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.

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