We needed to get all the way across Ireland on that Monday, and wanted to leave time for shopping, church, dinner and pubbing in Dublin. We were stuck with the small, R roads so we couldn’t make great time. We had to be disciplined about the serendipity today.
Central Ireland isn’t as much of a tourist destination as the coasts, and we could understand why. There wasn’t much going on. The land was flatter, the homes neat but not impressive. There were a lot of little Fiat trucks zipping up and down the road, impatiently waiting to pass us. It seemed like an ordinary Monday morning, anywhere, with everyone going about their business.
Lib found our favorite station on the radio. I think all the radio and TV stations are nationalized. There weren’t a lot of choices, but we had good luck. We had discovered Rte Lyric early on in our Irish adventure. It’s like our NPR, except they play a more eclectic mix – classics, jazz and traditional music. A couple of days earlier we caught a program of songs from the movies and sang along as we motored.
(I discovered the station online and am listening to it as I type this. It is strange to hear the traffic reports describing roads that we were on!)
Today, however, Lib stumbled upon an Irish language station and was kind enough to let me listen to it for a while. We had no idea what the program entailed. It was just 3 people talking in Irish. I strained to pick out the few words I knew and taught a few of them to Lib. The most common word was “agus”, which means “and”.
Lib and I both started shouting out like demented myna birds whenever we heard this.
“Agus!” Then one minute later “Agus!”.
I never realized how often people begin their sentences with “and”.
“Let’s see what else is on, ok?” Lib suggested after about 20 minutes.
“Wait a minute – did that woman say “rodagin”?” I asked, excitedly turning up the volume. “That means “something”. Yes, I’m almost certain that was what she said!”
It was only 15 minutes later when Lib AGAIN wanted to change the channel.
“That was fun. You sure DO know quite a few words. But since we don’t know what they’re saying, and this is our last day in Ireland, maybe we can…” Lib started in again, but I turned up the volume so I didn’t catch the rest of the tirade.
I thought the program was enthralling, but Lib soon started to get insistent. Apparently she has a short little attention span.
“Can’t we listen to something else?” Lib asked plaintively. “Anything else? Maybe static?”
“Just a sec. Was that “agus tu fein”? That means “and yourself?”. If someone asked how you were doing, you would would reply “agus tu fein”, kind of like “how about you?”. That would be a familiar response, not something you’d use in a formal situation. At least I think that was what he said. But we know he said “agus”. We certainly recognize that word!” I laughed merrily.
After about only an hour and a half of our fun game of “Guess What That Random Word Means”, Lib had grown quiet. I looked over to discover she had changed into a white kimono. She was reciting a death poem and had the tanto (ceremonial knife) poised above her abdomen for the first cut of ritual harakiri.
So I changed the channel.
So we listened to Irish pop for a while.
Athlone is a pretty good sized city about 80 miles west of Dublin. We decided to stop there to see this wonderful, huge medieval abbey with a whole bunch of ruins of churches and stuff. I’m paraphrasing the guidebook. Except I got confused about what ruin we were seeking. We ended up in downtown Athlone parked by a crumbling castle tower that was only about 50 feet across. I didn’t think this was worthy of all the guidebook praise. There didn’t even appear to be a way to get in. We parked anyway and looked around the shops.
Downtown Athlone was busy and, except for the bit of mouldering castle,
pretty much what you’d expect of a city on a workday. We chanced on a hunting and fishing store. This was a lucky find as I found the perfect gift for Bill. It was a moss green, waterproof suede hat with ear flaps that tuck up inside when not needed. Almost as good as the hat was the receipt that accompanied it: “Scully Guns & Tackle, Suppliers of Guns, Fishing Tackle, Outdoor Clothing, Boots & Wellies. With Compliments, Athlone”.
We were feeling a mite peckish so the proprietor of the shop recommended a cafe down the block. The little place was filled with the lunchtime crowd and there wasn’t a free table. The energetic redheaded girl who was to be our waitress asked a lone lady if she would mind sharing, and we sat down at her table.
The food was fresh and unusual. I had a goat cheese and red pepper sandwich and it was really good. After a first, brief thank-you smile as we sat down, we had ignored our fellow diner and she read a book. Towards the end of the meal a chance comment starting us talking.
She was a teacher at a local public school – was her name Bridget? She taught Catholic history and dogma. We were really surprised when she said she had the students pray the rosary, and that it was a regular class with tests and credit and everything. In a public school!
We got to talking about politics and we finally found the first person in Ireland who was not wild about our new president, Barack Obama. Bridget was staunchly pro-life and very involved in Ireland’s so far successful bid to keep abortion from being legalized. She was aware of Mr. Obama’s record of having voted to deny life-saving measures be performed on babies who survived abortions.
She clarified that the ruins we were looking for were Clonmacnoise, the foremost monastic site in Ireland. It was about 13 miles south of town. A few months earlier, Bridget and a group of like-minded friends had gone to Clonmacnoise and had a prayer service among the ruins of one of the churches. One of the guides came rushing up, demanding that they stop.
“This is a historical site.” said the guide. “It isn’t appropriate that you do that here.”
“This was a church.” replied Bridget “The whole place was built for people to glorify God.”
There was more argument, but the guide couldn’t get them to leave. We talked about secularism which doesn’t creep, but shoves its way into all society, even here in Ireland.
Bridget had to get back to school and we had to get on the road. We really wanted to see Clonmacnoise, to bravely say a prayer in the ruins like our new friend, but it was afternoon already and we had far to go and much to do.
We pushed on east, but missing Clonmacnoise was the thing I regretted most.