Posted by: Peadar Ban | September 20, 2012

You Are Welcome Home (Cont’d.)

I remember my first trip to Ireland as if it had happened this morning.  After meeting the family and driving with them through Limerick from Shannon, we got to Aunt Nora’s farmhouse at about 8:30am.  On the way down from Shannon we drove through showers of rain and I was fascinated at seeing the clouds gathered in great white piles above the hills, the  glistening wet pavements and pastures, the sparkling leaves on the trees.  Before entering the little town of Adare, the road took a sharp turn to the right and continued along the high stone wall that surrounded the lands of the Lord of Dunraven.  Passing over the Maigue River just before entering the town itself, I turned to the left and saw the ruins of an old monastery, beyond which the Adare manor stood, the Lord’s great home.

We were to visit it later on that first week in Ireland.  Little did I know then that I would be a guest in Adare Manor thirty four years later.  On we went, though, with “divil” a stop to eat the Lord Dunraven’s cakes and drink his tea.

Soon we drove up the “passage” from the little road to the little house, older by some years than the country I’d left, that would be home for the next few weeks.  Ready or not, Nora hustled us all  inside as we  unloaded and soon we were invited to sit and eat an enormous breakfast.  Finishing that we left and went to Aunt Mary’s place, who met us at the door like a puppy waiting for its people to come home.  Inside her house we were invited to what can only be called “elevensies”.  But what elevensies they were, with meats and cakes, and sausages and puddings, and toast and jam and “lashings” of tea, and butter soft and yellow as the sun’s own light on a bright morning.   When finished we traveled a short distance down the hill and up the “passage” to Uncle Mick’s tiny home for second breakfast, and glasses of fine Irish whiskey for the men.  I saw the bed on which my mother-in-law was born, and sat in an old chair, the one her mother had sat in to feed her, sipping the water of life and trying to stay awake.

I recall thinking how long could this march continue.  Several hours and pounds later we were back “home” and soon to bed.

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No such round of visits was on any agenda after we finished breakfast at the Four Seasons in Dublin last September 10.  We paid our bill, a mere 80 Euro, and took the elevator back to our lovely room on the third floor overlooking the courtyard below, and looking out northward to Dublin’s center a mile or so away.  It was a beautiful late Summer day, high feathery clouds floating by.  The light rain had cleared that greeted us when we landed at the airport about three hours previous.  What if it was only five in the morning back in New Hampshire?  We were in Dublin and it was a great day.  Whatever the day would bring, it had already sent a quiet languid beauty.  That we would enjoy best out in it.

Sleeping One Off??

No, not real, just a statue. Fellows like this were scattered randomly all around the hotel.

A shower and a quick change of clothes was all we needed.  I kept watch out of the french doors on the comings and goings in the quiet courtyard below us while Mariellen changed.  A mother and her two little girls come out to work off some energy in the cool shade under the bright sky:

Little Girls Dance

The two little ones played while Mom watched for about 15 minutes.

When Mariellen and I had finished preparing ourselves for the rigors of the weather and the Dublin crowds we left for a walk.  It was about one in the afternoon.  This time over in Ireland was to be ours alone.  We had planned it that way, a vacation just for the two of us.  Beyond that, there were no plans.  There was no itinerary, no bucket list of places that must be seen, things that must be done.  We would simply be at rest and receive what time and place brought us.  And so, we set off.

The first place we stopped was the Concierge desk in the hotel lobby where a kindly spry old fellow about my age smiled at us and asked if he could be of service.  I thought of him on Balleykissangel pulling pints and giving out with advice and observations on the wide world or casting a fly into a trout filled stream off in the West before I opened my mouth.  Here was a real Irishman, not some fellow from Lithuania, Hungary or some other county not yet heard from.

“We are on our way out for a walk and wondering which way we should turn leaving the front door,” I said.  He had a small map of the area on the desk between us before I had quite finished, and wanted to know were we serious walkers, or just out for a stroll in the fine weather.  Stroll was what appealed to us both.  “Ahh, then,” he answered.  “Here is the thing for you, Mt. Herbert Park.”  He had produced a little map of the area and marked the route to the park for us, about a half mile away.  Glad for the advice and directions we thanked him and strolled out the front door.

This, I suppose, is where one might use the phrase busy lobby.  It wasn’t that at all.  But behind the lobby was an expanse of space filled with lovely plush furniture and all of it covered with hotel guests and their guests, a scene from a film, I thought, and began wondering whether it might be a dark thriller, a spy movie, or a bright musical.  I finally settled for the last type and continued through the front doors, down the drive and along the tree lined Simmonscourt Road for a few yards to Merrion Road thinking about production numbers and bright stars and brighter music.

