I’m not an Irishman. And I don’t play one on TV.
But having taken a vacation to Ireland just prior to the U.S. election mess — and having since covered plenty of stories dealing with all sorts of weirdness including ballot tampering, multiple voting, confusion and intimidation — I find myself more and more wishing I had just extended my holiday through the presidential season.
If you’re looking for some strikingly cogent political comment, I’m not here to give you one. You won’t read that silly new buzzword that starts with a “ch” (that’s chad, for those who don’t pay attention to the news.) I’m just going to recount some of my adventure to prove — if only to myself — that there is a life to be lived outside of America’s election. Hopefully, it won’t end up as bad as an invitation from the neighbors to come over to watch a snooze-inducing slideshow. (Does anyone even do that anymore?)
Just to let you know, I had never been to Ireland before this fall. Yes, I did live in Budapest, Hungary, for a year, but I had never made it to the Emerald Isle. And the way my vacation started, I thought Imight never get there.
Like many of you, I fell victim to poor airline connections and became stranded at my starting point in San Francisco, a city where the sum total of people I know is the same as the number of electoral votes Bush secured in New York. Even though I was stuck, my luggage seemed to make the flight fine. So, unlike the song, it turns out I
left my bag in San Francisco — or, should I say, it left me?
I’d heard the expression “the luck of the Irish,” but I’d never really given it much thought, especially since I had no ties to Ireland — until this trip. An Irish woman now living in the Bay Area and who, like me, happened to be bent over by the airline, actually invited me to spend the night at her home, along with her husband and children.
What was this? A total stranger offering hospitality out of nowhere to a single, young male traveler? Red flags were popping up everywhere. I thought to myself, “Uh, this is still America, isn’t it?” Events like this are just unheard of.
And my taking her up on the offer was even more out of the norm. It turns out she surmised I looked Irish. I think it was more that I looked like a lost dog. But spending the night in a house full of Irish accents and plenty of alcohol was a pre-cursor to what I was going to experience across the pond. So, to the Mellon family of California, I offer my sincere thanks.
OK, fast forward to my arrival at Shannon airport on the western side of the island. Still no luggage and I had two weeks to look forward to wondering how long the same pair of boxers could possibly survive. I thought I might actually have to go shopping — and how awkward can that be for an American whose wardrobe consists of Levi’s and U2 T-shirts? I mean, after all, what does the well-dressed tourist purchase when trying not to look like a tourist? Thankfully, after circling the globe an unknown number of times, my bag finally showed up on the other side of Ireland in Dublin, sparing me the potential embarrassment of dressing myself like the leprechaun on the Lucky Charms cereal box.
|Cows find their way home alone in the proper lane|
I didn’t rent a vehicle, because the cars — along with the cows — drive on the left side of the road. If you’ve never been in a car driving on a different side than you’re used to, it’s almost like a bad dream, as you want the vehicle to go to it’s “regular place” — which could be fatal. The strangeness does wear off after a few days, though.
|Road sign points the way to Lisdoonvarna in County Clare|
My first stop was the tucked-away village of Lisdoonvarna. I don’t even know how I came to choose this place, except it had the most interesting-sounding name. It turns out, this is a quite famous location for something called the annual Matchmaking Festival.
OK, I’m not too proud to admit that when I first heard that phrase, I thought it was some local-yokel event celebrating the manufacturing of matches — you know, the kind that light cigarettes and candles. Yes, I can be an idiot at times, and this was certainly one of them.
Apparently, through the month of September and into early October, people flock to this region for “the crack” — which is Irish for partying and good times. It’s a far cry from inner-city America where they flock for a different kind of crack.
|Schoolchildren practice pugilistic skills|
In Lisdoonvarna, ground zero for the event, music and dancing never seem to stop — not even for bathroom breaks. The people are among the friendliest anywhere and, despite a reputation for hot tempers, I didn’t see a single fight, at least not among adults.
