A Travellerspoint blog

Day 5: Scenes from the Big Belfast

in which your author meets good Irish theatrefolk and finds out Ireland serves more than Guinness

overcast 70 °F

Day 5 began in similar fashion to its immediate predecessor, as I sleep in somewhat late. (Three sleepy cheers for solo travel. Maybe yawns.) But this would be a day of some ambition, traveling to Belfast, where I had popped in briefly on my last trip, but hadn’t at all explored. Before we leave his area, Mark drives us to the area of the McCool (technically “McCoole”) homestead – the original inspiration for my visit to this town in 2014 – and we speak with a wizened old chap named Robin, owner of the farm on which the homestead lies, and as it turns out, brother of the short fellow we met two years ago – who gives me the green light (so to speak) to check out the old buildings the next day. It’s gorgeous and sunshiny, which is a rarity in these parts, but since I’m anxious to get to Belfast, I tell him I’ll be back in the morning and we head to the city.

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Though Mark is running late for work, his position as Ireland’s Greatest Tour Guide demands that he takes the time to drive me around the murals painted in honor of the massive sectarian violence that devastated so many during the 1970s and 80s. Apparently only ten years ago, the roads we’re driving on would have been cordoned off to keep the Catholics and Protestants away from each other. It’s striking how many houses are flying Union Jacks in the Protestant area. Without weighing in too heavily here, it seems odd to me that the Protestant Royalist sympathizers can’t also sympathize with people who want their country to be independent from a foreign power who has a very troubling and violent history of oppression toward them. (I think immediately of the callous British indifference which created the Potato Famine, but there are many other examples.) I understand Royalists don’t see England as foreign, but as part of a unified whole, but technically there’s a big ocean separating the lands. Identity is a complicated issue. (How’s that for the understatement of my blogging career?) It will be interesting to see how all this shakes out in the wake of Brexit, which everyone here seems slightly skittish about. After stopping at a few of the murals for both sides – it's particularly moving to see a shoutout to #WeAreOrlando – we pop into the Sinn Fein shop, where I pick up a 1916 magnet and a pamphlet on Kevin Barry, the young man whose 1920 martydom inspired one of my favorite Irish songs. Pretty sure the woman in the shop undercharges me when she realizes I’m from America.

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Belfast is a city I’ve spent a fair amount of time with on an artistic plane, having acted in Solas Nua’s Scenes from the Big Picture in DC in 2007 plus directing the same show in Boston in 2014, plus a number of other plays including directing readings of This Other City in both cities. (There’s a moment in that show where the female character Maria, a prostitute trafficked from Moldavia, is asked her name and she responds “Europa,” which comes from Hotel Europa, a massive landmark adjacent to the bus/train station.) My last trip here was really a brief pit-stop, so I’m looking forward to seeing a bit more.

Mark drops me off in the city center and I start walking around, popping briefly into neighborhood landmark St. George’s Church, where I light a prayer candle for the election of Hillary Clinton.

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My first major stop is connected to my Irish arts background – to Tinderbox Theatre, with whom I’d had some lovely interactions with via Solas Nua in the past. We produced a number of scripts that came out of their development program. Hanna Slatne is their powerhouse dramaturg and theatre advocate, and she welcomes me with a cup of tea and a copy of a recent work they developed, and introduces me to new Tinderbox Artistic Director Patrick O’Reilly. The three of us sit and chat for about an hour, discussing some shared challenges of working in the arts, particularly the unending battle for funding. (I write this on the road from Madrid to Lisbon, and I just saw over Facebook that the Mass Senate overturned Gov. Charlie Baker’s dastardly cuts to the MassCultural program. Three cheers for the power of social media political advocacy!) Like every single European I’ve spoken with about this, Hanna and Patrick are utterly horrified at the potential of a Donald Trump presidency. Especially given the shocking nature of Brexit, anything seems possible, no matter how horrifying. We discuss the possibility of their touring a show to the US, and I promise to connect them with culturefolk in Boston who might be able to help. Even though I’m not as heavily immersed in Irish arts these days, I could foresee a return in the near future. So great to meet these guys and hope to work with them at some point down the line!

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Hanna recommends a visit to a culture space called The MAC, about a 10-15 minute walk away. Along the way I pass by some visually stunning uses of urban design; clearly Belfast is leveraging the power of ambitious artists and thinkers to modernize neighborhoods like this.

