Ireland, a beginning

October 16

I lose my phone on my flight between Reykjavík and Dublin, and fear the worst. If someone unscrupulous gets hold of it and manages to get through my security system (easy I’m sure for some people), they could not only run up my phone bill(s) with 2 SIMs, but get into my finances and potentially wreak havoc. I scramble to cancel accounts and change passwords, and as the day wears on and I go from plane to bus to foot my back begins to ache. Before long I have shooting pain gripping my lower right side, reminiscent of the start of the muscle spasms that put an end to my walking the Camino 4 years ago. Immediately I go to the land of despair. I can’t endure that again, is all I can think.

By the time Jim and his niece Brid meet me at the bus station I’m a mess. I haven’t slept in more than a day and I’m about ready to just lie down on the floor and roll around on any hard pointy surface I can find to wedge up under the offending muscles. They take me back to Brid’s house in Barna where I drop my stuff on the floor of the room they have allotted to me, then ask for a hard ball or ball-like object. Brid gives me a cat toy. It’s not as hard as I would like, and is covered in little spines. It’s bright yellow and lights up and vibrates when you squeeze it. What the hell, I think, and lie down on top of it. Twenty minutes later I feel improved enough to get up and do some stretching, then Jim and I walk down to a nearby pub and have dinner. I drink half a pint of stout with my seafood chowder and brown bread. When we get back to the house, passing 2 donkeys on the way, I go straight to my room and check my email. Wow Air found my phone. For about $32, they will send it to Pippa’s house in England. So that’s the plan. Relieved I take 1000 mg of ibuprofen and fall asleep.

Oct 17 Barna, Galway Ireland 

I don’t wake up until almost ten. I feel like I could just stay in bed all day, drifting in and out of sleep, but as that may be construed as antisocial, I get up. I have a cup of coffee and eat some yogurt and begin what turns into the long process of making arrangements for the airline to return my phone to me. In the afternoon Jim and I go for a walk into Barna, then stop on the way back at a small bakery and pick up an apple tart, which proves to actually be a berry tart, for afternoon tea. 

I have never been in a house like this before. From the outside it looks ordinary, a pretty cottage much like any other around here, but when you walk inside you quickly realize it is essentially one long twisted hallway with closed doors on either side here and there. Inside the rooms I’ve so far glimpsed, all small, are a kitchen, 2 bedrooms (one I’m using), a sitting room, a music room where Brid gives piano, flute and guitar lessons, and 3 bathrooms – one just a toilet, one a toilet, sink and tub, and one just a shower. I’m dying to knock down a few walls. 

They keep a key in the outside door, in the outside keyhole, during the day, presumably so they can come and go and won’t get locked out. All of the inside doors have locks with skeleton keys in them and at night, one of them goes from room to room and locks the doors from the outside. I discover this when I get up to go to the bathroom at night and when the door won’t open, assume someone is inside. I wait in the dark, the silence from within finally convincing me to feel around. When I do so my fingers stumble into the key.

Brid and her husband Sean live here alone, their 3 daughters grown, married and moved away. They now have 3 cats, two of which she inherited from her mother. The mother, according to Brid, had amassed 25 cats in the years prior to the illness which led to her death. When she got sick to the point where she could no longer care for them, when she herself required care, Brid began trying to find new homes for them. The majority were so feral, she said, they had to be euthanized, while a few went to a local shelter. Brid took the last two herself. The third, Snowy, belonged to a neighbor who relinquished ownership when the cat was injured and needed expensive surgery which resulted in the loss of his right hind leg. Brid and Sean applied for ownership to the vet who had been entrusted with his care and got it. Snowy is the only one of the three cats who is sociable and he is as loving and trusting as the other two are remote and skittish. 

