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

Monday, March 21st

Up at 5:50 a.m. and saw a sleepy Georgeann checking out and waiting for a taxi to the Galway airport for a flight to Manchester, England, England, where she will be doing some house sitting for a bit before returning to the States. I bought a token card for the coffee machine but was unable to comprehend the instructions well enough to get "cream" in my coffee. It is a sign of my desperate need for caffeine that I drank it black. True coffee lovers will tell you that you cannot really appreciate the beverage unless you take it straight and black. I must confess I don't really like coffee so much as I like my cream hot. It may have something to do with my earliest introduction to the brew when my mother would let me have a little with equal parts coffee and evaporated milk, which was a canned dairy product you don't see much any more. It had the consistency of heavy cream and was rather sweet though I don't know if it had sugar in it or anything.

At 7:00 the breakfast things were put out in the hostel dining room. I had toast with "spread" on it and marmalade. The toaster was one of those things with a wire conveyer belt that draws the bread past some heating elements and then drops it out a chute at the bottom. The problem is, it seems like only one side of the elements was working because it only toasted on one side, so I put them through a second time. Unfortunately, it wasn't clear which side was working and I ended up, at the end of the second pass, with toast that was plain bread on one side and burnt on the other. Suffering Succotash! There was no cereal out like in the Dublin hostel so I had some orange juice and tea.

The Galway Sleepzone hostel has free Internet terminals, but they use a Mozilla web browser and there was no telnet application. As my primary email is in a unix shell account that I connect to in an ascii terminal window via telnet, I was not able to access anything except my secondary address on Yahoo.com.

Not wanting to take any chances on missing the train I had dressed in my clothes from the day before. I didn't bother shaving, taking a shower, or even changing my underwear. There would probably be enough seats on the train so nobody would be forced to sit near me. It was all very grotty, but I didn't have to worry about waking anybody up while I repacked my pack.

The hostel is the other side of Eire Square from the train station. Walking the few block I passed crews working on the paving. One was cutting through a paving stone with a power saw that put out a lot of decibels. He was wearing a helmet, but no ear protectors, something that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) would never allow in the U.S. Speaking of helmets and the Galway train/bus station reminds me of the first time I came here in 1991. The layout at the entry way of the station was different then. They had a barrier, one of those long poles that swung up to allow vehicles in or out of the bus lot. I don't know how it was controlled, but I had just come in on the train from Dublin in '91 and was walking towards the boarding point for the bus to the hostel that used to be at Inverin, near where you get the ferry to Inishmore at Rossaveal. I had my same red Kelty pack on my back and was wearing a white sailing hat that shaded my eyes. Unfortunately it also shielded from my view the heavy pole that was being lowered just as I stepped off the crowded curb to let someone pass. That thing came right down on the top of my head and knocked me to the ground. I was stunned, but not concussed. Strangely, nobody seemed to pay any attention whatever to my predicament. I struggled to my feet, got on the bus and sat in the back. The ride out beyond Salthill to Inverin took somewhat more than a half hour and I sat in the back of the bus trying to shake myself into a state of alertness so as to not miss the isolated request stop for the hostel. When the time came, I got off the bus in such a hurry that I left my sailing hat on the bus. I never saw that hat again.

The ticket window was not open yet at the train station, but there was a machine you could buy your tickets from. I paid 28 euro with my credit card for a single (one-way) ticket to Dublin. I had a very nice takeaway Shepherds pie from the station restaurant once in '93, but as with all such things, that is past now. The holy grail of a decent shepherds pie in Ireland continues to elude me. I settled for orange juice. I swear if you pricked me my blood would be orange. The train had only been underway for about half an hour when it stopped in the middle of some fields with nothing in sight in any direction. It sat there for about ten minutes. I got up and went back to where you could look out the windows and there was no clue why we were stopped. A gentleman on the same mission speculated that they must've gotten a puncture. We soon puled into Athenry. Perhaps they had stopped so as to not be early arriving.

Arriving at Heuston Station in Dublin I discovered that the LUAS stopped right there at the station and I hopped on and headed off to O'Connell Street and was soon off up the hill to the hostel where I was greeted by name by the staff and handed some mail that I was expecting from home with papers I needed for opening a bank account in Ireland. First thing I did was put my dirty laundry in the washing machine. Then I went back to the room to unpack, set up the breathing machine next to the bed and lay out my clothes for the big meeting. Then, while my laundry was in the dryer, I had a nice hot shower and shave and putting on my dress pants and my best shirt I was soon on my way to the National Library to meet Norman.