We turned left there at the corner, walking past a large exhibition hall whose name I quite forget.  There was some sort of a trade show going on and people were walking in and out carrying  the plastic bags filled with give-aways one always sees at such places; give-aways which most often become throw-aways in a day or so.  We were not tempted to enter.

Instead we continued for about half a mile along Merrion Road, crossing the street at one point to look over some shops and pubs where people had gathered for a pint and some talk outside in the open air, checking the bills of fare as we went, planning for a bite of lunch later on.  There were quiet places and not so quiet ones.  It was the season of the GAA All Ireland Finals.  There was a game on at Croke Park, and Dublin was very much in the running for the cup; or whatever it is that the winners take home.  On that short block we spotted several places we thought promising, and one or two I wouldn’t have entered for all of the tea in China.

It's a dog's Life on a Quiet Saturday Afternoon

Puggsley and Muggsley, two of the bouncers at one of the tougher places on Merrion Road

Only a block beyond that location, but on the other side of the street was Mt. Herbert Road, the same Mt. Herbert after which is named a lovely and quirky hotel where we have stayed on previous trips.  It is a block of Victorian townhouses; once individual places, now all connected.  We recommend it to the traveler’s attention, a quiet place with a fine restaurant, and just a short distance from the American Embassy.  But, it wasn’t our destination.

We crossed Merrion Road again and walked past some workers doing a re-modeling job on the road just at Ballsbridge.  As we crossed over the bridge itself I looked down at the banks and noticed that there had bee space cut out and preserved for anglers – fly fishermen.  Almost everyone in Ireland is an angler I think, and why not for all the water in the place and around it, but there were none on the water, in the water or anywhere near it that bright day.  Perhaps even the fish themselves were fixed to the TV and the Game(s).

A Trout Stream in Dublin

Don’t forget you fly rod next time you go.

Well,  we sauntered on past the bridge and laborers, turned the corner and found the park, only one of many in Dublin, probably the most famous of which is probably St. Stephen’s Green.  It is not named after Stephen Dedalus.

We didn’t know precisely where to go, left or right into the park which Mt. Herbert Road bisected, so we chose the left entrance being on that side of the street.  I am glad we did because once inside we found ourselves on a broad paved path between two halves of a large meadow dotted with young couple and families, small children and well behaved dogs.

Afternoon at Mt. Herbert Park

Mother and Child

It was as if we’d dropped back fifty or so years, or more, to another age of ease where life moved along at a much slower pace.  Mothers and fathers sat on blankets spread out on the grass and watched young children run and play all about the place.

I’m Off, Now, Mom!

As we strolled along I thought of a time long ago in another place, Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx, with our own children when they were the age of the youngster you see here, and how delightful such little excursions were for us all.  I drew no grand conclusions, just simple memories, and hoped the people we saw peacefully enjoying the day would look back after some time and rest in their own as I rested among them that day in mine.

Passing through the meadow and the small beauties it had to offer us we came betimes to a little lake populated by some ducks and swans happy to see us, I thought, for the food they thought we’d soon throw out to them.

There was no casting bread on those waters by us though, and the birds paddled off to get lucky on the other side at the hands of a small boy and his Da.  Two of the ducks I christened the Senator and His Wife stood by watching it all, gathering evidence I postulated for further hearings on the matter (whatever the matter might prove to be).

The Honorable Member of the Seanad Eirann and the Mrs.

On a fact gathering mission to the Mt. Herbert Park Duck Pond.

Another short walk took us back to Mt. Herbert Road skirting the meadow still alive with dogs and babies and cuddling couples.  We crossed the narrow street and walked along a path running beside a large fenced in play area for young children.

I admit to another moment of reverie watching them and their parents at play.  I would have stayed, but there were worlds to explore.  Skirting the tennis courts we came to something I had never expected to witness in life, though, God knows, it has probably bee more than once a scene or setting in some Masterpiece Theater presentation.  I don’t know whether to call it bowls, or lawn bowling or something else.  It looked like Bocci to me.  But in Dublin?  No matter.  For not the first time on this first day In Ireland, and I suspected for not the last time, I did so wish I could paint.  It was to my mind a scene from another, gentler age yet not at all out of place here where that age still clung on with a soft and steady grip it seemed.  Several dozen fellows all dressed immaculately in white playing on a grass court the envy of any putting greens keeper in the universe, quietly rolling balls back and forth.  And that was all.  But, it had a look of eternity to me; that it had always been played and would always be played.

Bowling for Dollars?

