Country Roads, Take Me Home (to Ballingeary)

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It’s the first day of June and the weather is again glorious. We’re getting the feeling that all of this sunshine is not the natural state of weather affairs in Ireland but we’re not complaining. I decide I can’t leave Dingle without a quick run — and another gander at the sheep grazing nearby — so I get up before Dave and jog around the bay. The only people out this early are those at the docks preparing their boats for fishing and possibly those who never went home from the pubs in the first place. My knee holds up for about two miles and I walk-jog back to the B&B just in time for breakfast.

Back in the car we go and we’re on our way to see our friends, Ann and Peter. Peter is a Dublin native and Ann hails from Cleveland. We met them in Chicago, where Dave and Ann worked together at SPSS back in the late 90s. Ann is a technical writer by trade but is also working on fiction so we’re both unapologetic about our book geekery and about our desire to get the seven-figure book deal so we can relieve ourselves of the corporate grind. Peter is a former computer pro who is now a fabulous and award-winning landscape photographer. See (and buy) his work here. Not only do we have a lot in common with them from philosophical, political, and dog-loving standpoints, they also were the buyers of our old Mercury Tracer, the very car that Ann used when she learned to drive a stick shift.

We have a list of questions for our friends, including, “how can we stay in Ireland forever” but the questions will have to wait until we stop in Killarney for a bite to eat.

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Dave is sporting a lovely sunburn on his driving arm, the one hanging out the right-side window of the car. I’ve got a similar thing going on with my left arm but it’s not as severe. He puts his raincoat on his driving arm to keep it from burning any worse. When we get to Killarney, the headlines on the local newspapers say, “It’s A Scorcher!” And yes, in Ireland, journalists are allowed to use exclamation points with abandon, unlike newspapers in the states where my old Associated Press Style Book declares the exclamation point an abomination that should rarely be used. I decide Ireland would be the perfect place for me to be a journalist since I’m a big fan of exaggeration and the appropriately used exclamation point which, in the case of this bizarre weather trend, is definitely appropriate. Ann later confirmed that they have not seen a stretch of sunny skies like this in at least two years.

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We eat lunch at Mac’s on Main. I have cream of mushroom soup (sorry, Ann, I know you hate the thought of mushrooms) and Dave has another egg mayonnaise sandwich (i.e. egg salad). We are both ridiculously relaxed and talk about how coming home will be an adjustment; our regular overloaded schedules seem like a nightmare we’d rather forget. We talk about the things we’re learning from our trip and what we’ll carry back with us. So far, we’re learning that we need to focus on the things that matter most and get better about saying no to the things that don’t. We’ve learned that we need to keep a better eye on stress-creep and not let it overflow into every aspect of our daily routine. We’ve also been reminded how important community is to us; it’s something the Irish seem to instinctively understand and value. This heavy conversation takes place over Dave’s dessert of strawberry rhubarb crisp with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream.

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Here’s the other thing about Ireland: my freak magnetism is polarized. I don’t attract the Irish freaks. Stunning. In the states, this guy playing Irish tunes with his band of marionettes and puppets would’ve followed me down the street, told me his life story, and asked if he could stay with us in our B&B because I’m that much of a freak magnet. Thus the reason I can’t attend circuses or festivals without some form of a bodyguard. Oh, and also baseball games whereupon the mascot always, always, always finds me.

After walking off our lunch in Killarney and attracting zero freaks, we pull out Ann’s directions which are two pages, single-spaced. Laugh all you want but these are the finest and grandest directions and ensure that we will not get as tragically lost as we have been. Our friends live in Ballingeary, a small town with two pubs, a hotel, and an eternal stretch of greenness. They’re an hour west of Cork where Ann works.

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We’re not sure what to expect but we’re not all that surprised when we pull up to their lovely home nestled into the countryside, complete with cows grazing in a field near their driveway. We sit in the front yard soaking in the sun while throwing toys to Toby, the more rambunctious of their two dogs.

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Callie, a huge Irish Wolfhound, is happy to get a few pats on the head and nudge her head under your arm when your petting wanes.

I ask about the cows: “Food or pets?” I know the answer is food. We’re in Ireland’s countryside and no one is keeping cows because they’re cute and cuddly. It turns out the cows belong to their landlord who raises them but doesn’t do the finishing. Finishing sounds far more palatable than the word we use in America: slaughter. Peter tells us that if there would ever be a problem with the meat purchased from the butcher, that butcher could probably trace the issue back to the actual cow. And here is one of those moments we know we’re very far away from most of America where people have zero clue where the food they eat every day came from. But that’s another blog for another day. We’re on vacation.

Ann treats us to a fantastic risotto for dinner while we fire off question after question about living in Ireland. In short order, we find out that there is no overtime in Ireland. You work your hours and that’s that. Our suspicion that the Irish have a “work to live” versus a “live to work” mindset is confirmed. We sigh at the mere thought of no overtime and being around people who aren’t so wrapped up in their job that they have time for nothing else. Ann admits that she was stymied for story ideas when she lived in the States. Now that she’s in Ireland, she can barely keep up with the steady stream of ideas and characters and conflicts knocking around the right side of her brain. I give a double sigh and “seethe with jealous rage,” an Ann-ism I picked up in the first hour we were with them.

We eat and chat, and Dave takes Peter up on his offer of a nippy-tasty – a shot of Scotch – after dinner. The next day is a work day for Ann and the sun and general quietude of the countryside has worked its magic. We turn in around 11 a.m. and I fall asleep looking at the nearly full moon that’s positioned perfectly in the middle of the skylight.