“Do you like women?” was the first question hotel owner Marcus White asked me as I checked into his place, where the rooms’ key tags are the size of Montana. All I had to do was nod my head up and down and that started his effort trying to hook me up with some of the local gals. It seems to come naturally to him, as he moonlights with an Irish matchmaking website.
|The Matchmaker Bar is a colorful spot in downtown Lisdoonvarna|
County Clare, where the festival takes place, is also home to a real-life matchmaker,
Willie Daly. When not giving guided tours on his horses, Daly makes personal treks to the local hotels and pubs — one of which is even called “The Matchmaker Bar.” There, singles — most of whom are over the age of 40 — proffer themselves to the wisdom of this Ernest Hemingway look-alike.
|Women enjoy the party atmosphere known as ‘the crack’|
One point about the pubs: Pretty much every good thing you’ve ever heard about them is true. They’re absolutely a blast. Going to them seems to be the national pastime, and I’m not saying that with any kind of derogation. It’s just that when I asked people what they were doing that evening, or the following night, or the one after that, I always got the response, “Going to the pubs, of course!” The bars all serve Guinness and the patrons must develop bladders-of-steel after a while.
My final morning in town, I met a gentleman named Mick Haugh at breakfast, who lives toward the eastern end of the island, in a county called Kildare. It turns out he’s a pig farmer, and he invited me to stay at his place for a few days and help him with the animals.
What’s that? Another total stranger inviting me over? Hey, did I have a sign on my forehead saying I wanted to be in a segment on Ireland’s version of “America’s Most Wanted?”
But I thought to myself, “When the hell am I ever gonna get another chance to work on a pig farm in Ireland?” You bet your bacon I was gonna do this! Thank goodness I wasn’t part of one of those silly tour-bus groups where they hoist you from spot to spot, with barely time enough to focus your camera lens and get your finger out of the way. I was now moving into unknown territory.
|Pig farmer Mick Haugh taking care of ‘business’ in County Kildare|
I really didn’t know how little I knew until I had a shovel in my hands and learned the fine art of shoveling pig sh–. The Irish don’t even pronounce it sh–. They rhyme it with kite, and it was sure flying everywhere off my shovel.
I even got to a Dublin bakery, not to enjoy the tantalizing odor of fresh-out-of-the-oven delicacies but, instead, to load up and haul dough and overcooked goods back to the swine. And I’ve got news for you: They really do eat like freakin’ pigs! Though certainly memorable, I just would like to thank God and whoever else it was in life who steered me into journalism, instead of agribusiness.
After my share of seeing castles and countryside, I made it back to the western coast before my holiday was complete. I went to see the Cliffs of Moher, which offer a gorgeous, panoramic view of steep slopes abutting the Atlantic. Imagine for a moment the sunniest possible day: blue, cloudless skies, warm temps, and a light breeze blowing. That is not the day I happened to go.
I went on a day that reminded me of my move from south Florida to Oregon — you know, the same day Hurricane Irene happened to pay a visit. The sky had more shades of gray than a line of voters at a Palm Beach precinct. The winds and rain were so fierce, “The Flying Nun” would have ended up partly in Zimbabwe, and her other parts scattered across the English Channel. I could barely stand.
|The Cliffs of Moher shot that nearly left WND with one less news editor|
Nevertheless, I, being WND’s fearless and aforementioned occasionally idiotic news editor, decided to go to the edge of the cliff and take a photograph peering over the side. At this point, I’d like to thank the person who came up with the slogan, “stop, drop and roll.” I know it has to do with fire safety, but had I not employed it after snapping the photo, I likely would have ended up as the subject of a WND news headline, in the “sudden death” category. I literally came inches from being blown over the edge. I didn’t even have time to soil myself. But I survived the day and made it home in one piece.
OK, if you’ve kept reading to this point, you’re either a relative, a personal friend, or you somehow get a kick out of living life vicariously. Don’t worry, we all do that at some point. But the slideshow is over, so you can stop waking the neighbors with your snoring.
Keep in mind, I’m not a regular columnist for WND. Nor do I play one on TV. I’m just a news junkie.
But hopefully, in the time you spent reading this column and looking at some of my vacation pix, your mind was liberated from the enslavement of the presidential election, even if it was for just a few, adventurous moments.