As arranged Norman had brought a tie for me to wear, a nice dark blue one that went well with the light blue shirt. I wore the same outfit for nine years at St. Agnes Parochial School in Arlington. We went out in search of the entrance to Government Buildings on Merrion Street. I had always thought the entrance was from Kildare Street next to the Library, but that's a car park for government employees and ministers. Instead we walked down to Nassau Street, turned right past the National Gallery and soon found ourselves at the pedestrian entrance to he courtyard where, inside the booth, we explained our purpose and who we were visiting. We were directed across the courtyard to a door to the right of the main entrance. Inside this door the corridor led directly to a glassed-in reception desk where our names were checked against an appointment list and we were passed further in to a waiting room with comfy chairs, and various government pamphlets laid out for perusal. There was also a computer and I checked to see if I could get at my email from it, but it was only accessible to authorized persons. Within a few minutes the door opened and an escort appeared to lead us further into the inner sanctums, up the marble stairs, covered with plush red carpet, padded where the steps had worn shallow by centuries of hobnailed boots. Our attention was directed to the central staircase which is only used for heads of state on official visits. At the end of a long corridor on the top floor we were deposited in yet another sitting room to await our next escort, who very shortly appeared in the form of a young man who led us to a nondescript, unmarked door off the end of the hall. Upon entering we were greeted heartily by The Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, TD.

After handshakes and introductions we proceeded quickly to the stated purpose of my visit, which was to present The Taoiseach with a T-shirt of the Ahern Clan Association. The Taoiseach and I posed for photographs with the T-shirt held between us. Norman also got to pose for a handshake and then Bertie and I sat down at a table for a chat while Norman recorded the whole thing on video, which is a good thing because I might otherwise misremember what we talked about. I told him the story about being in the Macnas parade with Jim Aherne in Galway and his asking me if I had the Ahern toe, but I refrained from inviting the leader of the Irish government to take off his shoe and sock so we could compare. Bertie's people are from county Cork, as are mine, but I know of no close connection between our ancestors. In my case, it's complicated by the fact that my great-great-grandfather, John Ahern, married a woman named Catherine Ahern. Unfortunately, they do not appear to have been married in the Diocese of Cloyne and all I have is the baptisms of their ten children in Mallow to confirm that her maiden name was Ahern. Bertie's family was from the Diocese of Cork and Ross and if it turns out that is where my Aherns were married, it may yet turn out that we are closer cousins than we know.

Presenting T-shirt

I had been asked by a professional genealogist in Dublin to use my meeting with the Taoiseach to raise his awareness of the state of things at the GRO. I told him how frustrating it was being limited to five requests a day and for being charged a fee to look at the index books. he chuckled when I told him how I was beating the system by going 'round to the Gilbert Library to look at the indexes for free. I also took the opportunity to express my hope that the Jeanie Johnston would not be sold off to some foreign interest and that she find the financial support she needs to bring a bit of Ireland to foreign shores.

Showing us around his office, Bertie pointed out his favorite portrait of "Dev", as he called him, and told a story about how late in his tenure as President of the Irish Republic the newspaper columnists had begun analyzing and interpreting everything he said. DeValera was incredulous that they should expend so much ink parsing his every utterance. In the present day, I think it is even more extreme, with supporters and detractors alike reading the entrails of every movement and hanging on every word uttered. I studiously avoided touching on recent history though I think he did the right thing in not shutting Gerry Adams out completely. The Paisleyites liken it to Neville Chamberlain doffing his cap in Munich, but if you refuse to even talk to people, how can you bring them to the table?

The Irish press has been reporting on "America's" reaction to the recent killing in Belfast and the participation of the victim's sisters and fiancée in the White House St. Patrick's Day events from which Gerry Adams was excluded for the first time in several years. The print media here suggest that the scales fell from American eyes after 9/11 and the old romantic notions of the IRA as freedom fighters have been replaced by a newfound abhorrence of terrorism, as if so long as nobody was hurting us, we didn't care what happened to innocent people in other lands. Nonsense! We may wear Irish sweaters and sing rebel songs learned from the Clancy Brothers, but that doesn't mean we were all passing the hat for NorAid in every Irish pub from Boston to San Francisco. About 15 years ago, when bombs were going off in England, an English woman I was in touch with by email accused me of being a supporter of terrorism simply because I have an Irish name. She knew for a fact that Irish Americans were financing the IRA. She had it on good authority that some of us were having money deducted from our paychecks and deposited directly into IRA accounts. UN-bleeping-believable! For those of you overseas, the IRA deductions are for voluntary Individual Retirement Accounts intended as a supplement to pensions and social security funds.

