Sorry I haven’t written in a while. When last we left our intrepid travelers, they were enjoying a light lunch and conversation with an Athlone teacher.
After leaving the café, we navigated the narrow streets of Athlone, trying to get back to the main road. We passed a St. Vincent DePaul thrift store and, of course, just had to stop. I was thinking of how Frank McCourt had shopped at St. Vincent DePaul, and maybe his ma had been in this very store! Never mind that this was the wrong town. Once again, there were no priceless Irish antiques in the cramped, narrow store.
Lib went in search of a bathroom in the neighborhood as I finished my shopping. As I walked back to the car I heard a strange clinking sound. After about a block I looked around and discovered several baby outfits on hangers, hanging off my gigantic purse! They must have gotten snagged as I turned around in the narrow space.
I rushed back to the shop, giggling like an idiot. I was envisioning the perfect end to our trip, with me in the Athlone jail for stealing $2 worth of baby clothes from a charity store. I explained to the clerk what had happened as I hung up the clothes. I was embarrassed and red in the face, laughing and breathless as I joked about the American thief and the baby clothes. The old, toothless hag behind the counter just looked at me, expressionless. It occurred to me as I left that I might have finally found the one person in Ireland who spoke Irish, instead of English.
By now it was mid-afternoon and we had to make serious time. We were on an N road all the way east and then got on the M4, a proper highway, into Dublin.
About 15 miles west of Dublin we saw the signs for Maynooth.
“Maynooth College! We have to stop!” Lib urged.
Damn. We had to get back to Dublin. I wanted to get Trinity College sweatshirts for the girls, and we wanted to attend services at the cathedral, have a great dinner and find some music and craic at the pubs, all in a few short hours. We’d meant to stop by Maynooth some time in our journey, but it had slipped our minds. Now it was our last night in Ireland.
Lib pressed and I dithered for the approximately ½ mile between the sign and the exit. Then, as if of its own volition, the rented Honda swung into the left exit lane toward Maynooth. We were committed.
I should mention here that I was the only one who drove. I’m not quite sure how that happened. We paid extra to have both of us listed on the rental car. It was just chance that I drove that first, terrifying day. After I got more experience, it seemed foolhardy to repeat that break-in period with someone new. It really is a tough place to drive, if I do say so myself.
I remember in ancient times I was visiting back home when a fresh-faced, 15 year old, permit-wielding Lib squeeled that I was old enough to accompany her out to get some driving practice. I was a bit nervous, but figured if Mom and Dad could stand it, so could I. Now I know where those snowy-white strands of hair came from on their venerable heads.
Lib talked and gestured while driving so close to the cars parked on my side, that I held my breath in an attempt to make the car thinner so we wouldn’t crash.
Like a war veteran, I still sometimes have flash-back dreams of that day, and I wake in a cold sweat, screaming. But me doing all the driving had absolutely nothing to do with that experience. I have the utmost faith in Lib’s driving abilities. She’ll drive the next country.
Maynooth is really 2 colleges now; the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, a public college, and St. Patrick’s College. When it was founded in 1795, it was an academy “for the better education of persons professing the popish or Roman Catholic religion”, and became the largest seminary in the world. That’s what interested us.
We didn’t know much about our illustrious Irish ancestor, Terrence Corrigan. But family lore says that sometime before 1850, he was educated at this college.
The campus is beautiful. We strolled around the grounds and went into the old buildings. Our jaws dropped at the little chapel with its ornate carved woodwork and stained glass windows. The school records were destroyed in a fire many years ago so we can’t be sure, but our intuition said that Terrence had walked on this same ground. If you squinted your eyes you could almost see him crossing the green in his school robes, debating theory with friends as they hurried to class.
I wanted to get college sweatshirts for the girls, and it turned out to be a mile hike to the student bookstore. We made the trek to find a tiny place packed with kids between classes. The selection was lousy – the only hoodies were for kids. Add to that the surly indifference of the student employees and we felt right at home!
We took lots of pictures, but it was 5pm and we had to go. We hopped back into the car and went quick like a bunny onto the highway back to Dublin.
A bunny that just lies there and doesn’t move. Unless you nudge it with your toe. A poor, dead bunny.
First of all, it took about 15 minutes to go the 1-1/2 blocks to get off campus. Apparently academic zeal and the thirst for truth clocks out at 5 pm on the dot, because everyone in the vicinity was trying to leave the campus. Then we were off campus and on the street at a stop sign, trying to turn right into the left lane by the highway entrance. We couldn’t move. I had steam coming out of my ears before we finally got a tiny break in the traffic after only 20 minutes so we could squeal out and continue on our (formerly) merry way toward Dublin and our last night “in country”.