Ireland/Britain 1998 day 12: Galway

I slept in really late this morning, no big surprise due to all the door-slamming and copulating going on around me throughout the night (if only the Quay Street Hostel made their guests read this article). As a result I missed the morning ferry to the Aran Islands and was pretty much stuck in Galway for the day. With no major sightseeing destinations in Galway itself, 31 January 1998 became my first vacation from vacation day.

First up, getting my stank clothing cleaned at Pleasant Hill Laundry. Although the window sign said “self-service,” the kindly old woman who worked there insisted on doing all my laundry for me as I watched. I’m sure if it was my maleness or Americanness that made her think I could not launder my own clothing, or if self-service just means something different in Ireland. The best part of the laundry was The Extractor. Between the washer the dryer, she put my clothing in this cylinder-shaped device which forcibly squeezed out all the water.

Next, lunch at AbraKebabra, an Irish fast-food chain that serves disgustingly greasy – and thus delicious – food, with plenty of vegetarian options. Here I learn from the radio that the song I’ve heard repeatedly during my travels is “Dr. Jones” by Aqua and that Larry Gogan is a real person, not just the dog in Roddy Doyle novels. I worked off the fat with a long stroll to Salthill, a scenic seaside suburb of Galway.

Returning to Galway, I popped into Taafe’s pub for an afternoon session of Irish trad. While enjoying the music I chatted with a middle-aged Irish working man. Telling him that I worked in a history museum prompted him to share that he’d been misled by the history he learned in school that wasn’t true, such as that the Irish rebels of the Easter Rising actually won the battle.

Filled with spirits and seeking the Spirit, I attended a Vigil Mass at Galway Cathedral, a lovely structure that is kind of the Camden Yards of Cathedrals because it was built in the 196o’s but given a retro-look the Middle Ages. The Mass was beautiful although I was thrown when all the other congregants recited the Lord’s Prayer in Irish!

That evening, I made a supper of the delicious chips at McDonagh’s (I’m sure the fish is good too, if you like fish). Then I attend my second session of the day in the upper room of a wonderful pub called The Crane. I heard some of the best music yet in my travels, and talked with a nice young woman from Portlaois as well.

Not bad for a day when I didn’t do anything!

River Corrib

The swift flowing River Corrib in Galway.  The dome of Galway Cathedral is in the distance.


Not everyday you see someone carrying a kayak through town.

Painting a Boat

Low tide is a good time to paint your boat.

links of the day for 31 January 2008


  • Must We Fear Adolescent Sexuality? (Feministing, 1/24/08) – “”basically that adolescent sexuality is dramatized in one country (good ol’ U.S. of A.) and normalized in the other. Parents in the Netherlands repeatedly expressed believing that love between teens is very possible, whereas American parents scoffed at it.”
  • One Bush Left Behind (Greg Palast, 1/29/08) – “Of course, there’s an effective alternative to Mr. Bush’s plan – which won’t cost a penny more. Simply turn it upside down. Let’s give each millionaire in America a $20 bill, and every poor child $287,000.”
  • The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Independent (Easily Distracted, 1/29/08) – “I tend to look at politics the same way Jane Jacobs looked at cities, as something that grows organically out of experience and usage. The strong party or movement loyalist looks at politics the way that Le Corbusier looked at cities: as a thing to be built by rigid principles, and damn people if they’re too stupid or recalcitrant to live in the city of tomorrow the way that they’re supposed to.”
  • The Last Article On The Traveler/Tourist Distinction You’ll Ever Read (Brave New Traveler, 1/30/08) – “The whole point of travel is to pursue the meaning behind the milieu: to discover oneself in the mirror of the Other. Travel isn’t dictated by fad or tradition, but by curiosity. It is internally directed. Fixation on the role or material affairs only distracts from issues of real importance. We are all tourists. We learn by doing. Our knowledge comes by the fine art of making our screw-ups something beautiful. And unless you’re willing to go down roads unfamiliar to the cowards and cynics, the art never arrives. It is upon these are the roads where we are made travelers.”


