Aughrim 17

At home with the O’Hanlon’s

Unexpected revelations at the home of our patron by Alex McDonnell

We arrived on the docks at Dublin’s North Wall on a ghost ship and for once we rolled off the Ulysses with no giant trucks making our minibus the filling in an almighty sandwich. Nor did any bus-loads of disgruntled Irish rugby fans disembark with us from Wales, the scene of much Irish sporting embarrassment the night before. Crossing the East link bridge the lady in the toll booth took sterling cash for the fare to Ringsend barely a hundred metres across the Liffey. An hour later we passed from the White Horse to Red Path from the N11 and after a few twists and turns and a glimpse of the Motte Stone through the fog we came down through the Vale of Avoca and on the home stretch to Aughrim. After booking in to our welcoming cottages for the week and after wrestling with the (4) telly controls in each of the (4) houses for an hour we gave up on any tube style entertainment and went to bed for an early night with the rhythms of the road still blowing through the foggy highways of our imagination.

The next day all 12 of us ate a huge Sunday carvery lunch in the splendid Lawless Hotel just over the Anne Devlin Bridge and we got reacquainted with the pleasant friendly village, spending the day relaxing in the unseasonal warm sunshine. On the following day we sent out our returners to three of the four provinces from transport links at Newbridge, Maynooth and Mullingar. Newbridge is a strange mix of town and country. The town was booming before the crash almost ten years ago and expanded massively in all directions swallowing up the land between neighbouring towns and villages and bringing the built environment ever nearer increasing Newbridge’s potential as a satellite town of the capital.

Newbridge credit union had been good to Aisling in those prosperous years supporting some of our trips with charitable donations but had obviously become overambitious like many other institutions in the Tiger years and fell heavily under the weight of debt when the crash came, unlike other institutions, banks and hedge funds etc. they did not get bailed out. The impressive credit union building with its grand entrance and atrium ironically is now the local unemployment office. At the railway station two of our returners jumped out of the minibus and we bought them tickets, one to Cork and the other quite a bit nearer.

Maynooth is a university town, part of the National University of Ireland and houses St. Patrick’s the main Catholic seminary in the country. It is a small town of around 16,000 population, which doubles its size every academic term and is therefore one of the few places outside Dublin where you will see many people in their late teens and early twenties. Not many are to be seen in priestly or indeed nunly garb anymore and it might make you wonder if there are still vocations to be had for holy orders in Gods own country. Maybe they all dress in plain clothes these days because there are plenty of trainee priests at least according to reports of a scandal exposed in the Sunday World recently involving many of the seminarians (I think that’s how they spell it) at St. Pats and some website called Grindr whatever that is, so there are obviously still plenty of recruits for the priesthood for whatever reason. It’s a very attractive town with some impressive buildings, some designed by Pugin and even more impressive traffic jams. We left Kevin here at the bus stop to catch the next one which was for Ballina. Waving him off, we moved on to our next destination and the final part of our logistical plan.

The road took us to Mullingar where we shook hands with Joe Dolan in the old market square. More of our wild geese were leaving for home and this time we dropped Paul off at the railway station, he would be staying with his family for the first time in years and all being well wouldn’t be coming back with us to London. Peter has numerous home towns and one of them is Mullingar. He denies that he is a Traveller but he certainly seems to have been a lower case one if not the fully ethnic variety because he talks of many places as home from Kerry to Yorkshire but I know he went to school here in the capital of the Midlands. Although Peter pointed out places he remembered from the part of his childhood he spent here, gesturing up a steep side road to the school he (occasionally) attended, he wasn’t keen on exploring the town too extensively and certainly didn’t fancy finding the old family home. I guess it wasn’t a place that held good memories for him. We had lunch here in one of the many cafes which have taken over from the pubs that had once been dotted numerously along the high street and on every corner and alleyway like every other town in Ireland. The rise of the café/restaurant and the demise of the pub are signifiers like nothing else of the huge social changes taking place in Ireland. It began with the smoking ban and has gathered pace exponentially to the extent that Irish pub culture is fast disappearing in the provincial towns and villages of Ireland.

So all went well and the prodigal sons were returning in full bloom. The mass exodus by public transport had been a resounding success and our returnees would soon be happily within the bosoms of their families across the country. Then Charlie rang Kevin to check on his progress on the bus to Ballina only to find that he had got on the bus to Galway instead, which must have turned up early while the Mayo bus was late. Much remedial action was needed finding connections from Galway to Mayo and contacting B&B’s to book Kevin in for a night in Ballina when the bus arrived late that night and booking further transport going west to his eventual destination in the morning. Phew! I suspect there will be more shenanigans to come, to be sure.

