Posted by: Peadar Ban | December 3, 2013

Don’t Forget the Washcloth or You’ll Have to Go to Confession When You Get Home (Part Five)

Now That We are Here, Where Are We?

As much as I love to be in Ireland there are several things I have never enjoyed.  All of them are driving in any of the bigger cities.  Now, what passes for “bigger cities” in Ireland may seem to be little more than hamlets or neighborhoods anywhere else.  Dublin is the only thing I can think of that fits the description of a big city.  But then, I’ve recently returned from Mexico City and Dublin, though big at about 2,000,000 souls, would barely qualify as a neighborhood down there.  I’ve never driven a car in Mexico City, but I have driven in Dublin.  I am sure there are better places to drive in hell, and I mean no disrespect to a place where some of my relations live.  It’s just the truth.

I would not be driving on the first leg of the trip as those who have suffered my rendering of this trip so far know.  Much of that has to do with two facts:  the last time were were in Ireland we spent time in Dublin, and I had to get us out of Dublin twice.  Those who may yet visit the town should know this about driving into, out of or around Dublin.  Forget street signs.  First of all the names of streets and roads and public ways of any kind change every 23 feet, or so it seems.  In the space of a football field (either American or any other kind) a street’s name may undergo as many changes as a teenaged girl will change her mind about boys.  On our last attempt to leave the place, a 15 minute trip turned into two hours, and that on a Sunday morning when things were quiet.  And so, suffering from a mild case of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Driving) I gave in to Mariellen’s decision to drive from Dublin to our first destination, the town of Abbeyleix.  I would sit in the passenger seat beside her and try not to scream.

Though you can drive in Dublin and wish you were dead, you can make the experience worse.  You can use a GPS device.  Nothing is more despair inducing that listening to the cultured voice of the British lady repeating, “Recalculating.”  It often seems to start as soon as you pull away from the curb in that town.  That was the primary reason we were determined neither to do much driving in Dublin this trip, nor to allow such a device to be mentioned in our presence.

Follow the Clear As Mud Map

We weren’t long on our way before we needed to make our first stop to consult the road map we had taken from the rental place in lieu of the infernal machine.  We had gone about 200 yards.  The road was being re-worked that took us from the car rental place, past the airport entrance to the feeder road to the M-50.  Where two years ago we simply jogged across the traffic going where we didn’t want to go and turned right, they had put up a “traffic island”.  “The dirty rats,” I thought, “they knew we were on our way.”  So, we looked to find how far out of our way we must go before we could go the way we wanted and needed to go.  See what I mean?  The trip was already longer than it ought to be.  And, it had started to rain.

We figured out what we needed to do, and began again.  Carolyn, in the back seat, bundled up and snuggled down with her plush elephant, warm blanket, fuzzy slippers and one of those little airline pillows I tossed in her direction as we were leaving the plane, was on her way to dreamland I figured.  Mariellen was properly businesslike.  I was wavering between a full scale panic attack and wondering how far it might be to the nearest hospital.  Not to worry though.  The two of us had figured it out, and were soon righted and on the way to the M-50, a 6 lane gift to Ireland from the European Union that put a new meaning on Beyond the Pale.

Mariellen adjusted quite well to driving on the left side of the road and out trip down the M-50 was about as eventful as any trip on a busy highway in a driving rain with nearly inoperable windshield wipers could be.

I’ll not bore you with the description of a highway in the rain.  It was boring.  Leaving Dublin is a bit like leaving New York City through the Holland Tunnel and driving to Newark on a dark day.  There is no tunnel, of course, but there are the kind of industrial waste lands, at least to the west.  In the rain it might conjure visions of Mordor; with traffic lights and semis.  But, within about 45 minutes we were done, and once on the M-7, the route over to Abbeyleix, our progress, and my mood improved..

Abbeyleix is about halfway across the country west of Dublin, which is roughly the distance between Boston and I-84 on the Mass Pike.  The country is different, though.  There are some low hills at first, but then very soon, within ten or twenty miles..or about 30 of those smaller things they measure distances with over there..you get into broad open pastures stretching away on either side of the road.  Years ago, when the road was only two lanes, undivided, and your going was necessarily a bit more sedate it afforded the wayfarer more time to gawk at the countryside.  This was horse country.  The National Stud is here, and all around north and south of the road stud farms abound.  The Irish love horses and everything to do with them as much as they love cattle, and driving past this land on a sunny day lets the passing motorist feast their eyes on green velvet pasture any time of year and the beauty of thoroughbreds running free; except on rainy days.

After a few dozen miles we had figured out the problem with the wipers.  Traffic had thinned out.  So had the rain.  Carolyn was snoozing.  All I had to do was count the exit numbers and wait.  Mariellen on my right was doing a bang up job.  But, I missed the twists and turns, the towns along the way, that the old road took, though, and the challenge of driving that little thin thing, stopping now and then for a look see at something beautiful, or a hearty meal in some snug wayside pub.  It was a day’s journey and worth it to wander from Galway or Limerick through ten or twenty towns and all the farms and fields, and places high and low between them and Dublin’s fair city; playing chicken with trucks (excuse me, lorries) thundering down the way on roads built for pony traps and horse drawn carriages.  It was kind of romantic slowing to a walk behind a plodding hay wagon pulled often by an old horse a few miles himself from the glue factory, or a ten year old in his father’s tractor.  It was a special treat to creep along behind a herd of cattle or sheep and watch the dogs make sure they obeyed the traffic laws keeping to their side of the road; on a road only wide enough it often seemed to have just one side to it, and that bordered by a hedge fence which would have made the Maginot line look like papier mache..

Well, as I was talking above, we came at last to the right exit, which I almost missed for the little trip my memory has been taking me on.  It was Mariellen, in fact, who called my attention to the fact that Exit 17 was coming up.  I returned to the present and confirmed her in her decision to leave the High Road and descend to the N-77, the way things were.  The exit said Portalaoise, but pay it no mind.  Abbeyleix was only a few of those things down the road from there.  Our destination was The Manor at Abbeyleix.  The sun was shining through a thin veil of clouds.  The day was beautiful!  And we were just getting hungry.

I gently nudged Carolyn in the back seat to let her know were were coming in for a landing and returned my own tray table and seat back to their upright and locked positions.

Oh, it occurs to me that some of my reader(s) may be unfamiliar with the spelling and pronunciation of the names of towns and people in Ireland.  They are always pronounced exactly as they are spelled.  Thus Abbeyleix is Abbey-LEASH and Portalaoise is Port-a-LEASH.  Isn’t that nice?

We were there… maybe.

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