Ireland: friendly, green

So much has happened in the past week after we returned from our trip to Ireland that it’s difficult to know where to begin. The tragedy that hit New York City came very close to me, my wife, and our travel companions, former Bradyites Richard and Arlene Garey of Horseshoe Bay. Our travels began at 6:40 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29 and ended about 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8. We will treasure our short (three hour) visit to the Jersey City pier, Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty. Arlene, our travel agent, had stated that we had about a six-hour layover at Newark Airport so we hailed a limo to the landing. Those minutes when we viewed lower Manhattan and the glorious twin towers of the World Trade Center from across the Hudson River were indescribably beautiful. Now they are gone’absolutely vanished in a matter of minutes’due to a network of terrorists. The photograph I made of my wife with lower Manhattan in the background will be a picture that I will keep forever. The photo will be a lasting reminder of the oppressive actions of a group of barbarians who we hope will be eliminated in due time. Howevr this piece isn’t going to be about the incident of Sept. 11, 2001, but about our wonderful nine-day tour around the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland with Belfast as its capital is a separate country. First of all, the Republic of Ireland (the one we visited) is a member of the European Union, along with 11 other countries. It is a beautiful, green nation with rugged mountains and rolling hills which is about 200 miles wide and about 175 miles deep. The four of us, traveling in two vehicles (an Opel and a Nissan), put about 1,000 miles (not kilometers, although the Irish are on the metric system) on our rental cars. That’s a lot, especially when you consider the narrow roadways and the fact that they drive on the left side, opposite of our system. The highways are well paved and smooth, but there is no such thing as a freeway. We only saw a few miles of four lanes’thus the vast majority of them being two laners. There are two types of highways’national and rural. The national are the ones connecting the major cities, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Galway. The rural ones that we travelled on occasion are very narrow. There are no shoulders. Once off the pavement, you have about a foot to 18 inches to the hedges which completely cover the stone fences. If one has a flat tire, they simply stop and fix it, all the while hoping on-coming traffic goes around them. When a 18-wheeler comes roaring down the highway, we’d pull over as far as we could go and pray that they missed us. We got a kick out of their road signs. For instance, “no verge” means there’s no shoulder; “soft verge” means there’s a soft shoulder ahead; “loose chippings” means there’s gravel on the roadside; “rumble stripings” means there are bump stripes ahead. Upon entering a town or village, there may be a “calming ahead” sign. This means to slow down. If it’s a school zone, you will see a “dead slow” sign. Probably the funniest sign was in a castle garden. It stated, “Slippy when wet.” Ireland is absolutely a beautifully green country. Everything is emerald, the fields, the lawns and the forests (yes, there are pine trees in some sections). We travelled for days before seeing a plowed field although agriculture, farming and raising cows and sheep, is a primary way of life there. We talked with one farmer and his wife in a pub restaurant, and he called himself a “dirt jockey,” with a smile. The towns and villages are immaculately clean and virtually every one was or appeared freshly painted. The buildings in town are in a row, about three stories high and are painted bright colors and bedecked with hanging baskets of colorful flowers. It was a delight to view the buildings in red, blue, green, orange, yellow. Another amazing thing was that most of the downtown streets were crowded with cars. It was tough to find a parking place in towns even during midweek. At the edge of every town and village was a flowerbed with a big plaque stating the town’s name. It was most attractive and welcoming. And each town, depending on the size, had a number of pubs. There were Guinness or Heineken or Carlsberg signs. The Irish love their pint of beer. They must. Guinness has been brewing since 1759. It rains a lot in Ireland, although we only saw a couple of days in which showers come then went. I told one barkeeper that we in Brady averaged about 25 inches of rainfall annually. He smirked and said, “We get 25 inches in a month.” He didn’t know what the annual total was in his town, Youghal (pronounced yawl. We said to them, “Ya’ll from Youghal'” They sort of smiled, knowingly. I can’t finished this without discussing the food. It’s a great deal like ours. They like beef, pork, chicken and lamb as well as seafood. And, of course, potatoes are still the staple food of the country. We had one meal in which we were served three styles of potatoes; steamed, fried and creamed. Every sandwich is served with “chips” which are french fries. The meal in the morning is called the “Full Irish Breakfast.” It was massive including dry and cooked cereal, fruit, juice, eggs (as many as you wanted), bacon (it was what we call Canadian bacon), sausage links and a little item called white and black pudding. They were served and appeared like pattie sausage, but thinner. I asked a waitress what they were. She said, “You don’t want to know.” As she was walking away, I think she said, “It’s the sweepings.” I declined to order it after that. Since I’d read the best selling books, Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis, about Ireland by Frank McCourt, I asked several people what they thought about them. The response was that they didn’t like them. “He embellished the poverty too much. We were all poor, but not that poor,” one said. The Republic of Ireland utilizes the pound. It’s worth more than our dollar, at least it was when we were over there. The exchange rate was one dollar was 1.20 pounds. In other words, I’d give them a 100 dollar bill and get 80.22 pounds in return. The Republic of Ireland will be changing their pound for the Euro dollar on Jan. 1, 2002. They are not pleased about that move. The Euro dollar at the time we were there was worth about $1.40, I believe. So if that holds up, they will get more Euro dollars for their Irish pounds. Members of the European Union are Austria, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Italy, France, Luxembourg, Holland, Portugal and Greece. Our trip was the idea of Arlene, who presented it to Richard as his birthday present back in May. He refused to go without a golfing friend. My wife and I could not pass up the opportunity. We are, however, very happy that it didn’t end a few days later.

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