The MAC itself – a combination theatre space/art gallery/fully stocked café/community hangout spot – is a really impressive place. (As Hanna stated, “When the MAC was built I felt like I worked in a neighborhood built for grownups.”) I sit in the café with some small plates and a local amber ale and catch up with the blog, writing Day 3. After an hour or so I explore the art galleries, which are well designed. There’s a palpable buzz in the place, with families wandering around and conversations in the café. The MAC is a testament to what happens when a city builds an arts space – it becomes a place for a community to realize itself.

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Reversing my prior walk, my next stop is the extremely posh Merchants Hotel, a spot I’d been advised to check out for serious cocktails. The reputation was well deserved, and I feel at home with the bartenders, who are creative and passionate. The level of service is also astoundingly high – when I leave, the head bartender walks me all the way down and out to the street to point out which direction I should head in. I have a few delicious, complex drinks there including an original, off-menu concoction by one young bartender using dark rum, vanilla, and molasses. I spend much of the time writing a letter – it’s so nice to sit and relax and think – and assumedly having watched me photograph my drinks, as he walks me out, the head bartender asks me if I’m writing an article! (My response: sort of? But not really.) I pick up a cocktail recipe book and he generously tosses in their spirits guide. Merchants is a fantastic, comfortable place – get a load of the dining room, which looks like one of the rooms in the Titanic – that is such my speed, it ends up eating up much of any remaining time I might have had to explore Belfast.

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I end up wasting about 45 minutes searching for food – one place is no longer serving, and another place where I order some pasta is taking forever for the food to come out. Mark video messages me on Facebook and says there’s a 9:30 bus to Magherafelt, so I cancel my order and dash out to try to get to the bus station in time. Thankfully, I grab a veggie burrito on the way, at a place whose name I don’t remember but was obviously the Irish version of Chipotle.

I make it to the bus with three minutes to spare (!), passing by the Crown Bar – the most bombed bar in Europe, I believe – which sadly I don’t have enough time to visit. (Had the same thing happen last time I was here! Next time in Belfast it’s a must-see.) The sun going down over Northern Ireland is stunning.

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Mark’s father Leo – a fine, salt of the earth man who escorted us around in the pouring rain while hunting for old McCools graves in County Derry during our trip here in 2014 – picks me up at the bus dropoff, and leaves me at the Flax Inn, where Mark has completed his shift. It’s wild to be back inside this place that factored in so greatly into my last trip, and kicked off this friendship! I check out the second floor and the clock that runs backwards, and wave hi to Danny, Amy and Graci, my former travel companions. Long like the Flax 4!

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Mark and I pop over to Mary’s for one last drink but it’s late and we’re both exhausted, so we call it a night. Knowing this will be my last Guinness in Ireland for a while, I leave it 1/3 full, as a rejoinder to myself to come back. (The Irish version of tossing a coin over your shoulder at the Trevi Fountain?) I actually get to sleep at a reasonable hour that night, sadly missing the DNC speech by personal political hero and badass Vice President Joe Biden, which I’ll have to watch later and lament his premature exit from American politics. Anyway. Great to spend at least a bit of time in Belfast!

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PS – I wrote most of this entry in a car with three strangers driving the semi-mountainous dry lands from Madrid to Lisbon. I’m four days behind in posting, ugh! Going to try to catch up on this trip!

Posted by coolmcjazz 07:34 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged belfast Comments (0)

Day 4: That Craic in (the) Derry Air!

in which your author doesn't do very much at all then makes up for it in the wee small hours which is his preferred manner of travel

semi-overcast 65 °F

I've made 60+ posts on this blog and this is probably my most advanced title yet, amirite? #dadjokes

I slept in big time on Day 4 due to exercising my patriotic American muscles staying up to watch the fantastic DNC speeches. By the time I headed out to get some writing done – did I mention I have a massive academic paper due very soon so I’m wedging in time here and there to work on it and this is perhaps a not-great thing to combine with travel? – it’s after 2pm. I do a bit of work at a very cute bakery; vegetarian options aren’t much of a thing up here but I make do with a flat white and caramel square. Eventually I get hungry for something more filling and end up at Mary’s, the gorgeous establishment we had been in the previous night. Mark meets me there after my meal and we head back to his place. We’re off to Derry with a few of his friends for some music and patented Irish craic! Nothing like it in the world.