Today is the 50th anniversary of the launch of Explorer 1, the United States’ response to Sputnik, which also carried out important scientific research discovering the van Allen radiation belts:

  • Scientific American podcast Science Talk (1/30/08) – “Carl Raggio, formerly of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, talks about the efforts to launch Explorer 1, the first US satellite, which went into orbit on January 31st, 1958, exactly 50 years ago this week.”
  • 50 years after Explorer 1 (Bad Astronomy, 1/31/08)

Free Stuff:

Isaac Hecker

This Sunday in New York at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, the cause for the canonization of Father Hecker was opened at a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Edward Egan. Hecker is the founder of the Paulists Fathers, an order dedicated to missionary work, reconciliation and ecumenicism in North America. The Paulist Fathers originated in Hecker’s belief that Catholicism and the American democratic ideals were in fact compatible. Like many great American Catholics Hecker converted to the faith. Prior to his conversion he was involved in the great philosophical movements of the day such as Transcendentalism and was friends with people like Henry David Thoreau. All these experiences helped inform a uniquely American approach to Catholicism and a lifelong effort as a spiritual seeker.

I’m very excited and inspired that Hecker’s cause for canonization is begun. I am aquainted with Hecker and the Paulist Fathers through my involvement with the Paulist Center community here in Boston. It also starts off the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Paulist Fathers. I was fortunate to hear Jon Fuller, S.J., M.D. speak on Saturday night as he received the Isaac Hecker Award “for his lifelong devotion and dedication to the service of a marginalized population through his work with HIV/AIDS treatment and research.”

To learn more about Fr. Isaac Hecker and his cause for canonization, visit the official Paulist Fathers website.

For more coverage on Sunday’s event, visit the following links:

Which Church Father Are You?

An odd quiz/meme via Baptized Pagan.

I’m not quite sure what my results mean as I’m rusty on this period in Church history/theology.

You’re Origen!

You do nothing by half-measures. If you’re going to read the Bible, you want to read it in the original languages. If you’re going to teach, you’re going to reach as many souls as possible, through a proliferation of lectures and books. If you’re a guy and you’re going to fight for purity … well, you’d better hide the kitchen shears.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 11: Galway

30 January 1998 involved another set of long bus trips from Dingle to Tralee to Limerick and finally to Galway. This was better than the alternative as I was actually due in Williamsburg City General Traffic Court to face a charge of Failure to Yield Right of Way – Accident (to date my only auto accident, and I was responsible dammit!). Arriving in Galway I checked into the Quay Street Hostel, another recommendation of Pa’s but this one didn’t turn out so well. I was placed in a ginormous 18-bed dorm with a spring-loaded door that would slam shut every time one of my drunken bunkmates staggered in and out. All 18 beds were full, and some of them had more than one occupant if you get my drift.

Galway City however is a wonderful place with a great street vibe from the bustle of youthful people and the many buskers performing. I began my first evening in Galway by stuffing my face at Couch Potatas, a brilliant potato-themed restaurant. My evening pub crawl brought me to Monroe’s Tavern where a lively session was in full-swing. My luck was good that night as an attractive young woman named Corrine – from Connecticut of all places – struck up a conversation and I ended up spending part of the evening hanging out with her and her friends all of whom were students at University College Galway. We talked about going out dancing but the clubs were too far away so we finished off the night getting chips & vinegar at a fast food joint instead.

Yahoo for Johan!

The Mets have reached a deal with the Minnesota Twins to trade for Johan Santana!  That’s the Johan Santana who is quite possibly the best active pitcher in baseball and most certainly the first Cy Young Award caliber pitcher in the Mets in his prime since the days of Gooden and Cone.

This is a great way to awake from the slumber of a long, cold off-season and begin to get excited for the 2008 campaign!

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 10: Dingle Peninsula

I’m much more active the next day – 29 January 1998 – beginning with a visit to Foxy John’s, a hardware store/bike shop/pub where I hire a bike for the day. Following a loop route in my Rick Steve’s guidebook, I head out to Slea Head, the westernmost point in Europe. Along the route there’s the dramatic scenery of steep cliffs and ocean views as well as the cultural ruins of antiquity. Some of the latter include the Fahan clocháns, stone huts expertly built without mortar the resemble beehives or igloos. These were once used as habitations and still shelter the sheep that wander freely over the peninsula.

