So as promised, here’s a non-photo entry about my nights out and about in Killarney. These events would have occurred on 20-21 July 2001, with the 21st being a particularly fun night that resulted in me being hung over on the morning when the family went to discover the Twomey and McCarthy villages. But to paraphrase those high-school wrestling t-shirts, “Pain is temporary, memories are forever.”
On the first night, 20 July, I left the hotel to wander about the town at 21:00. Thanks to the high latitude, there was still plenty of sunlight illuminating the skies, which is a fact that still amazes me even though I know perfectly well why this is so. The sunlight guided me to…sigh, an Internet cafe, where I made my one and only attempt on this trip to catch up on e-mail and to see if I could log into the BBSes I still frequented back then. What I remember about the Internet cafe was that the connection was about as fast as a dial-up, and that the UK-standard keyboard layout had just enough differences to throw off my touch-typing.
After 30 minutes had passed, I logged off at the slow-as-molasses Internet cafe, then headed back to the hotel only to discover that many relatives were drinking beers in the hotel lobby with Brendan Buckley, his cousin Paddy, Paddy’s wife, and Paddy’s sister. More about Paddy later….I told everyone present that I was off for a solo pub crawl, freshened up back in my room, and snagged the key from Ryan before he zonked out for the night. Attempts to get him to join me, since by Irish standards he was of legal drinking age, got rebuffed.
I peered into a few pubs–once again, let me reiterate that Killarney had over 40 pubs for a town that has 13,000 permanent residents–and happened to pick one called The Speakeasy. Why this bar? Compared to some of the other bars I looked into, The Speakeasy had two tables of people (young women, mainly) who appeared to be my age, whereas the other bars had lots of older or haggard-looking people. I felt that the clientele at The Speakeasy would be one I’d be more comfortable with, so in I went. As expected, within five minutes of me walking in and ordering a Murphy’s stout, the young women cleared out of their tables, and I got to see The Speakeasy for what it truly was: a horse-racing bar. One wall was covered with TV sets showing horse races from across the British Isles and in the US, and as luck had it, most of the TV’s were tuned into the day’s racing at…Arlington Park, a horse track that’s about 20 miles away from my then-home of Elmhurst.
Horse racing holds little appeal for me today. Ten years ago, even less so. I drained the stout, left, and eventually settled on Pub #2 for the night: McSorley’s. Again, I determined the bar by looking at the clientele, and this time I noticed that there was a larger contingency of young-looking people present. I ordered a Bulmer’s cider, and marveled at how one word, in this case, “pint,” can have such different meanings depending on where you lived. In the US, a pint is 16 ounces, with each ounce being equal to 29.6 mL. In the UK and Ireland, the imperial measurement system is still in effect for liquids, so a pint there is equal to 20 ounces, with an imperial fluid ounce equal to 28.4 mL. One imperial pint is therefore equal to 568 mL, or 19.215 US ounces. I figured this out to mean that four pints in Ireland would be roughly equivalent to five pints in the US, and with the prices ranging from £2.40 to £2.80 per pint, I would come out ahead by the time the night was over.
Math lesson over. Now, back to the countdown! While drinking the cider, I struck up a conversation with Martina, a Dublin native who was in Killarney with her boyfriend and his mates; they were playing pool (aka billiards, not snooker) while Martina watched. Cheesy, Hi-NRG Eurodisco boomed from the bar’s sound system. The crowd’s attire nestled perfectly in the gap between “preppy watering hole” and “sleazy, dark nightclub;” the men’s clothing ran just a little on the tight side, while the women’s outfits were tighter still. Both men and women doused themselves with various scents to the point that even I felt it was overbearing.
During our discussion, I found out that Martina’s father is a Garda (that is to say, he’s a police officer in Ireland). Since my own father is a police officer, we had reason to talk shop for a while. I commented on how small some of the Garda stations were in the various town we had driven through so far; I think I even threw in a comparison to a TARDIS. From that point, our conversation ranged quite far and wide, as Martina and I talked about various things from cop shifts to drugs to music–apparently, Shane McGowan was touring at that time, a fact that we both marveled at as that meant Shane was among the living–to the Irish economy to the growing problem of US-style sprawl in Ireland, and finally to accents. I hadn’t noticed that much of a difference in regional accents during my trip, but Martina said that within a couple of seconds of speaking, nearly everyone in Killarney knew that she’s a Dubliner. Most of the people in Killarney come from Counties Cork or Kerry, as Dubliners were increasingly keen to hop RyanAir so they could head to other parts of the European Union. Occasionally, Martina’s boyfriend would show up to snog with her, and he’d join in a bit on our conversation. He didn’t seem to bear any hostility toward this Yank that was chatting up his woman…or if he did, he certainly disguised it well!
