Friday, September 30, 2011

A Farrell Trip Through Ireland - Introduction and Day One

Family vacations in exotic states and countries have been documented through film for decades. Whether it’s a cranky Jimmy Stewart escaping his family to lament the merits of War and Peace from a beach chair in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, or an overzealous Chevy Chase venturing among fill-in Griswald children and questionable shower advertisements in National Lampoon’s European Vacation, we’ve been treated to the zany, secondhand experiences of families gone wild in a foreign environment many, many times.

The one constant in these accounts has been that, at the end of the projected story, the family featured ends their travels transformed—for better or for worse. Stewart’s Hobbs family leaves their trip oddly united by their dysfunction. As for the Griswalds, well, I have no clue how they left Europe. It’s an awful movie, and I really only brought it up because it’s set in Europe, thus aiding my forthcoming storyline. (Still, I’ll assume the movie clung to that simple story rule of concluding with a family lesson learned, a evident transformation, or with Chase’s Clark pissing off a Frenchman with his American crassness. And, scene.)

In the case of the extended Farrell family and our associates’ August trip to Ireland to witness the marriage of my sister, Mary Farrell to one Brendan Cullinane, Hollywood ending rules applied as well. On a 10-day jaunt that featured one spectacular wedding, two milked cows, united families, new friends, makeshift bar crawls, a pony named Billy, a bartender named Hughes, suicidal transportation adventures, six Irish breakfasts, and enough Guinness to flood Doc Sullivan’s in South Buffalo, all left the gorgeous green country transformed. As for the details of that transformation, I’ll do my best to relay the specifics through my own eyes and notes in Farrell Street Blog form over the coming days. Though the primary characters in the following story will be me and my wife, Christina, there are plenty of secondary and tertiary characters to fill in the moments. So, without further hesitation, let me walk you through the days and nights of a trip not soon to be forgotten by those who stepped foot on the sweet rocky soil of the land of Eire.

Here is the account of Day #1:

Monday, August 15th

If you plan on venturing to Ireland in the near future, I’d recommend you take a direct flight through Aer Lingus or another airline. If you decide to save a few bucks because you, for instance, quit your three jobs in Boston and moved to no job in Buffalo before enduring moving costs and appreciated roles in four weddings over a span of three weeks, well, you’ll enjoy the disjointed trajectory my wife and I traveled. We made it to Dublin via the rarely-booked Boston to D.C. to London to Dublin flight, which was as delightful as lying awake on a coffee shop bench during an eight-hour layover at Heathrow in the middle of the night can be. But, once within the sweet domain of Dublin, we only had to endure a 30-minute bus ride, a three-hour train ride, and a 35-minute cab ride to find our Quiet Man-style cottage in Cordal, just outside of Castleisland in Ireland’s southwest corner of County Kerry.

(Blog note: If you’ve never seen the movie The Quiet Man, immediately stop reading this post and start questioning whether your heart is still beating. My guess is that, if it is, it’s black.)

The white 18th century Cottage Mary Rose, with a thatched roof and set off a narrow road across from an old cemetery, would serve as our family’s Kerry staging area for the next five days. Aside from the two of us, the place would house my parents, Dennis and Jeanne; both my sisters, Katie and bride-to-be Mary; my brother-in-law, Vince; and my singing nephew, Declan. Since the now one-year-old kid can’t say anything but “baba” and “dada”, he just sings “la, la, la” all the time. Why? I don’t know, but his baby crooning would go on to provide our only in-house tunes not exhaled by Jack Johnson. Declan’s father is frighteningly addicted to the smooth beach melodies of the unthreatening J.J., so his driftwood-fire classics would be the only numbers to steal young tenor Dec’s thunder the entire week.

Once most of us were settled in the house for our first afternoon together, we were informed that my father had gone off with my soon-to-be brother-in-law Brendan to climb the Co. Mayo mountain known as Croagh Patrick. Two things came to my mind when this information was relayed: One, I wasn’t aware of my father ever climbing a hill, let alone a mountain; and, if they actually tried to climb this infamous stretch, there wouldn’t be a wedding without a search party. Thankfully, all fears were squelched once the pair of eventual in-laws returned with a tale that included “walking about 100 yards up the mountain,” and “heading back down when they saw an open pub sitting below them.”

Thankfully, the first open pub we saw from our cottage was about 100 yards away and right across the street. Hughes Bar, stone-fronted and inconspicuous, rests next to the Church of the Immaculate Conception and would prove convenient for required after-wedding pints that were poured later in the week. Until then, it stood as convenient for us when we needed our first “welcome to Ireland,” “I just spent countless hours traveling,” or any other excuse for a stout we cooked up through our time in Cordal. Bartender and proprietor Sean Hughes made this happen on Monday, as he welcomed us before he poured drinks for my sisters, Christina, and Vince, then snapped our picture as we stood behind his bar. He was very accommodating and friendly. But, in comparison to the familial hospitality we’d experience at our evening’s dinner with the extended Cullinane clan, Sean was a stone-cold bastard.

Sheila (Costello) and Ted Ring live in the middle of the Kerry countryside, at the bottom of a steep dirt driveway and set back from their town’s narrow road. Their house is also a construction of rustic architectural beauty, with a granite façade contrasting another more traditional external material that I could identify if I knew anything about home construction. I don’t, so you’ll just have to trust that their place is tremendous. Inside their place, they welcomed us to a kitchen table filled with French fries, hamburgers, bread, green peas, red wine, and Heineken. Since Christina or I had never spoken to Sheila, Ted, or any other of Brendan’s family who were in attendance, you’d be forgiven to assume our exchanges experienced some periods of awkwardness. Fortunately for us, we didn’t. Sheila’s parents and brother, Morris joined our crew from Hughes Bar, as well as my mother, Declan, my aunt Clara Bowman, and uncle Scott Bowman to inhale the kitchen’s seemingly unending stream of food and drink, laughter and stories. If this scene sounds too clichéd or Irish-centric, I’m sorry. Also, apologies if you think I’m laying it on thick to satisfy the same stereotypes accentuated by Amy Adams movies or overweight, Guinness top hat-wearing Italians on St. Patrick’s Day. I can only tell you what I witnessed and experienced, and what I sat through on that first night in Kerry was the kind of genuine, sincere hospitality I’ve only experienced a handful of other times in my young life.

Unfortunately, Christina and I could only enjoy this scene for so long. Since we were rolling forward on nothing but scant hours of airport, train and bus sleep over a 48-hour period, we were bound to crash through Sheila and Ted’s kitchen table with any odd slug of red wine or beer. As for me, I started unintentionally nodding off between sips of my second or third Heineken. (I think I may have actually been asleep for a good minute at one point.) Thankfully, we were whisked out of there before I was face-down in a puddle of my own drool.

Our departure took us back to the Cottage Mary Rose, and once in the door, I somehow found the energy to join my sister and mountain-scaling father for a pint of Murphy’s in our living room. When our glasses were empty, I joined Christina to open our couch bed and collapse into deep, motionless slumber. Monday was finally—and mercifully—over.

1 comment:

jeane Farrell said...

Michael, So far, GREAT writing. I loved every bit of it. I laughed out loud in some spots and even though we've been home now for just 6 wks. it seems much, much longer. Some things I'd forgotten already so was fun to be reminded of them. And lastly, you did a great job of describing Sheila and Ted's house. One thing Mike, I think Sheila's brother Maurice is MAURICE NOT Morris. .that's the cat Mike. S.O.R.R.Y. Mom xo loved it.