The Quays, Galway

The Quays

It didn’t take long for this group to find itself in a pub in Galway. The pub was The Quays (pronounced like “keys” and rhymes in Irish poetry with “today’s” and “always.”)

The decor of this pub is one part Gothic cathedral and one part shipwreck. Colored glass blocks are set in the floor and lit from below to give a stained glass effect, as if there wasn’t enough stained glass in the place already. The bar fittings and lights are polished copper and the bar rails solid brass. The floors are roughhewn timbers with gaps between them–a fact that I noticed after Emma dropped her engagement ring. It’s a good thing that the ring didn’t drop through one of those cracks, it would have gone straight to Hell, I’m sure.

There is no end to the alcoves, nooks and snugs in The Quays. Stairways lead in all directions like the Winchester Mystery House. Part of our group stayed at the bar where the Smithwick’s flowed freely. The rest of us went up one of the crazy flights of stairs and found table where we could talk.

I’ve lived most of my life not far from Disneyland and Hollywood, where things are never what they appear. So it was hard to know whether we were living an authentic Galway experience, or simply having a tourist trip designed by a pub consultant from Palm Bay, Florida. But apparently The Quays is the real deal. Originally a cottage pub with thatched roof, it became so popular that it grew into a cellar-type pub, importing the interior from a medieval French church. I have no idea when the remodel happened, but if I was wagering I’d say in the 1950s at the latest.

Irish Rovers

We reached Ireland in the dark before the dawn, flying over the towns of Doonaha, Kittish, Knock and Kilmurry McMahon. The little villages looked like light-up models of neurons–a central nucleus with branches in five or seven directions, connected to other village neurons by a ganglia of early morning motor cars. I imagined a parade of tweedy farmers each driving a small smokey car something like a Morris Minor.

Touchdown at Shannon was rather lively, the pilot seemed to have a tough time keeping the plane level. This, at a speed of 300-400 mph, gave me an opportunity to consider my own mortality.

At the airport we met up with the rest our our party. Martin and Beth were on our same flight. Kathleen; Jimmy and Mary Duffy; David, Jeanne and Daniel; Jennifer, Laura and Lee; Christy and her friend Megan–we were only waiting on Tony and Amy whose plane was delayed in Boston.

With an hour to kill we went to the airport commisary and introduced ourselves to the Irish breakfast–scrambled eggs, small uncircumcised sausages made of finely ground pork, sauted mushrooms and what appeared to be light and dark sausage patties. I asked the server what these are and what I heard her say was “vit and vek.” Later I learned that these were puddings, white and black.

Emma and I took a short walking tour of the estuary, looking at the wild swans and reed grasses. Large black crows with light grey beaks foraged for worms in the lawns around the airport.

Irish Land Rover Defender

I was surprised by the variety of automobiles in the airport car park. Weird little freeway flyers like the Ford Ka, utilitarian vehicles like the Ford Transit, and a boatload of Mercedes Benz. Land Rovers are considered luxury vehicles in the US. Here in Ireland every fifth farmer and his uncle is driving a Land Rover Discovery and towing a livestock trailer. The Land Rover Defender, considered the “Rolls Royce” of the off-road set in the US, is the Irish equivalent of the Ford Econoline, driven by window washers and utility repairmen, frequently with a couple of ladders strapped to the top.

Another thing that surprised me was the fact that many Irish have magnetic “ribbon” stickers on the back of their cars. This is a truly strange semantic leap. The yellow ribbon comes from a 1970s song by Tony Orland and Dawn, in which a paroled prisoner (or possibly a soldier returning from war, the song isn’t clear) asks his sweetheart to tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree if she still wants him back. The yellow ribbon was used as a socio-political statement after a number of Iranian students stormed the US embassy and held embassy workers hostage. US citizens started wearing yellow ribbons as a way to signal that they wanted the hostages back. Now I guess a ribbon simply means “I support something.”

Day One: The Enchanted Way

Journey to Ireland This is as good a place as any to start the story: thirty thousand feet over Atlanta and about to begin our descent to Hartsfield-Jackson. My legs are griping from five hours tucked under the seat and I’m too bored to spit.

What do I expect from this trip? I’d like nothing more than to rove the wild Irish countryside. But this is a tour and our itinerary is fixed. We’ll be traveling with relations, twenty some odd first and second cousins. Each with something different on his or her mind. The only hope for survival is to be flexible.

Still, deep in my bones I sense this is a pilgrimage. A quest for something other.

The flight attendants are collecting litter now. This is the most amusement I’ve had in the past hour and a half.

I pick up the inflight earphones, each the size of an Oreo cookie and clip them to my ears. Delta radio is featuring a terrible hip-hop groove on channel nine, an over-exhuberant performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 on channel ten. Channel eleven is inhabited by a woman with a woody Gaelic lilt to her voice. She says something about Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh and segues into a familiar Irish melody:

On Raglan Road of an Autumn day
I saw her first and knew,
That her dark hair would weave a snare
That I might someday rue.
I saw the danger and I passed
Along the enchanted way.
And I said,”Let grief be a fallen leaf
At the dawning of the day.”

On Grafton Street in November, we
Tripped lightly along the ledge
Of a deep ravine where can be seen
The worth of passion play.
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts
And I not making hay;
Oh, I loved too much and by such and such
Is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind,
I gave her the secret signs,
That’s known to the artists who have known
The true gods of sound and stone.
And her words and tint without stint
I gave her poems to say
With her own name there and her own dark hair
Like clouds over fields of May.

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet
I see her walking now,
And away from me so hurriedly
My reason must allow.
That I had loved, not as I should
A creature made of clay,
When the angel woos the clay, he’ll lose
His wings at the dawn of day.

Shannon River Estuary

Photo: Shannon Estuary; Raglan Road courtesy of Cantaria