Time passed by as Martina and I chatted, and soon enough, the clock was striking its closing time at 01:00. Above McSorley’s was a nightclub that stayed open until 03:00; this bit of news explained a lot about the attire of the people in the pub. Martina, her boyfriend, and his friends were set to head upstairs, but I wanted to get some rest before heading out onto the Ring of Kerry tour. Everyone responded back that I would be wise to do that; Martina had just taken a tour of the Ring a day ago and voiced her love of the sights. The consensus was that the Ring was a real treasure that is worth seeing and more than matches anything written about it in tour guides. With that knowledge in mind, I wandered back to the hotel to find that my parents were, in fact, still holding court with Brendan and Paddy. Now I mean this with all respect, but if I were to describe Paddy as a jolly, heavy-set Irishman, your mental picture would match up almost exactly with how he really looked. Think of W.C. Fields in less-formal clothing, yet still wearing a tam o’shanter. Paddy was pleased to hear that I spent time at the Speakeasy (or, in his words, “the Speak”), though the next day, I believe Maureen told me that Paddy looked to be the kind of guy who could enjoy himself at any pub he found himself at. I’d have to agree, as Paddy was noted for putting away the Guinness pints as if he were drinking water, a fact that brought expressions of amazement to my parents’ faces. I stumbled up the stairs to my hotel room to find that Ryan was still awake and reading a book in the The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever series. A few minutes of me babbling at him followed my entrance into the room, then sleep followed shortly thereafter.
The next night, 21 July, I got going around 21:00 after spending some time repacking the suitcase for tomorrow’s departure to the Twomey/McCarthy homesteads. When I reached the main drag in Killarney, I followed yesterday’s pattern of checking out various pubs, then settled upon O’Meara’s. In the back section, I happened to catch some animated people sitting in a booth while listening to a blues/rockabilly band playing–yep, it was Martina, her boyfriend, and his friends again. The front section was showing MTV-UK programs covering the summer holidays at Ibiza or Ayia Napa. I talked with Martina and the crew, then spent some time bouncing back and forth between the two sections. During my wanderings, I happened upon a group of young women that were staying at the hostel in Killarney, so as is my wont, I introduced myself and talked with them for a while: Marielle was a touring American of Korean descent (perhaps living in Atlanta?); Alex was a stout Swiss woman with curly ginger hair (most likely Swiss German); Shawna was a very tanned woman hailing from the not-so-sunny climate of Halifax, Nova Scotia; and last but not least, Mary Fitzgerald, a Killarney local that worked at the youth hostel in Killarney, and who served as this group’s unofficial shepherd. Mary was 25 (at this time, I was only four years older), engaged, and as I wrote ten years ago, “exceptionally friendly and chatty.” I’d have to say that if one works at a hostel, one would have to be outgoing, cheerful, and willing to expose oneself to people of vastly different cultures and backgrounds from your own. From what I can remember, Mary had those traits covered.
There were other women with the aforementioned, but my written and current memories didn’t capture anything about them apart from their presence. Mary invited me to come along with her, Shawna, and Alex to The Laurels, which was my first and only time on this tour that I sought out and enjoyed traditional Irish sing-a-longs. Yes, there were sing-a-longs at The Abbey during my first night on the tour, but there were crucial differences at The Laurels that made this particular experience better for me. For starters, the crowd at The Laurels was young and Irish, while at the Abbey, the audience was older and largely Irish-American. The band at The Abbey was all too happy to play to stereotypes and to play what they expected their audience to know and appreciate (minus the murder ballads, of course), whereas the band at The Laurels picked songs that were wide-ranging in topics, from sea shanties to murder ballads to Pogues covers. There was a strong vibe between the band and the crowd at The Laurels–the booze helps, of course–that was totally absent at The Abbey. So yeah, it wasn’t something I’d normally seek out in the US, but for that particular evening, the setting and the music worked for me.
At midnight, The Laurels closed. I had been pacing myself quite well at both pubs–a pint of Carlsburg and a pint of Bulmer’s at O’Meara’s, and a pint of undisclosed (in my diary) substance at The Laurels. Prices were in the same range as at McSorely’s the night before. Feeling good, and still in the mood to stay out longer, the group I was with headed to the Danny Man for more of the same. I had one last pint of Bulmer’s cider at the Danny Mann; its consumption was accompanied by Mary warning her hostel group to watch out for drunken marriage proposals near closing time, followed up by her warning me about “wild Kerry women.” Oh. Mary also had to give me some grief about my future travel plans, as Kerry and Cork have a strong yet friendly rivalry in sport that colors many relations between the two counties. As mentioned in a later diary entry, I did notice the red-and-green flags flying outside all Killarney bars while wandering around the streets at night.
One hour later, the Danny Mann closed with everyone in the bar singing the Irish national anthem. I bid Shawna and Alex good night, then walked with Mary to a corner where she was going to spend the remainder of the night at a locals-only bar that stays open until 04:00. Apparently, I must have been feeling pretty good during my departure, as I wrote down that I “called Mary a charming and beautiful woman” and how her significant other is quite lucky to have her in his life. She wished me luck on the rest of the trip, even if it meant going to Cork(!), and walked into some smoky-filled pub to meet with her friends. I wandered back to my hotel room, and passed out around 01:30. The seven or eight hours of sleep I had that night must not have been enough, as I woke up ready to head toward County Cork with the feeling that all of Killarney was clog-dancing on my forehead…but you know what? Looking back, ten years later, these two nights were totally worth the temporary discomfort on the morning of 22 July. The pain from a hangover fades with aspirin and nourishment, while the memories of those two nights are my personal experiences from the Ireland tour that I’ll keep with me always.