‘Cajun wraps and pulled pork baps’ are the specialties in the cafes of Gorey and we had ours with soup while the town buzzed all around us in the sunshine. On other occasions we visited the town in the past Gorey wasn’t so lively and maybe that was because of newly opened out of town shopping (24 hour Tesco’s) or maybe it’s the weather we are enjoying this week. We visited Ballymoney beach earlier in the day, exploring the rock formations in the glorious sunshine and we left it as lovely as we found it. We managed to find a few hidden charity shops in Gorey and got kitted out in plenty of green stuff for very little of the other green stuff for the coming Paddy’s day. We couldn’t leave Wexford on such a beautiful day without another beach run and so we drove on to Old Bawn beach at Kilmuckridge for a long walk where the dirt meets the water as Bill Hicks used to say and we ‘re off to Dublin tomorrow whatever the weather. managed to find a few hidden charity shops in Gorey and got kitted out in plenty of green stuff for very little of fhe other green stuff, for the coming Paddy’s Day. We couldn’t leave Wexford on such a beautiful day without another beach run and drove down on down to Old Bawn beach at Kilmuckridge for a long walk where the dirt meets the water. We’re off to Dublin tomorrow whatever the weather.

John made the acquaintance of Paddy in the Flowing Tide on Middle Abbey Street in Dublin who gave us a red hot tip for Cheltenham and those of us who followed his advice did very well for it romped home as they say. Paddy had already made a few ‘grand’ yesterday according to himself and was flashing a roll that would choke the horse that I backed. He nudged John while we were munching our toasted doorstep sarnies and showed him the bullet that had shot him in the Congo and the wound that it made in his leg. He also showed him the knife as big as a sword that he was carrying for protection which made perfect sense considering the wedge in his pocket. God bless him and the horse he rode in on anyway.

There were fewer shopping opportunities for us on the North Side of the city than we would have hoped. We are relentless charity shop devotees but chain stores and department stores are all that’s available on Henry Street and Abbey Street. It seems we needed to be on George’s Street on the South side of the river for the charitable end of the retail sector which is odd as we had always believed that the North side was the less fancied side of the city. There was very little charity in Moore Street too sadly unless you were looking for knocked off fags. Two of our wandering returnees came back through Heuston Station in the evening and our gang was reassembling for the big day on Friday.

On the next day our poor minibus was put through its paces again picking up more of our wandering returners while simultaneously looking for some lively urban scenes and pastoral beauty to enjoy on the way. While carrying a full load of passengers it’s important to keep them interested at least with the view out of the windows. We covered some ground and managed to enjoy the tranquil beauty of Glendalough with few visitors besides ourselves to break the silence and got in some necessary shopping at Naas as well as a tasty stopover with friends Barbara, Mary and Jacky in the well named town of Prosperous. John’s sister and her friends always invite us around for some home cooking when we are in the area and it was no bother to them to bake a load of cakes, scones and tarts for us to enjoy and it was no bother for us to eat every crumb with great relish.

The poor ould minibus was starting to look like the heroically messy studio of Francis Bacon, which I forgot to mention, was one of the highlights of our visit to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin yesterday. John gave the old workhorse a much needed scrub down and we invested in some much needed new tunes for our in-Transit entertainment including a box set of the five classic Pogues albums from Red Roses to Hells Ditch at Tower records for just 15 Euros. Remember folks a Pogue is not just for Christmas…

Pats day starts and ends with the cold and rain but we don’t care and in between we had a fine old time at the parade in Aughrim which was as lovely and charming and short as the village itself. It doesn’t take a lot of tractors, martial arts students, GAA sports clubs and marching bands to go from one end of the town to the other. Our patron Ardal O’Hanlon is performing in a massive spectacular comedy gig at the 3 Arena (formerly the Point Depot) tonight in aid of homeless charities in Ireland and invited all us to go but thinking long and hard about it we decided we couldn’t risk it as we would have had to drive back to Aughrim really late after the gig and back to the ferry-port really early the next day. Ardal said come to dinner anyway and we all arrived at his home for a slap up meal with the man himself and his family relaxing together chatting and watching the racing at Cheltenham.

Many times we have found ourselves surprised around at Ardal’s at how his family can often find out things about our group that we know nothing of and often our charges will say something out of the blue that catches us unawares. There was a famous time when we turned up with Melanie, Ardal’s wife’s uncle and she only found out after the usual getting to know you type chat before screaming the house down when it was revealed who he was after 40 years in the wilderness. This time Melanie was talking to Peter about Mullingar and all the years he spent there in his youth and that he would love to go back again sometime and see the place that he had so many fond memories of. . .maybe next time. Martin, who had been to his home town of Cork during the week, was telling Ardal about feeling the needed to get out of London and change his life before his depression killed him. We had a sweep on the Gold Cup and Ardal’s horse came in first but we were all winners really.

Later on the way back to South Wicklow Martin announced that after spending time with Ardal and his family he had been inspired to come back to Ireland to live. I hope he doesn’t think he’s moving in with the O’Hanlon’s…