As We Rejoin Our Heroes:
It is nearly one year since the events I’ve been describing in this little chronicle took place, Pilgrims. I have received one plaintive note, and that quite some time ago, to bring things to a close. The fellow is old, and he may want to see things to the finish before he’s finished. The other five of you who had been following this chronicle have either died already, given up waiting in despair of ever finding out where the pot of gold lay or never really cared. Well, I have picked up the thread and have set to work despite my own inertia of rest. I pity you coming to this lately with all my heart. For the rest of you, poor miserable creatures, who had nothing better to do than become interested in our little lives rounded with a trip in a car too small for one: Fear not! Put down your TV Guide, postpone folding your wash again, and attend.
I shall continue, having become dimly aware that I hadn’t finished. Truth, a thing I occasionally involve myself with, requires that I tell you this, intrepid reader: My memory, under the best of circumstances an impoverished thing, seems to have become even more feeble than it has always been. What you will begin to read below are the first few paragraphs of our trip from Abbeyleix to Killarney on a quiet Saturday morning, our first full day in Ireland. What I do not remember, now, cannot be told. But, I have a rather well developed talent for fantasy. So, should I detect a gap in the story coming on, pardon me if I weave a tale into the telling. I hope to make those transits from fact and into fantasy seamless, short and few; and, who knows, it may be all the more interesting for the lies I’ll tell you.
Ahem! We pick op the thread in our hotel in Abbeyleix, after supper.
CHANTICLEER SLEEPS WELL
Carolyn, God love her, had gone down after supper to feed the cats and bring at least temporary relief to the mice, voles, the odd squirrel and careless birds who might be interested in a tasty piece of garbage out behind to hotel. And when she returned to the room at our hotel in Abbeyleix Mariellen and I had already made ourselves as comfortable as we could. I was on my way to dreamland, a trip I needed to take; the unfinished business of no sleep for a day or so pressing on my eyes. So, I closed them…
And, then, blankness.
We had left the window open in the room and it was the voices of some fellows down in the parking lot at about 6:00 AM that brought me back, too soon. My room mates were still asleep, sound asleep. It had to be early, I thought lying there trying to remember where I was, trying to remember who I was, to orient myself. Through a break in the thick curtains keeping out the rude daylight, muffling the fellows below, a slim bit of the world outside presented itself; the trees across the street still in shadow and the sky above them merely a ribbon of pink cloud below a thread of blue above disappearing into the dusty yellow drape. Whether or not I liked it, I was awake as awake can get.
My first duty then, to myself and to the world, was tea. Actually, my first duty was to get out of the bed…somehow. Our room established a pattern to be repeated in the other hotels we’d occupy on this trip across the waters. It was, umm, compact is a good word. It was so compact that I was left with no more room than a few inches between me and the wall on my side of the bed; a wall as unyielding as walls can be, cold, hard, uncaring and close. I don’t move well at any time, and especially after lying in bed all night. All of those things that do move on me ..poorly..during the day take that time to lapse into rigidity. I thought for a few moments about simply attempting to ooze out, feet first, from the bottom of the bed onto the floor, like some kind of me shaped glob; a white haired octopus. And, I tried. But the sheets down there had to have been nailed to the underside of the mattress. I couldn’t undo the bedclothes.
So, I rolled over and slid one half of me out of the bed, until I was stopped by the wall. I put my right hand and foot on the floor and managed, God knows how, to kneel on my right leg, then stand on it, then pivot until I was standing facing the wall. It wasn’t too difficult then to inch out along the bed until I was free. Once out where normal movement was possible I made for the window sill where we had put all the tea things when we arrived yesterday. We needed the small desk and the outlets there for our phones and lap top and “gear”. I took out some plugs and put in some plugs and soon, with a prayer of fervent thanks, was pouring coal black tea into a mug.
By then, Mariellen was awake and Carolyn who had in the universal teenage fashion, and as she would for the rest of the trip, simply wrapped herself in her blanket and, holding her friendly pink elephant, fallen asleep atop the bed covers, began to stir into consciousness. Stirring into consciousness in no way means that she was anywhere near that state. It is a long trip, a trek more like it; akin to a Mormon’s march to Utah, or Columbus’ voyage of discovery across the Ocean Sea, Ulysses and his companions beyond the Pillars of Hercules; hazardous, thrilling and fraught throughout with the chance of failure. You know them, the ones who never seem to wake up. Classrooms and courtrooms are full of them. So are legislative chambers.
Anyway, it was Saturday in Ireland and our adventure was underway in earnest.
IN WHICH I MAKE A DISCOVERY
The time was nearly 7:00am when I finished the tea. Carolyn had arisen, and we spent a few quiet moments listening to, well, nothing, really. The fellows below, to whose noises I had awakened, had gone inside the hotel, and all was quiet as we contemplated the next move. For me it was a shower. The outside of me felt like the inside of a slime soiled sewer main, and seemed quite as smelly. So, tea done, I announced I would return shortly a new man and, gathering something from the suitcase which looked as if it was mine and would fit, I entered the bathroom. It didn’t used to be a bathroom I suspected. Things looked all an afterthought. Such is often the case I’ve found after many years of travel and many stays in places throughout Ireland. Catering to Yanks has done amazing things for the plumbing industry in Ireland, and very possibly coined the term “en suite” for the room that replaced the little house in back and the nearby barrel of rainwater.
Anyway, I got down to business, thankful once again that this was an age when such things were done inside, and not outside where the chickens and barnyard cats could look on. One does not want to scandalize the livestock…or the neighbors.
