Leaving Greystones Friday after lunch, a quick look at the map revealed we were barely out of Dublin. We still had 1/2 the country to navigate to make it to Cork by nightfall. So we hopped back on the highway – no time for country roads. Except the highways ARE country roads.
The highway south out of Dublin is called the M11. This is a true highway, and the speed limit is 120 kilometers per hour. Which isn’t as fast as it sounds. Kilometers, it turns out, are shorter than miles. Never did get them figured out. The M11 turns into the N11. The N roads are down to one lane each way, and they go through towns and villages, and the speed limit is 100 kph. On the N roads, there usually is room for 2 cars and you don’t have that many stops or roundabouts, except in the towns.
The next smaller roads, which are most everywhere, are the R roads. Almost without exception these are twisting, winding, zero visibility country lanes with barely enough room to pass oncoming traffic. You have to watch out for runners, sheep, farm equipment or old men on bikes around every turn. And we had nice weather – I shudder to think what it’s like when it’s pouring. Speed limit is 80 kph on the R roads. Only crazed, suicidal Irish drivers would dare to go that fast on these paved sheep paths. We constantly found ourselves with one of said drivers on our tail and I would sometimes pull over to let them pass.
Lib said after the trip that she didn’t realize I was such a nervous driver. Ha! When faced with near-certain death at every mile, fear is nothing but a reasonable response. In true Murphy’s Law fashion, I’m convinced that my purchasing travel accident insurance for us both is the only reason we didn’t have a crash. Ireland doesn’t have the 2nd worse accident rate in Europe for nothing.
Passing though a little town, we came around the corner and there at the side of the road was a ruined castle tower. It was a couple of stories tall, with a crenelated top, arched windows. It was ivy covered and pretty dilapidated, not very big – only about 20 feet across, so it was probably some sort of watch tower. But is was an honest-to-goodness medieval tower, just at the side of the road between 2 normal houses. No signs or anything. That’s how Ireland is – so casual about its antiquity.
We pressed on at the highest speed that prudence would allow until we came to Waterford. This town is famous as, you guessed it, the home of Waterford Crystal. It’s a pretty good sized city. As we navigated through the center and out the other side, our eyes were met with a familiar sight. The Golden Arches.
Our first day in Dublin we were wandering, dazed and confused, trying to decide between 2000 places for lunch, keeping in mind that we didn’t have much time if we were going to take the bus to the jail. I suggested we stop in at the Burger King we had just passed.
Lib went ballistic. “We are NOT going to BURGER KING!” Her voice dripped disdain. “We’re in Dublin, for God’s sake! With all the choices of real, Irish cuisine and experiences, to even SUGGEST…”
Jeez. “I was JOKING! You know, JOKING?” You would have thought I suggested we club a few baby seals for seafood tartar right there on the sidewalk.
So I didn’t even suggest we stop at McDonald’s, but Lib did. Apparently her bladder was not as discriminating as her palate. We stopped, but only for the bathroom and a drink. No matter how much I decry the sameness of America’s highways and exits, it is comforting to know there will be another fast food place just up the road to stop and go, if you get my drift. You can’t very well go into a picturesque little pub, ask to use the bathroom and leave without ordering something.
After we took care of business, we bellied up to the counter to place our order. I was especially excited because I saw this as my chance to finally get some decaffeinated coffee. Ireland doesn’t do decaf. Doesn’t believe in it, I suppose. The few times I was able to get some, it was instant. But Mickey D let me down. No decaf, even at this bastion of homogeneity.
I found myself getting mildly annoyed that I couldn’t get a decent cup of decaf coffee anywhere. It wasn’t a big deal, just a nagging bother.
My reaction, mild though it was, is the real reason I decided to take this trip.
I have always wanted to travel. I figured the time and money would not be available until after the kids are out of the house, and Bill and I are retired. My secret fear has been that, by the time I’m able to travel the world, I’ll be one of those old people who complains about everything. I’m not implying that all old people complain. It’s just human nature to get set in our ways as we get older.
“Why don’t they have any American food?”
“How are we supposed to walk that far?”
“Why doesn’t this ancient ruin have an escalator?”
Or maybe “Why doesn’t this country have decaf?” I firmly squelched that reaction and thanked God, Lib and Bill for the opportunity to experience this strange, wonderful, decaf-free place called Ireland.
Right after McDonald’s we came upon the entrance to the Waterford Crystal factory. With a squeal of tires we pulled into the right lane to turn left, or something like that, deciding it would be a shame not to peek in at all the lovely crystal – serendipity, remember? The lot was pretty empty, and we remembered having read something about trouble at the plant. But there were people around so we got out and approached the visitors entrance. There were handmade posters up all over the entrance, and a guy smoking a cig said yes, we could go in.
Once inside, there were a number of people to the left in the coffee shop, others milling around and a guy seated at the info desk. None of them had the organized, chipper appearance you would expect for your first impression of a major factory. Turns out they were actually ex-employees. The “receptionist” explained that Waterford declared bankruptcy in January. They sold to a foreign company. All the employees got a letter sent to their homes that the factory was closing and they were out of work. They didn’t like that. So they decided to come down to the plant. There they’d been, ever since, occupying the plant in shifts.
“How’d you get in?” we asked.
“That door right there” he motioned to a broken glass door. “They (meaning the new owners, I suppose) sent some goons, but we got rid of them.”
He went on to say the new owners would probably move all the work to China and continue to use the name, but without the craftsmanship.
“What do you want?” we asked.
They wanted Ireland to nationalize the plant, and keep them all on at their old salaries. Failing that, they wanted severance pay. He clarified that they had government guaranteed pensions, and would get unemployment benefits. To me the obvious question was, if the company is bankrupt, why would the country want to continue the same as before, losing money? But I didn’t ask. Didn’t seem smart when confronted with a bunch of goon-dispatching, angry union guys. The important thing was, the gift shop had closed 5 minutes earlier so we left.
post script: After we got home, I saw they settled the sit-in just 1-1/2 days later. We’d like to think it was our peaceful presence that did the trick.
post post script: I bought some lovely, Waterford Marquis glass ornaments at a Dublin shop. When I got home and unwrapped them, I saw the tag said “made in China.”
Thanks to all the serendipity, we were really behind when we got back on the road. One of the guide books said the visitor center in Cobh closed at 5 so we decided to head for Cork for the night. We would double back to Cobh in the morning. Cork’s a big city, so we thought we’d find a B&B, get freshened up and go into town for dinner and some craic.
Slon for now-