At Slea Head itself, a point marked by a stone crucifix and a statue of the Three Mary’s weeping, I’m amazed that the sheep are standing on the steep cliff itself in a place I didn’t think sheep could even get to much enjoy grazing. The sea is dotted with jagged rocks known as the Blasket Islands, once home to community of rugged islanders. Sadly the Blasket Islands Interpretive Center and the ferry to the islands themselves are closed for the season.

Heading back inland I pass through the village of Ballyferriter where Ireland’s official bilingualism is abandoned and all the signs are solely in the Irish language. The sun is already starting to set so I decide not to stop and cheat myself of a uniqiue cultural experience. The final site on the tour is Gallarus Oratory, a small stone church resembling an overturned boat that may date back as far as 800 AD. I get chills thinking of the small community worshiping here over a thousand years ago.

Back in Dingle, I shower off the offensive smell I’ve gained while peddling around the Slea Head loop. Jessica, Amy, and I head out An Droichead Beag or the Small Bridge Pub, which true to its name is built over a bubbling stream. The music is good (they even sell an excellent recording called A Mighty Session) and the company is even better. Jessica and Amy try to fix me up with the local women (they both have boyfriends at home) with little success and mostly we enjoy conversing. Jessica even offers to let me stay at her flat in Paris. I accept the offer and start thinking of ways to revise my itinerary to piece in a side trip to Paris.

My time in Dingle turns out to be much the opposite of my time in Killarney, quiet, contemplative, and understated. I enjoy it all the same and consider Dingle one of the loveliest places on Earth.

Bicylcing to Slea Head
Pedaling to Slea Head. I was so proud of myself for managing to get this shot with the self-timer.

Slea Head Sheep
Baaa! How did these sheep get out on this cliff?

There’s no subtlety in Irish warning signs.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 9: Dingle

Early in the morning of 28 January 1998, I board a bus in Killarney to Tralee and from there another bus to Dingle the main town on the Dingle Peninsula. The entire journey takes about 6 hours since Dingle is a bit off the tourist path, especially compared to Killarney. This is one of the reasons its worth visiting. Another is that the peninsula falls in a Gaeltacht region, a place where the Irish government supports traditional language and culture. A big draw of course is that the small town of 1,500 is home to over 50 pubs which are renown as some of the best pubs in Ireland for Irish trad. Many of the pubs do double duty including Dick Mack’s which is part pub and part leather-working shop.

On Pa’s recommendation I check into the Grapevine Hostel, a pleasant and cozy place to stay albeit quiet compared to the Súgán. There I meet up with Sonia, a young and attractive German woman I met on my first night in Killarney. She spent last night in Dingle and is heading out again on the next bus. We go shopping together in Dingle, each time we enter a store Sonia bellows out “Hello!” in the European fashion. I end up purchasing a blue woolen sweater, a charcoal gray lambswool scarf, and a little knit cap that rolls up much like the on Pa was wearing (I still wear all three of these articles of clothing). These prove to be practical purchases as the temperatures during my time in Dingle dip down into the 30’s and 40’s, the coldest of my entire six weeks of travel.

Back at the Grapevine I meet up with Jessica again as well as a Canadian woman named Amy. They determine that it is too cold to go out, so I end up going out alone for a lonely pint and somewhat subduded music at a pub called Teach Thomáis. Then I call it a night.

Fisherman working with their nets on the Dingle Harbor.

Sonia and I agreed that port towns like Dingle and Hamburg are the most beautiful places to visit.

A wrecked ship on the Dingle waterfront.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 8: Killarney

I almost didn’t visit Killarney at all. Suffice to say, Killarney is a notorious tourist trap, the base camp for the Ring of Kerry, a loop road traversed by coach buses and rental cars full of foreigners. Experiencing the hospitality of Pa an his family at the Súgán I didn’t regret making a short stop in Killarney and actually extended my stay another night. Tourist or no, I enjoyed the company of the group of international travelers and nights on the town where the locals were mainly entertaining themselves during the off-season. On 27 January 1998 though I did what I actually had planned for my visit to Killarney, visit Killarney National Park which also proved worth the time.