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Dave opted for eggs at breakfast but I went for the ludicrously tasty Crunchy Nut cereal. Here’s one of many things I love about Ireland – people pepper their conversations with adjectives and adverbs that are much more rich and colorful than ours. Our great is their grand. Our excellent is their brilliant. Our bummer is their tragic. Our flavorful is their ludicrously tasty. Try getting that statement through the legal department at any U.S. ad agency. Not gonna happen. I can barely use the word “great” or “best” because that’s too much of a “claim” that needs to be verified and confirmed by Jesus and his 12 apostles before it makes it to print.

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Our options for the day are plentiful and much to Ann’s dismay, we select Kinsale, the town she says is too much like the south of France. No wonder our foodie friend Sean recommended it here. The guide books tell us that the town may very well be the only place in Ireland with more restaurants than pubs. And both Sean and our friend Brian recommended Fishy Fishy for lunch. Dave and I are neither foodies nor fish eaters but I like saying Fishy Fishy so we’re settled on that spot.

Peter puts on his tour guide hat and drives us to Kinsale, giving Dave a chance to relax and see more of the countryside instead of worrying about hitting an oncoming cow trailer, tractor or stone wall. Thanks to Peter’s ludicrously excellent driving skills, we make it to Kinsale in time for the second last harbor cruise of the day. Again the weather gods bless us with an insanely brilliant day, enough so that Peter douses his fair Irish skin in something like SPF 90,000.

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The harbor tour is about 30 minutes and we get a good look at the 17th century Charles Fort, and also learn that, in 1915, the Lusitania was sunk just off Kinsale’s Old Head. It also seems like Kinsale had the misfortune of being invaded about every other month by the Spanish or the English or some pissed off Protestants looking for something to pillage. It also appears that Kinsale has not figured out their version of Dingle’s Fungi the Dolphin so our wildlife sightings are limited to a few sea birds and cranes.

After our history lesson we of course head off to Fishy Fishy for lunch and what has now become a constant stream of questions for Peter to answer. It’s a good think Peter has the patience of several saints and doesn’t mind the battering ram of who, what, why, where, when and how. Also, Peter showed me a few easy ways to take better photographs than I’d been taking. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the quick lesson.

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Back in Ballingeary, we pick up Ann and the pooches and take a walk in the Gougane Barra. In some ways the forest felt familiar with its tall pine trees and mountain views, as if we were in the Smokies or the Rockies yet the green moss and ferns were so strikingly green, we knew this was like nothing we’d seen before. Oh, and Peter our fabulous fount of Irish trivia informed us that we were passing through one of the quietest places in all of Ireland. I hated to tell him that the silence was soon to be broken since I was there and, well, I’m not what you’d consider quiet.

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Ann kept Callie on her leash but Toby ran free picking up sticks to be tossed up the trail. He attempted to pick up several fallen trees with trunks thick as telephone polls but resorted to sticks much more his size.

Our long walk was rewarded with pizza, handmade by Ann using her Kitchen Aid mixer, the envy of all Ballingeary and possibly County Cork. Trust me, the whole town is seething with jealous rage over Ann’s mixer, including me. Dave tossed back a couple of pints but I appreciated the break from our daily Guinness and Smithwick’s. We sat on the comfy chairs in the comfy living room as Peter treated us to a slide show of his work, also the envy of all Ballingeary and most likely the whole Emerald Isle. Following the slide show, we were treated to two episodes of Father Ted, the 1990s BBC comedy about three Irish priests living on the fictional Craggy Island. If you grew up Catholic, this is a must-must-must series to rent. As Father Ted says, go on, go on, go on and rent it. But careful now! You will laugh so hard you’ll need to watch each episode twice to be sure you’ve caught all the comedy.

Peter supplies us with another most appreciated factoid: the show started a bit of a holy war between the Aran Islands of Inis Mor and Inis Orr, both of which claim to be the rightful home of Craggy Island. Now there’s a big Craggy Island World Cup to determine who gets to be Craggy Island for the year and there’s a Ted Fest in honor of Dermot Morgan (Father Ted) who died in 1998 from a heart attack at age 45.

Ann and Peter, thanks for being such wonderful hosts! And yes, we’re still seething with jealous rage over your house, your mixer, your photography skills, and the fact that you live in the most beautiful country we’ve ever visited.

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The Babo Rating (1 cookie being Tragic!; 5 cookies being Brilliant!)
A factory of cookies (without mushrooms) to Ann and Peter, a ludicrously fabulous couple.
Several dozen cookies to Toby and Callie who never found me in the suitcase and decided I would be a ludicrously scrumptious plaything.
5 cookies to Kinsale, that lovely harbor town
5 cookies to the Gougane Barra and the discovery that The Waterboys actually reference the Gougane Barra in their rendition of This Land Is Your Land. Finally we know what they’re saying!

p.s. 1 cookie for my plot to mail myself back to Ballingeary. I checked and I fit in the mail slot. But then I thought about Toby and Callie awaiting my arrival on the other side of the door and that might get ludicrously tragic so I need a new plan.


#1 cristy on 06.29.09 at 11:26 am

Don’t you recall Becky in writer’s group mentioning Father Ted because of whats-his-name’s short story with Father Ted the WWII veteran??

#2 Ann on 06.30.09 at 9:45 pm

You guys are totally welcome any time. (And I’m so glad that my directions worked – I’ve been tragically lost many times and didn’t want it to happen to you.)

#3 Sissy on 07.01.09 at 1:53 pm

I checked out your friend, Peter’s website…breathtaking!

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