On the road in Ireland, weather aside, it’s been an incredible journey — Dublin to Omagh to Donegal south through Mayo and Galway, Doolin and Quilty, to Kilkee traveling along the scenic and magical coast of Co Clare. The hats were photographed at the Hanna Hat factory in Donegal. I was introduced to John Hanna and his family by Roy Floyd, my neighbor and owner of The Irish Store in Skaneateles. We had traveled to Ireland to attend a trade show in Dublin. John Hanna appeared to me as a kindred spirit. He welcomed us into his home and made arrangements to share his friends and stories with us.
From Donegal, Roy and his cousin, Kevin, a frequent visitor to Skaneateles, and Kelly, his friend, headed back to Dublin. I turned to Co Sligo to visit W.B. Yeats’ grave in Drumcliff Churchyard. Yeats Country is named after him. Benbulbin, in the distance, features prominently in Yeats’ poetry. Yeats’s famous poem,Under Ben Bulben, contains his epitaph:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
From Sligo to Westport Co Mayo for a night and a visit to Matt Molloy’s pub. Before leaving Mayo, I visited The Michael Davitt Museum, located in a restored pre-penal church in the village of Straide. Volunteer Joe McCullough told me about Davitt’s life. Born into poverty, Davitt rose to be a minister in the English Parliament. A young Indian student attended every Davitt lecture. The student’s name was Gandhi.
The next morning I crossed into Co Galway. Seconds from the border I noticed a sign, The First Pint in Connemara, across the road from The Carriag Bar, run by Padraig and Kitty Coyne, relatives of St Pat’s classmate Patrick “Bud” Dwyer. I recognized the pub from a pic I’d found on Facebook after Patrick mentioned I might look them up.
Ashleigh Falls is nearby. A scene from John B. Keanes’ The Field was shot there (Richard Harris’s Bull McCabe murders the Irish American Peter played by Tom Berenger).
I was interested in revisiting Kylemore Abbey, and Cong, where The Quiet Man was made and asked for directions. After a few minutes, Kitty realized that I might be confused. Padraig, who was suffering from the gout, cautioned me, “remember in Ireland when distance is measured out as ‘a mile and a bit,’often the bit is well more than the mile itself.” Then Padraig reminded me to “send off a few odd pills from America for the trial that’s on me!”
In Kylemore, the weather turned. At Cong, I photographed the original location used in filming The Quiet Man and a monument to the cast and crew of the 1951 John Ford classic. My diversions took the light and I paid the penalty, as it was in near darkness I headed for Galway.
Imagine being in rush hour traffic and rain searching for a spot to log on to find a hotel. Stress level high, and then I found a McDonalds—a New Age oasis, where I was told of a hotel a mile and a bit up the road. It was my ace-in-the-hole.
Yet, I continued to search the web until found a hotel in Salt Hill on Galway Bay. Enroute to the hotel, I followed a bus (I thought headed for Salt Hill) into a bus terminal. A chancy u-turn got me back in the game.
I felt comfortable in Salthill. On another cold and windy day years ago, I was here with six guys from Skaneateles. After standing for a photo on the strand, we raced to the car. The sea winds chased us fifty miles inland to Athlone.
I checked in to The Salthill Hotel and headed to the bar for a pint and a ham and butter sandwich. And though it was late, I looked around for another story. The room was nearly empty. I noticed a man reading, taking notes, looking academic.
I consulted the barman. “Would that man be a visitor or a tourist?” “I’m English,’ the barman said, ‘I wouldn’t know from Judas.”
In Dublin, where I last asked a barman for a story, he said, “If it’s a story you’re looking for, I’d say there’s one walking in behind you.” I turned to find myself eye-to-eye with a donkey being led past me, followed by a pregnant Guernsey rescue cow, followed by a boy leading two goats, followed by several women and a man toting a hay bale. When one of the women noticed the video running, she turned to the camera and promised me “a roll in the hay!” if I made it up to Trim that summer.
Meanwhile, at the hotel, I approached the studious soul and asked if he spoke Irish. He answered no. When I explained why I had asked, he invited me to sit. I was in Ireland to sort out an idea I had been researching for years. After listening to my story, he began to parse it. I recorded his suggestions. Two hours later, we closed the bar. That morning I purchased a ticket for the Irish lottery!
The driving was desperate with the hail and sleet on the road to Doolin, music capital of west Clare. Lunch at Gus O’Connor’s led me to Maizy O’Brien for a story. “She’ll be found in the doorway three doors down or out in the street. Nothing gets by her!”
Maizy, quickly handed me off to an old fisherman (younger than myself) for stories of the sea. I found Michael in his caravan by the pier. When he answered my knock, I felt the eye of suspicion on me; might I be a Papal Emissary looking for a donation? But he soon warmed to me, inviting me in to his home. I left promising copies of the photos I had taken, and with a rip in the top of my hand from his new dog, Polly.
Michael, in turn, promised to row me to Inisheer (Aran Islands) in a currach where we would have our fill of stories from fishermen like himself. But only if I buy the pints. A currach! What if we tip over? “Ah, then’ said Michael, ‘wouldn’t your troubles be over!”
I sped past the Cliffs of Moher remembering it was here the Skaneateles boys practiced running from the wind, unwittingly practicing for Galway. The choice here was to return to the car with me or freeze to death. The guy riding shotgun actually hesitated, apparently suffering from Irish Passenger Seat Syndrome, a malady that skews one’s depth perception causing objects to appear nearer and lower than they are, and those afflicted to duck, dodge, and scream constantly while riding in a motor vehicle.
My next stop was Liscannor, birthplace of John Philip Holland, an Irish engineer who developed the first submarine to be formally commissioned by the U.S. Navy, and the first Royal Navy submarine, the Holland 1. He is widely regarded as the father of the modern submarine for his designs.
Below Liscannor, at Spanish Point, in September 1588, violent storms drove a large portion of the Spanish fleet sent by Philip II to invade England to the rocky Irish coast. Following its defeat at the naval battle of Gravelines, the Armada had attempted to return home through the North Atlantic.
Up to 24 ships were wrecked on the coastline spanning 300 miles from Antrim in the north to Kerry in the south, and the threat to Crown authority was readily defeated. Many of the survivors were put to death, and the remainder fled across the sea to Scotland. It is estimated that 5,000 members of the fleet perished in Ireland.
The Armada Hotel is here with a history of the doomed fleet and a new room off the bar with artifacts from the 1916 Rising.
From Spanish Point, I traveled a few miles to Quilty to visit a wonderful photographer, Ann O’Connell. I met Ann years ago while shooting the Strand Races at Kilkee. Over tea and potato soup, we discussed our photography and her gallery until her husband, Pat, returned with a few stories. I encourage everyone to check out Ann’s photography.
I left Quilty for a night in Kilkee. My grandmother Delia O’Leary, was born in Kilmihil, a few miles from there. I had never met my cousins.
Next: Finding the O’Leary’s.
Delia’s uncles earned American citizenship fighting in our Civil War. When they returned to Ireland, they were referred to as the “Yankee Leary’s.”