In the evening we all sit in the small sitting room where Brid serves us pizza. Sean has recently suffered from a blood clot in his lung and consequent heart problems. He appears much younger than his 81 years and still works in the garden daily. He smiles often and seems a gentle man, and barely speaks at all. Brid, 20-something years his junior, talks enough for them both, and punctuates every other sentence with a trill of a laugh, the kind that you think is over long before it actually is. I try a few times to converse with her but each time I start speaking I discover she is still laughing, which turns into another sentence or two, and the cycle repeats. I give up and just listen, smile and nod. Like Sean. 

Oct 18 Barna

Jim and I catch the early bus to Galway so that I can visit the tourist information office to get ideas about where to go from here. After that we eat breakfast and meet Brid for our day trip south of Galway to see: William Yeats’ home; the grounds of what used to be a lavish home belonging to a friend of his (now a park); and what’s left of a 13th century monastery. When Brid pulls up to collect us a young woman gets out of the car to greet us. She introduces herself as Julia and says she volunteers with Brid at a nearby bird sanctuary. I like her a lot. She’s friendly but not overly chatty, and as we converse she reveals herself to be a serious and quite mature young woman. I don’t ask her outright her age, but I gather from the things she says that she’s about 20 or 21. I wish we had more time to spend together, I wish I could invite her to visit me in California, but our outing is over before I know it and we’re dropping her off back in Galway. I know I’ll never see her again.

This evening we all eat spring rolls and salad in the sitting room and watch Judge Judy. Then Sean goes to bed and Brid confesses how hard it’s been with Sean sick, and how worried she has been. She talks of being in the ER and no chairs to sit in, it was so packed, that she climbed into the gurney with Sean. It is the first conversation in which she doesn’t laugh once. Then Jim goes to bed too, but Brid wants to stay up for the presidential debate and I decide to watch it with her, curious to see if it differs much in format and style from the U.S. debates. It doesn’t. It’s basically a running argument and mud slinging contest with very little if any real content and no constructive dialogue or platform revelations whatsoever. I find it so depressing that I go off to bed before it’s half over. In the morning I ask Brid if it got better. No.

Oct 19, 2018

Today it’s raining so we drive north into County Mayo and take a short walk at Clough Patrick, have lunch, then drive some more, through lush green countryside. I’m struck by the crooked stone walls that meander up and sideways to form loose approximations of squares and rectangles delineating property lines, extending high up steep hillsides and ending in some cases only at the base of mountains. I think about the time and sweat it would have taken to build them. The fields that are brown are that color because of the peat growing there, a long used source of heating for Irish homes, while the green pastures are pockmarked with flocks of sheep colored red and blue and purple to tell them apart by their owners. I can’t help but think about little Orphan Annie and feel sad. I had hoped to return to Spain this fall to collect her and take her to Enza’s in France, though how I would have transported her I don’t know. Rented a car I suppose. 

On our way back we stop at a roadside marker commemorating the long walk of starving Irish during the Potato Famine, as they made their way to Delphi Lodge in the town of Louisborough where they’d been told they’d be fed, only to be turned away. Many died along the route, either coming or going. 

Further on we come to an abbey by a lake that used to be a school. It costs €13 to go in so we just admire it from the outside. It looks like a small castle and is rather beautiful really with its turrets and spires and high windows. Then we get lost driving back, so Brid’s short cut turns into a long cut. We don’t get back to Barna till after 7. I try to buy Sean and Brid dinner but they won’t have it, saying they aren’t hungry. So Jim and I walk down to the pub where we ate the other night, and Jim insists on buying me dinner. Yet again.

Oct 20

This morning I pack my bag to leave for Dingle. Before I leave Brid hands me a brown bag, lunch she says, and on his way out to catch the bus to Galway, Sean hugs me goodbye. They have been so kind. At the bus station she drops me and Jim off then goes on to the bird sanctuary where they are releasing a swan today. Jim stays with me to see me off. It’s hard to say goodbye to him, knowing I won’t be back in California till March. I feel like I do when I say goodbye to Dad these days, keenly conscious I may never see him again. 

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