I’d intended on hiking through the park but Pa convinced me to rent one of his bikes which proved wise since I was able to cover more ground and get away from main clusters of tourism. Not that there were many people there to enjoy this sunny day in the low season. The large swathes of asphalt by the entrance were blissfully free of tour coaches. I pedal to several of the main attractions including Muckross Abbey, ruins of 15th-century Franciscan monastery which contain a fantastic yew tree and the 60-foot high Torc Waterfall. Mostly I just pedal around leisurely – I’m not in the best cycling shape – enjoying the sun reflecting of the lakes upon which swans swim and men fish.

I should mention now that I wasn’t traveling entirely alone. I brought with me a small plush otter who I’d often place in front of landmarks and photograph him for a kind of Where’s Waldo effect. The friend who gave me this otter purchased him at museum in Newport News and as the otter was sitting on a rock in Torc Waterfall, I decided that Newport is a good name for a travelling otter since he always in a new port.

Back at the Súgán, a group of us decide to have our photo taken in front of the hostel and I decide that Pa should hold Newport for the photo. Pa is not at all surprised at being asked to hold a plush toy. “20 % of people traveling have something like this.” As we pass off cameras and take turns snapping photos Pa tells a story about a man whose thing was to pose nude in front on world landmarks. “He got arrested in front of the Eiffel Tower and locked up overnight in a Paris jail.”

That night a group of us go out to Yer Man’s pub whose claim to fame is that they are the only pub licensed to serve Guinness in jam jars. I’m not sure why anyone would want to drink Guinness out of a jam jar, but I get one for the novelty. Later, this group joins up with pretty much everyone else at the Killarney Grand for music that unfortunately is mostly Southern rock. But the company is good as is the beer.

Sugan Hostel

In front of the Súgán Hostel. That’s Pa in the middle with the otter. The seated woman is Jessica who will return to this travelogue in later posts.

Torc Waterfall
The waters of Torc Waterfall baptize Newport the Otter with his new name.

Jam Jar
Drinking Guinness from a jam jar at Yer Man’s pub. Did I ever look that young?

Footnote: I’ve never been back to Killarney, but if I ever have the opportunity I’d love to go back and stay at the Súgán, even though my hosteling days are past. Pa still runs the Súgán and has expanded it so that there’s a private room in addition to the dorms.

A few years back while looking for information about my favorite place to stay in Ireland I came upon this article. I know I was just a traveler who spent two nights in this family-run hostel, but I was heartbroken when I read it and offer my sympathy to Pa and his family.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 7: Cork/Killarney

I awake the next morning 26 January 1998 at 10 am, feeling rested and perfectly fine. I don’t question why, I just accept it. On a brighter and warmer day than the one proceeding, I walk to western Cork City to visit Cork City Gaol. Like Kilmainham, this jail museum purports to be a part of the history of Ireland’s struggle for independence. Upon entering I’m issued a ticket which reads:

Inmate No. 51240
Sentenced to serve time and charged
Adult £3.00

And serve time I will. Waxworks are never a good sign when looking for a legitimate history museum. Just beyond the entrance a waxwork of a man in a warden’s uniform – grinning with exaggerated glee – directs visitors into the main exhibition space. Cell after cell contains waxwork dioramas: madmen clinging maniacally to the bars, a bare-breasted woman breastfeeding a crying infant, and a human treadmill where prisoners are forced to grind grain. Sound effect loudspeakers pump in the cries of prisoners, the shuffling of manacled feet, and the drip of leaky roofs. The exhibits are one way only so there’s no way to escape this torture but to go through the entire museum. The piece-de-resistance comes at the end, where I’m ushered into the former recreation area, locked in and forced to watch a multi-media presentation on CRIME, PUNISHMENT, and oh yeah a bit of Irish history, projected on the whitewashed walls.

