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This is an online diary of my latest trip to Ireland.
Dennis J. Ahern

Wednesday, March 16th

I didn't see any cord hanging from the ceiling for the shower and was about to settle for a cold one when I took another look around and found a switch on the wall outside the bathroom. John's sister, Mary, gave me a nice breakfast and John picked me up and took me to the Mallow Library where we had an appointment to present the "Search for Missing Friends" books. Seamus Crowley came along to take photos to send to the local paper and we managed a quick "grip and grin" before dashing off to catch the 10:00 bus to Galway. We got there just as the bus arrived and as I was getting my pack out of John's car there was much banging on the windows of the bus and hallo'ing from some passengers. I thought maybe they were trying to warn us we were on fire or something when I realized it was the Murphy/Fitzpatrick party I had met at the Archives the day before. I stowed my gear and got on the bus and asked what they were up to and they told me they were getting off at the next stop to visit the heritage centre. I quickly called out to the driver to hold up, and informed my wayward friends that this was the stop they want and the heritage centre was just up the lane and across the street.

Presenting "Missing Friends" volumes to Mallow Public Library
John Caplice of the Mallow Archaeological & Historical Society, Dennis Ahern, Bernie Wallace, and Margaret O'Callaghan, Librarians

The bus was not very crowded until after the 25-minute stopover in Limerick, after which is was quite full. Behind me there were two young Yanks and I asked them were they were going. They were planning to get off in Ennis and rent bicycles. I told them how brought my bicycle over on the plane in '67 and everywhere I went in Ireland it was always up hill, the wind was always in my face and it was always raining. There was an elderly woman and her grown daughter in the seat in front of me and when we stopped in Gort to pick up passengers the mother saw the sing for the ladies' toilets and expressed the need for a stop. As I watched them go I wondered if they would make it back before the bus left. They did, but by then two people had taken their seats, which I had tried to save for them but the people that took them did not appear to speak English and did not move. Mother and daughter rode the rest of the way in separate seats. It is probably a good idea to leave something to claim your seat in such a situation.

It was recess time as we passed several schools, and the schoolyards were filled with children dashing about in their school uniforms of different colored jumpers (sweaters). In between the schools we passed fields with frolicking new lambs, their woolen coats all undyed.

Arriving in Galway, I found the hostel on Wood Quay and checked into my room then went off to say hello to Liam and Pauline Ferry at the offices of The Irish Emigrant. They would be leaving the next day to fly out of Dublin to visit their son in Moscow. I also met their American employee, Noreen, who told me she was signed up to go as a journalist on the next tall ships race and Liam and I proceeded to advise her on how not to get seasick. I kept trying to ring up (phone) Jim Aherne in Galway, but I couldn't figure out the number he gave me. It's sometimes tricky knowing what to include and what to omit if you are calling from outside of Ireland, inside Ireland but long-distance, or from the local area. Eventually I figured out a number but it sounded like I was getting a busy signal so I kept hanging up and trying again. I even tried once from the cybercafe/call shop without success and they tried to charge me 35 cents anyway even though the call didn't go through but I argued them out of it. It was critical that I connect with Jim as he had invited me to be in the parade with Macnas the next day and there was a rehearsal someplace that night at 7:00.

I went back to the hostel and the woman there helped me dial again and this time I let it ring and ring and ring until finally it transferred from what was his cell phone to his home phone and his wife picked it up. He had just left but she would try and catch him and ring me back. As luck would have it she caught him before he left and she told him where I was and I was to wait at the hostel for him. I then went upstairs to leave some of my stuff in the room. By now there were several young men in the room and my immediate observation was that they were of an extremely scruffy appearance. Their conversation was not too encouraging either. I had put out my breathing apparatus to make sure the cord would reach the upper bunk and they were curious about it. One fellow asked me "Is that a pacemaker, mister?" Good Grief! I explained about it and they allowed as how it better work or I might be in for it. Before I left there was some further conversation amongst them, who seemed to be altogether, about a mutual acquaintance of theirs. "You were in prison with him, weren't you. Do you think you can trust him?" and I'm thinking "Oh great, I'm in here with a gang of cutthroats."

I went back down to await Jim's arrival out in front of the hostel. I didn't want him to have to find a parking space in order to pick me up as you had to purchase and display a parking disc. While I was standing there this piper in a kilt came out of the hostel for a smoke on the sidewalk. It turns out the Isle of Lewis pipe band was in town for the parade and they were all staying in the hostel. Also staying in the hostel, I discovered, was a group of young people from a town in Brittany that is twinned with Galway and they were all dressed up in their folk dance costumes to rehearse for tomorrow. I kept going in and out the door waiting for Jim and was about to give up and try finding the Macnas rehearsal place on my own, the landlady having assured me it was a five minute walk. Jim finally arrived about quarter after seven, not by car as I had imagined, but on foot, having taken the bus in company with two other Macnas members, a young man named Michael in a wheelchair and a woman named Diedre.

We set off together and were soon at the converted boat sheds that served as headquarters for the Macnas theater troupe. It seemed chaotic at first glance with people of all ages trying on parts of costumes and making finishing touches to gear. A group of kids were trying out their stilts and others their dance/march routine. The walls were lined with shelves of masks and costumes, props and equipment. Jim introduced me to Dave Donovan the director and it was decided that I would help out with "the dog" which apparently is an enormous puppet of an Irish wolfhound, supported by several people inside the body and someone on each leg. It was thought I might have a leg and was asked if I had "blacks" which turn out to mean black pants and top so that you don't detract from the visual effect of the beast. I did not but they decided they could find something for me in the morning. At one point, Jim and I, who had never met in person before, were sitting on a bench and he asked me if I had "an Ahern toe?" I didn't know what he meant and he said in his family the little toe curved inward and sort of tucked itself in alongside the next larger digit. He took off his shoe and sock to show me and I took off mine to compare, and lo and behold, we both had an Ahern toe! This is even easier than dna testing.

As we finished up and were walking back to the hostel, Jim allowed as how he would have initially invited me to stay with them but their daughter was supposed to come down from Mayo for the weekend, but she had to work after all and would I want to come home with him. Would I! I went to the hostel, grabbed my gear, said so long to the Borstal boys, and kissed my 40 euro for two nights' lodging goodbye. We took the bus out to Castlepark, Ballybane along with Michael and Deidre and I was welcomed into the Aherne household.


Breton Folk Dance Group performing after the parade.
Breton Folk Dance Group performing after the parade.

While I was waiting at the Wood Quay Hostel for Jim to show up, the Breton folk dance group came down the stairs in their costumes and gathered in the lounge where they were going to practice one of their circle dances. I squeezed in to watch and it was quite crowded. One of the lads was between me and the door, which opening into the room was taking up space so I leaned towards him and said "Je t'adore". At least that is what he thought I said. He tried to respond in his broken English that he did not swing that way, but through further gesticulations I was able to convince him that I was not after his body and was simply asking him to shut the door.

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This page copyright © 2005 by Dennis Ahern.