or two. They'd jump into his head based on what he'd see. (I did the same, being cursed with Spinal Tap's "Hellhole" after seeing the Murder hole at Blarney Castle.)
During the long drive, he regaled us with stories of Irish history. He talked of the Celts covering their bodies with white clay to scare invaders into thinking the island was populated with ghosts. As he said this, I could almost see white figures dashing through the forest. We passed a large open plain where some of the battles in Braveheart had been filmed. Two locals had achieved notoriety by having their van drive through the background during one of the scenes. I guess the producers hadn't expected any Irishman actually going to work at 5 a.m. The passing landscape certainly suited medieval battles. Ruins punctuated the green grids of hedge-bordered fields. Two horses frolicked just off the road.
Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel, a medieval fortress standing atop a rock. The atmosphere of the place was incredible, huge open chambers interconnected by high arches and circular stone stairs. The roof was nearly gone, and the crows looked down and laughed. Defensive slits in the wall looked out onto a graveyard, Celtic crosses high on the hill. Some of the graves had relatively recent dates, forming part of the walk around the back of the cathedral. A small angel marked a child's grave. At the top of the ground was a huge ornately carved stele which had broken two-thirds of the way up, the shattered pieces now littering the base.
We drove down toward Tipperary (which wasn't such a long way). Nearby Cahir Castle was still complete, a testament to its strength. Oliver Cromwell ended up keeping it rather than razing it, recognizing the strategic value. It was at a confluence of rivers which formed a V-shaped drop like a fun park ride. No doubt it had once been a sacred Celtic site. I admired the defenses, not unlike those utilized by the Japanese. Circular stairs rose clockwise as it would be harder for a right handed man to wield his sword. A cannonball was lodged in the wall where it had hit. I had my first look at a wrought-iron spiked gate , as I'd seen in films. The main chamber was quite warm and had incredibly thick walls. Over the fireplace at the room's far end hung the enormous antlers of a prehistoric deer. I enjoyed climbing up and down the curved stairs, popping into damp stone rooms, peering through archery slits, precariously moving along narrow walks high atop the cubist walls. I also learned that prisoners here, as throughout the UK, had an 'M' for malefactor branded on their right hands. This is why we raise it while swearing on a bible.
The land grew hillier the further we drove into Cork. We passed Cob'h and its deep port, the Titanic's last port of call. The ship must have looked immense against the small town and low hills. We passed through a few market towns, noticeable due to their wide streets. Some towns had essentially a single structure running the street length, individual homes demarcated by different colors of paint. At one point, we passed a camp of caravans. It is said that they were perhaps the descendants of farmers uprooted during the famine. Or they may go back 8000 years.
Our next stop was Blarney Castle, an incredibly tall narrow structure that rose out of a beautiful patch of landscape of fast-moving brooks, low stone bridges, and open expanses of green. As at Cahir, I wound round and round the steps. The top was open to the air, paths leading around perimeter to the Blarney Stone. An attendant held you in place while you lay on the stones, bending backward over the wall to kiss a stone hanging perpendicular. The stone was shiny from years of handing and kissing (though I've also heard that the locals come piss on it at night). Back down at the castle's base, I found the grounds amazing, following the paths around the Rock Close and its wonderfully Tolkienesque landscape. There was a peace and stillness that I'd not found since arriving in the Uk the week before. (I later found out that I had been in an old pagan temple.) I walked across the bog to an awaiting pub. I liked the way the earth molded to me feet as I walked it. The feet up, I had a pint of Murphy's drunk more regularly in Cork than Guinness.
Coffee in hand, I hopped the bus and we did our final push to Killarney. The road got wilder from here. As we entered the Cork and Kerry mountains Joey began to sing Whiskey in a Jar. He told us the story of Micheal Collins, killed in these hills. You could see how easy it would be to launch guerrilla attacks from such a landscape, a landscape of large boulders, steep hills, dense scrub, and fast rivers. Waterfalls hugged the ridges as they dropped below the treeline, all a dense mass of small pines. Though a bit inhospitable, everything was in miniature. It was a place where legends began.
We pulled at dusk into Killarney, this perfect little tourist town of narrow streets. Dinner was at a pub. Members of Paddy Wagon's six-day tour came in on their last night. Their body language was completely different to ours, having had nearly a week to bond. We on the other hand were still acting like middle-schoolers at a dance. After dinner, we headed off to another pub for a drink called a car-bomb, which consisted of a shot each of Baileys and Jamesons, dropped into a pint of Guinness and then slammed. It was tasty, like cocoa, but was like an express elevator to the brain. Some live music came on, and like the present company, wasn't terrible interesting to me, so I set off to find some trad music. I'd forgotten to replenish my cash from my room and had only €3.20 in my pocket. Luckily, I found a half-pint for €2.45, which I sat nursing, surrounded by a bunch of old timers grooving to four middle-aged men badly mic'd...
On the turntable: Andrew Hill, "Compulsion"
On the nighttable: Honore de Balzac, "Lost Illusions"