Chatting with Bertie

After some further conversation, Bertie summoned his personal secretary from an adjacent office and instructed him to retrieve some gifts which he then presented to myself and Norman. We were each given pens with gold lettering that say "Government Buildings" and "Department of the Taoiseach" in English and Irish and cufflinks of green with a stylized harp symbol in gold that is the personal seal of An Taoiseach. Now I'll have to buy a new shirt with French cuffs to go with them. We then said our good-byes and were turned over to a porter by the name of Frank, whose surname I failed to catch, but whose people were from England. Frank was instructed to give us a tour on the way out and we were shown many precious gifts in gold and silver that had been presented by visiting heads of state. I wondered if our Ahern Clan Association T-shirt was going to be put on display. I hope not, as it is meant to be worn. Frank took us into a large room with an enormous oval table made of sycamore inlaid with oak. This was not the Cabinet Room, but we were told the cabinet does have breakfast meetings there sometimes. I noticed on a sideboard a tray of cellophane wrapped sandwiches and I wondered if I might stave off my hunger, but decided to wait until we were out of sight of any security cameras that were recording our tour. The building had been built in 1904, a date confirmed by the graven text we were directed to in the courtyard which commemorated the laying of the cornerstone by King George VII. In the grand entry hall, there were large, plasterwork harps of green around the high ceiling. I wondered, however, if they were original as they were harps without the crown. In the days when all of Ireland was still subject to the Crown, it was an offence to display a flag, badge, or other depiction of the harp unless it had a crown on the top of it. I surmise that this plasterwork had been done since the formation of the Irish Free State. It is interesting to ponder what discussions there may have been over whether or not to take a sledgehammer to the cornerstone with the monarch's name chiseled into it.
Bidding goodbye to our escort, Norman and I left Government Buildings and headed around the corner to the Shelbourne Hotel for some comestibles. We each got a pot of tea, Norman's Darjeeling and mine whatever was on offer, and we shared a plate of lovely smoked salmon sandwiches with capers on brown bread. Seated around a table to my right were two women and an older couple. The two women were not exactly young, but not as old as the couple. The woman closest to me turned to me and began to bemoan the fact that she had come to Ireland and found herself sitting next to an Englishman who was a fan of Ian Paisley. She further informed me that she was from Texas but was no fan of George Bush, either. Tea at the Shelbourne
Tea at the Shelbourne

She and her companion expressed an interest in dinner and Norman recommended a reasonably-priced French place nearby that had good food and wine and my fellow Americans soon decamped leaving us to further engage the Englishman and his wife. It turns out he has lived in Ireland for 45 years and is a lover of American film music of the 1940s-1960s period, not musicals, but scores of such films as "Robin Hood" and "Captain from Castille" and all the other great Korngold scores. We discussed similarities in Maurice Jarre's scores for "Lawrence of Arabia", "Bridge on the River Kwai", "Ryan's Daughter" and "Doctor Zhivago". Surprisingly, he had never been to the British Film Institute's Museum of the Moving Image in London and I convinced him it was a must-see for any film buff. Seated across from us was a group of women seated around a pair of tiered trays of sponge cakes and pastries, several of which looked to be going back to the kitchen as the consumption had ground to a halt. I wondered if they would object if I asked to sample some of what they had not had a go at, but it was more out of curiosity than hunger, my earlier peckishness having been sated.

Soon we were off out the door and I parted company with Norman intent on catching a #10 bus back to Mountjoy Street as it was raining slightly and I did not relish the walk at this point. I had earlier seen the #10 going by, but I had never ridden it beyond the National Library in Kildare St. before and I made the mistake of getting on a #10 that was going in the wrong direction - away from the City Centre. The rain was causing the windows to steam up in the front of the top deck where I chose to sit. Because of that it took me more than a little while to realize I was not seeing any familiar streets and became resigned to the fact that I was going to make a very roundabout trip. The end of the line turned out to be the campus of University College Dublin and the bus was being taken out of service at that point, but the driver gave me a transfer for the ride back and even took off in time to overtake the departing bus at the next stop so I wouldn't have to wait. I stopped off at the hostel long enough to use the facilities and put my new pen and cufflinks in my locker then went over to the cybercafe around the corner. But as I was rather thirsty I stopped in at Alauras Multinational Foods & Meats on Frederick Street North to get some juice. As a change of pace I got some different flavors. Instead of orange, I got some guava and mango juice and a strawberry passion fruit. They sell all sorts of things in there, including "Halal Meats" which I assume is some sort of Moslem equivalent of kosher. After catching up on my email and weblog, I returned to the hostel and went to bed.

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