After my parole from Cork City Gaol, I promise myself not to visit any more jails on my holiday. The time wasted walking to and visiting Cork City Gaol leaves me with little time to take in any other sites in Cork. At this point, though, I am ready to shake the dust of Cork City from my feet. I walk back into the city center, bail my luggage out of storage, and board the next bus to Killarney. On my ride through the beautiful Lee Valley, the sun came out, illuminating the green hills around my bus. I felt brighter days ahead of me.

I select my lodgings in Killarney based on eavesdropping on Australians in the kitchen at Sheila’s in Cork. The Súgán sits modestly amid row houses and shop fronts albeit painted a cheerful green with Celtic swirls and imagery. Bicycles, potted plants, and picnic table merrily clutter the small, paved front yard. The cave like room enter has low ceilings with wood beams, stone walls, and stone floors, but it’s cheerfully warmed by a peat fire. I’m befuddled, because from my limited experience this looks nothing like a hostel.

I find myself greeted by a chorus of women shrieking “It’s a man!” Four attractive young women sitting with one bearded man all look at me expectantly.

“Uh, where is the Reception desk.”

“It’s right here!” says the man cheerfully pulling out a chair. “Have a seat.”

This was my introduction to Pa, the most cheerful proprietor of the most laid-back hostel. After spending an hour or so just chatting with Pa and the young women (who are not surprisingly backpackers from Australia), and hearing Pa play a bawdy song on guitar, he finally checks me in. Pa takes myself and a young woman from Pennsylvania named Jessica on a tour of the hostel. Although the hostel is tiny (only 18 beds) the tour takes another hour, is full of jokes and anecdotes, and in short is the best guided tour I’d have all month. Highlights include the kitchen where the kettle is named Jenny, the toaster is named Annie, and the stove is named Moffat. Out back in a shed separate from the main hostel are the showers which Pa claims are well-heated because he hired three electricians to wire the heater, something he says is necessary in Ireland because if you hire just one electrician he won’t show up and if you hire two, one will show up but he’ll bungle the job.

Upstairs we find beds and Pa tells us the secret of what to do when other people are snoring. “If there’s somebody snoring and you can’t fall asleep. Just whistle. It really works. As soon as you hear someone snoring, if you whistle they will stop. I tell this to all my guests and it hasn’t failed yet. Except for one lad who came to me and said ‘I couldn’t sleep at all last night.’ I says ‘Why, was somebody snoring.’ He says, ‘No, nobody was snoring but everyone was whistling.”

Pa’s family also lives in a room adjacent to the dorms, and I meet his wife Mia and energetic six-year old daughter Jesse. Mia will make dinner and Pa implores us to go out and enjoy Killarney’s nightlife, including a play in which he will be performing.

“So you’ll go out tonight in Killarney for some craic? That’s not crack like you have in America, craic is what the Irish call having a good time at no one’s expense. So if I’m having a good time, she’s having a good time, but were riding him and he’s not having a good time, that’s not craic. But if I’m having a good time and she’s having a good time and he’s having a good time, that’s craic.” Pa’s finger moves from himself to Jessica to me to illustrate the he’s and she’s.

After a delicious vegetarian meal, I head out for a night on the town with all the other guests of the hostel including Jessica, a German named Sonja, and the many Australian women. Much is made of the fact that I’m the only male staying in the hostel. We go to the Killarney Grand where there’s a performance of the short satirical play Pure of Heart by John B. Keane, featuring Pa in a great comic performance. Afterwards Pa and some of his friends play bluesy music and later another band plays Irish folk songs.

Back at the Súgán, we gather around the peat fire, and the glow of the flickering light, Pa tells stories. This time he tells of Irish lads coming to Killarney for stag parties and basically making pests of themselves in the hostel (sometimes when they’re not even lodging there). He concludes, “That’s why you can’t rent a bed to someone from your own country. I think it’s true no matter where you are, but here I can take in people from England, Germany, America, Japan or anywhere else and have no problem. But I can never trust the Irish.”

The warm cozy room with its peat fire and an international crowd telling stories make for a great ending to a wonderful day.

River Lee

Wistfully looking out over the River Lee in Cork City.


Pa at the Killarney Grand playing guitar, one of his many talents.