The streets of Galway were gray that night. Everywhere I looked, gray buildings, gray sidewalks, gray sky, beneath a mist that floated inward from the Atlantic and hovered ominously, casting contrasting coronas of light upon the sidewalk from the interior lights of the handful of pubs still open in the midnight hour. Our footsteps echoed as we walked from The Kings Head to the hackney office on Dominic Street, right across the street from Taylor’s, which was Kieran’s favorite pub. Kieran used Taylor’s as if it were his personal office, and many was the night he summonsed Darren and Shannon and me to the pub to talk business because Kieran never did see the line between work and play.
Were it any other night, the four of us would have gone into Taylor’s; we would have sailed through the door in Kieran’s wake, following that proprietary swagger of his as he made his way to the section in the back designated for Irish traditional musicians. But this evening had been exhausted at The Kings Head. It was beyond time to call it a night, and I had to get home to Inverin.
I was standing on the sidewalk when the hackney driver brought the car around. I said goodnight to the three of them and got in the front seat of the car for what would be a 30-minute ride along the coast road. You’d think the memory I retain of that night would be centered on the activity in The Kings Head. After all, close to 70 people had turned out for The Galway Music Centre’s musician’s showcase, which the four of us had spent an entire month orchestrating. But as Ireland has a habit of making art of the contrary, what stands out the most for me is the hackney ride home.
It wasn’t often I had cause to make the journey from Galway to Inverin by hackney at night, but when I did, it was always a rather eerie experience. The total darkness on the two-lane road, the way the moon illuminated the sea in hues of black, cobalt, and silver, the lonesome stretches of treeless landscape, and the complete absence of sound made the journey surreal as I watched the night for signposts guiding me home. The ride was a gradual change of consciousness as I left the energy of Galway City behind and crept stealthily into the bleak solitude of Inverin. Typically there would be conversation with the hackney driver from start to finish. It would be a stranger and me traveling together with the same destination, and in that singular pursuit, there was a comfortable tacit alliance. On this night, the hackney driver was a local named Michael Connolly, and I confess that what started it all is due to the fact that I’m the garrulous sort; I’m uneasy with weighted pauses and tend to fill in the gaps when I think there’s too much dead air.
“Are you from around here?” I asked Michael Connolly, who was raven-haired and blue-eyed and looked to be in his early thirties. He was tall and lithe, with graceful hands that rested casually on the steering wheel, as if he’d cut through this particular swath of Connemara so many times, the car no longer required his guidance.
“I am, yeah, born and raised just up the road, but I’ve done me share of traveling,” he said, in what I knew to be a Connemara accent. It got up under the vowels and rolled to a singing pitch, then finished each sentence in a way that left me waiting for more. “You’re an American, yeah?” he continued, in that way the Irish have of letting you know that nothing sneaks by them.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m from Memphis, Tennessee, but I’ve spent the last few years in Los Angeles.”
“Los Angeles,” Michael Connolly said, confirming the name as if he were sorry to hear of my troubles. I can’t say I blamed him. He was so relaxed with himself, so bright-eyed and open that he lacked the requisite wary manner it takes to get by in a place where all that glitters is not gold.
“Have you been to Los Angeles?” I asked with a sideways glance.
“Oh God, yeah,” he said. “Lived there two years, so I did, and that was enough for me. My idea of heaven is Ireland with Los Angeles weather,” he offered. “My idea of hell is Los Angeles with Irish weather.”
It was such a seamlessly delivered line with such perfect timing that it left me speechless. Five months on the west coast of Ireland, and I still hadn’t loosened my grip of enthrallment over Irish banter; I found all exchanges thrilling, and would study the regional dialect and its distinctive phrasing of words in the vain hope that one day I’d be able to master it in an effortless manner. Because the Irish have this effect on a person. They’re so good at being themselves that it makes an outsider want to become one of them, to shed any awkward, unwieldy dissimilarities that leave one standing out like a sore thumb in their presence, and slip into that easy-going way of theirs where the art of communication is a banter that sings.
Claire Fullerton is the author of contemporary fiction, "Dancing to an Irish Reel," set on the west coast of Eire.