This Is The Game That Never Ends

The whole thing reminds me of something by Seurat, or maybe Renoir.  Hear is the other side of  the court:

The Other Side of Eternity

There was not much more to see or do after we had strolled quietly by the lads at their game above and to the right, , none of them appearing to be younger than my own tender age.  So, the park discovered, mapped and plotted for future generations to visit regretfully we linked arms and wandered out onto the busy street, retracing our steps down Mt. Herbert to Merrion Road.  It is a rather busy intersection, that, with four or five streets meeting somewhere in the middle.  No L’Enfant put Dublin together.  I think that it grew the way most cities grow, haphazardly.  I know, actually, that it had to be that way.  I’ve been lost in it too many times not to know.

On our way back we called in at one of the pubs along Merrion Road for a quick pint, listened to the loud and raucous cheering for one team or the other and very quickly went back outside to chance the traffic and try to find a place to dine.  The extravagance of breakfast could not be sustained, however delightful was the venue and the food.

As we were both beginning to feel the effects of being awake for a day and a half, we decided to find a better, perhaps more quiet place to eat and chose Bewley’s Hotel, just across the street from the Four Seasons.  It was almost 5:00PM.

Bewley’s is an older hotel than the Four Seasons, with a lobby filled with overstuffed furniture, dark oak walls and creaky oriental covered floors.  It has “atmosphere”, and as I remember lots of mirrors.  I suppose that is to allow the ladies to admire their dresses and hats.  Hats for the ladies are still very much a “thing” in Ireland.  The word “milliner” has not become archaic and obsolete.  For a fact we found ourselves in the wrong place in the lobby if we wanted to eat.  The hotel’s restaurant was downstairs under the front lawn.  I suppose we could have found our way to it from the lobby, but we were pointed to a hole in the ground about 20 yards from the main entrance by a Swiss Admiral/Doorman.

We wandered over and processed down the stairs behind a group of boisterous young men.  I concluded the game was over and they were on their way to celebrate.  Inside the place, we learned that the dining room was not quite yet open, so we reserved a table and passed through to the lounge.

I love Ireland for this, that the Pub, or the Lounge, call it what you wil, is a place for the whole family.  There were certainly a number of them there on that afternoon.  Two little girls got my attention almost immediately.  They were directly in front of us as we sat in a kind of row with a little table before us.  The parents and grand parents were behind in a booth against the wall.  The girls were playing house, arranging and rearranging the tables, chairs and stools in another small part of the lounge.  People, waiters and customers, took it all in stride.

Sisters

The youngest members of the housekeeping staff attending to the feng shui at Bewley’s Hotel

After I had taken a couple of pictures of the children, their mother, looking my way and  sounding a little anxious, called them to come back to the table.  Sensing her nervousness about it I walked over to her, introduced myself and told her I was simply struck by their graceful innocence, and would stop photographing the girls if she wished.  She said she would like that, with a half smile, and so I did.  But, I kept this shot and one other.

The fellows who had walked down the stairs with us had been joined by a dozen or so other young men at a long table only a few feet from us, and the sound began to rise to the level of a 747 at takeoff.  I began to think of missing supper altogether.  On the point of making that decision we were approached by a Suave Gentleman in a tuxedo and informed that our table was ready.  Throwing caution to the wind, and aware that we would be some remove from the Lads, we followed him in and were seated in a quiet corner booth as far from the Lounge as could be.  The SG in the tux was the maitre d’, an Egyptian fellow in Ireland for a number of years.  I’ve been wondering what story he might have told over a couple of jars late on a Friday night since our first encounter.

He took our drink order and sent over our waiter, a real Irishman, the second we had seen that day.  As we were placing that, the Lads from outside poured into the restaurant and took seats a few yard from us.  And, poured is the right word for their entrance.  They were well oiled, believe me.  And they were about three times as many as before.

In for a dime, though, in for a dollar.  We had a fine meal from appetizers to dessert over the next hour or more as the place filled with other couples and families, and the Lads got through with their business and left.

Mariellen Checks for Dessert at Bewley’s

I was happy when we finished and were able to stand and walk.  The good food and the fact that we were rounding on two days awake had made me not a little groggy.  Two or three pints had nothing to do with it.  We paid the bill, said our goodbyes to all of our brand new friends, including the Sheik from Egypt, climbed out of the Hobbit Hole restaurant (not it’s name, of course) and walked across the street.  On the way by the Concierge’s desk the fellow who’d pointed us in the right direction some hours earlier greeted us and asked how the day had been.  Perhaps a bit too loudly I answered, “Excellent!”  A couple of heads turned, but no matter.  It was the truth, and I was made free.

We found our way to the elevator

Next Stop Bed

and went up to the room.  By 9:00 we were asleep, happily.

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