The preliminaries taken care of I prepared to shower away the last bits of North America I had brought with me. There was soap. There was a squidgen of shampoo in an eyedropper sized bottle, even. There was a bath towel that would have covered a stallion’s back. What there was not was a wash cloth. There was, however, a face towel if one’s face was the size of an elephant’s.
Desperate times calling for the same measures I made the “face” towel my wash cloth and showered away, finished and rolled around inside the towel, dressed and returned to the waiting world.
I should have known, you know, that there wouldn’t be a wash cloth. Such a refinement is not commonly provided in Irish bathrooms we have found. Mariellen was stricken with contrition when I told her what I was forced to do to get by. She had forgotten to pack one or two of them for the trip. I forgave her while having a second cup of tea during the time that she and Carolyn dressed. At no time did I think of telling her how difficult it is to wash one’s ears with a wet and soapy ten pounds of towel; though it is good for toning and conditioning arms and shoulders.
By the time we were ready to go to breakfast the whole incident was pretty nearly forgotten.
IT’S NOT THE LEAVING OF ABBEYLEIX THAT GRIEVES YOU
Breakfast, they said in the stuff we got when we booked the hotel was to be served in the dining room starting at 7:00am. It’s quite probable now that I think of it, that they meant 7:00am somewhere else than in Abbeyleix. We arrived at about 7:15 and were the only people there. Of other guests or staff there wasn’t the divil of a sign as my grandmother, may she rest in peace, might have said. The advantage of that was we had our choice of seats. We chose three near a table set with what appeared to be utensils and serving dishes for the breakfast fixins to come.
Well, it was Saturday, and allowances could be made. Within a few minutes and for the next ten minutes or so after a young lady came from inside someplace and began bringing out containers and bowls of things to eat: cereals, fruits, juices and milk. Mariellen and Carolyn made their way. around the table while I ordered The Full Irish Breakfast; advertised in the menu. And, of course, we ordered more tea. As the ladies ate, well while Mariellen ate and Carolyn made some lovely re-arrangements of the few things she had put on her plate, I wreaked havoc on eggs, bacon, puddings, tomatoes and mushrooms and about a half of a loaf of brown bread and “lashings” of butter and jam.
We were ready, then for what may come. It was time to get on with the journey, leave Abbeyleix and strike out for the next bit, Cashel and its Rock, on our way to Killarney. While the ladies settled up at the desk I moved stuff outside. We had staged our bags in the lobby before going in to breakfast. Finding the car was a breeze. It was one of three in a parking lot which only about 15 hours before looked as if it held most of the cars in Ireland. Now there were three lonely vehicles, about to be two. And, not a car went by on the road beside the hotel.
That might be a function of one of the “benefits” joining the EU brought to Ireland. They built themselves a bunch of new and zippy roads, straight lines, up and down and across the country to bring themselves up to speed. Towns like Abbeyleix, bypassed, wither in the windy slipstream of progress when that happens. It once had two hotels. The other one, just up the road toward the center of town was an eyeless crumbling hulk. Alas.
After stuffing the car with bags, blankies and pink elephants, I returned to the hotel lobby just as Mariellen was finishing up. Carolyn, was where I figured she would be, out back giving her breakfast to the cats. I had a pretty good idea how to get from Abbeyleix to Cashel and from thence (I love that word. It’s from “Thence” Christ comes to judge the living and the dead, you know.) to Killarney. But I asked, anyway, since it had been a while would it be best to take the old road or the new EU one which bypassed everything, like a wormhole between galaxies. The blank stares of the young are the same everywhere, I guess. The young lady was trying, I knew, but she was using all of her band width just to make her eyes move; and not doing well at all. She smiled. We smiled, and waited.
We were about to go looking for Carolyn, and leave, when a fellow walked through the front door. He had a few miles on him, so I tried my question out again. “It’s straight on from here,” he said with a wave of his hand out the window at the old road. “There’s no need of that thing over. Ye’ll see the entrance though at the cross if ye need to get there before ye leave here.” They speak just like that for the most part in every place in Ireland outside of a few big deal restaurants and fancy hotels in Dublin; and some colleges I guess. Joining the EU changed a lot, but not that, yet.
I thanked him for his directions and advice, and the young lady, too, who had a nice smile if little else. Since Carolyn had joined us and our bill had been payed there was only the leaving of Abbeyleix to accomplish and the ride down the old road “straightaway” to Cashel and its Rock.
CROMWELL’S WORK’S WELL DONE
One might argue that without the Lord Protector’s interest in the place, there might well be nothing worth visiting in Ireland. Take the Rock of Cashel for instance. It stands, a majestic ruin of monastery and cathedral, on a huge rock over a large plain at the edge of Cashel Town. From any direction its ruined silhouette is a dramatic signpost of religion run amok, and a reminder of what once was lively, lovely and lost. On any day it’s crowded; with tourists, crows, black ravens and ghosts, even when the sun shines. Below it on one side the town lies between and around some hills, in front of it on the broad plain stretching away to mountains on either side another ruin spreads its stones and crumbling walls, an old Augustinian monastery. Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, even Godot would go well in either place. Perhaps they have. Cromwell chose well for his horde’s work.
Our drive down from Abbeyleix was like an arrow shot. Had it been today that he came the poor monks wouldn’t have had time for a Nunc Dimittis before the righteous rage swept them away. When we arrived I was surprised at the changes wrought on the place. There was actually a metered parking lot. Tour buses, that sure sign of popularity and worth were beginning to pile in and disgorge their forties and more. We found a spot and meekly wandered up the hill and through the door on a morning cool and sunny, bright and clear. And, for the next two hours, the three of us, sans interpretive guidance wandered unguided through history and made of it what we could.