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Admin Comment by Fran Reddy on January 12, 2016 at 6:11pm
"My idea of heaven is Ireland with Los Angeles weather,” he offered. “My idea of hell is Los Angeles with Irish weather.” - priceless line! And another lovely read : )
As they say in Ireland, "Isn't it just!" And every word of this true!
Heritage Partner Comment by That's Just How It Was on January 13, 2016 at 3:27pm
Every word spoken in Ireland is priceless . For example when I return home on my twice annual visits ... people I went to school say in a somewhat surprised tone .... ' There you are Mary ; tis yourself ' ... who else would I be !!!! ,,,,,,,,,,,,, Only in Ireland Clare Fullerton ,, tis in your soul , I am gathering
But if you think about it, an expression like "Tis' yourself" makes all the sense in the world! I once had an Irish woman look at me and say with glee, "You haven't got a pick on ye!" which is true. And here's another: "You've lovely hair, God bless it." That one thrilled me!
Admin Comment by Joe Gannon on January 13, 2016 at 4:09pm
I had a friend who used to tell a story about asking some elderly gentleman in a small village for directions out to the house of a relative whom he had tracked down, but never yet met. It was somewhere on the west coast, can't recall where, but the guy was giving my friend the usual sort of directions you get in the west of Ireland, all full of word pictures of what to look for on the way, because, of course, there's usually no signs to help you. At one point he was explaining how you'd come to some severe turn with a vertical drop on the far side. But his description of it was, "then you'll come to a big turn where ya think yer gonna go off (the cliff) .... but ya don't."
I related that story to my wife the first time she an I went to Ireland, which was on our honeymoon, when we came to a similar spot, which jogged my memory regarding that story from my friend. Now every time she and I come to spot like that on our travels there, one of us will say, "ya think yer gonna go off ... but ya don't" and have a good chuckle.
My friends story didn't end there though. The old gent eventually realized that my friend was probably never going to make it to the right location, perhaps from that furrowed brow and the clueless look on the rest of his face. So in typical Irish fashion he says, "Sure and it's Sunday (he'd just come from church) and a great day for a ride, I'll go out with ye." And he, of course, knew my friends relatives and so arrived with a "look here, i've brought ye kin folk from America to see ye."
And naturally my friend says they had a grand time that day, just grand, sipping tea and getting acquainted with the their Irish cousins. And when he brought the old gent back to the village he took him to the pub to buy him a pint in way of thanks, but sure and didn't that old fella tell him "yer money's no good here" and buy HIM a pint.
A great story, Claire, and "isn't it just" also why so many of us love going there, and why it feels like it isn't really "going" somewhere, but more like it's "coming back?"
Yes indeed, Joe. And here's another one: whilst in Shannon in October of 2014, the couple who owned the B & B where we stayed insisted on driving us to and from everywhere we decided to go, on this last day of our trip, before our departure back to America. I had no way of knowing if they did this for all their guests, but they seemed to take our itinerary personally, as if it were their responsibility! The wife actually got up at five in the morning to take us to the airport, which I'll never get over. But here's my point: as I answered the husband's questions regarding what I do for a living, he repeatedly gave me "the Irish gasp" and kept repeating, "Good girl!" all throughout my explanation. I kept thinking, "could their be anything more encouraging!" There was something so validating about it!, And further, were those words to have sprung from any other tongue but an Irish one, they would have fallen flat! This is what I love about the Irish: It's not what they say, it's how they say it.
Heritage Partner Comment by That's Just How It Was on January 15, 2016 at 6:28am
I could go on forever about what Irish people do and say .......... for example ... when vising the graveyard ,, it is common to meet people you know....the question regularly asked is
" are you visiting himself [husband] or the mother, ah sure you have all the O'Rourkes up here as well so why would you not be visiting here" as if its a hospital !
The hair one has always been a good one for me, as a child I had bright ginger hair , and I was most often greeted by older people with " God bless that lovely hair of yours,,, make sure you treat it properly,"
I just love being back home in Ireland ............. nowhere on earth could give me the sense of peace, I'm home, or the daily banter that I get every time i go home. Oh to win the lottery
Well said! Thank you for commenting, and if you're a ginger, I think you're lucky!
To all of you, thank you.
The art of conversion is alive and well in Ireland for sure. :)