Mark’s married friends Rory and Andrea pick us up and with the addition of Mark’s friend Ciara we embark on the hour-long trip to Derry. The ride is great fun – Mark’s friends are a riot. Rory is a guitarist and singer (a very good one), set to play at this fairly posh club called Blackbird, and he plays a mix of American and Irish songs (including “my” song – actually Luke Kelly’s, “Raglan Road”) as we have a drink in the bustling-but-still-relaxed lounge environment. Someone announces “let’s go!” and we’re off to explore a bit of Derry.

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We end up at a wildly fun pub with live Irish music – the first great trad music experience I’ve had on the trip so far. Even for a Tuesday night, it’s a boisterous and joyful scene, and the music (which features a number of vocal songs), is amplified through speakers. The atmosphere really lifts everything, and I take some video to show to my classes which begin in September, saying something along the lines of: “Hi guys! You don’t know me yet, but I’m recording this video to show you how amazing it is to be in Ireland and hear the music get made right in front of your eyes!” Mark walks past and he makes a cameo, explaining what the world craic means!

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We pop over to the pub next door where there’s a more relaxed musical vibe, including an excellent singer who I end up chatting with about her tour to the US next year. We head back to the original pub and end up chatting with a fellow from Atlanta who just arrived that night. We walk back to the original pub where Rory has finished up playing, and after a furious late-night eating session at McDonald’s (where apparently they bring your food out to the car like a 50s drive-in diner), we’re on our way back to Magherafelt.

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Not surprisingly, I stay up again until 5am watching the second night of the DNC – the timing on this trip isn’t a great match for my political junkie nature! Even though we were only in Derry for less than three hours, this is one of the first really wild and serendipitous nights of the trip!

NOTE: Although the iPhone photo quality has come a long way since July 2010 when I started this blog, I know these pics aren’t up to the level of some of my previous entries on the blog; I’m being careful about where to bring my good camera! It definitely starts making a bigger entrance a bit later on in the trip. ☺

Posted by coolmcjazz 18:27 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged music irish derry Comments (0)

Day 3: May-lin-felt?

in which your author buys things and doesn't buy things and revisits another site of old glory

semi-overcast 63 °F

Day 3 – a travel day! Mostly. Especially after the previous night’s shenanigans at the middle-of-nowhere pub, I find myself still with the urge to sleep in; one of the great joys of traveling solo is the freedom to do this. After Tom whips up a bevy of suggestions for Madrid, I say my fond farewells to my terrific hosts and their rollicking trio of dogs. One of the great joys of being in the arts is having the chance to work with and meet such good and hospitable people. Get ye to Boston with the quickness, dear friends!

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The drive to Dublin is uneventful and I follow the suggestion to park the rental car in a lot. I only have a few hours here but am in the mood for slow browsing; the open St. George’s Mall provides this. I spend about twenty minutes at an antiquarian book shop; I ask for anything on John Doyle O’Reilly, whose memorial I had seen the previous day, and the proprietor brings out a massive first edition volume. Two hundred Euro is far too rich for my blood (not to mention this thing would take up half my suitcase), but it’s fun to look at. I also pass on an (overpriced) play version of J.P. Dunleavy’s The Ginger Man, a quintessential Dublin novel which I’ve been reading on and off over the past year. I grab some Mediterranean food in a box, then end up purchasing a red-striped shirt on clearance (5 Euro) from a nifty vintage store. It’s lightweight so will ball up in my suitcase nicely. I wrap things up with a pint of Beamish stout and an hour of writing at Grogan’s Castle Lounge, a relaxed traditional pub with dim lighting and more greyed men fixed at the bar like signposts. With about 40 minutes left before my rate kicks up another notch, I briskly walk down to Brogan’s Bar (these rhyming names do get confusing), where Jo and Tom took the Swampoodle cast on our last night in Ireland, and where a picture was taken of me that I still use as a profile pic. (I also visited here with Dan, Amy, and Graci on my last trip, capturing an photo of an unfortunate woman with toilet paper stuck to her jeans, and spent New Year's Eve with Amy at Peader Kearney's pub next door.) The bar is empty but the bartender is welcoming; I grab a half pint of Guinness, sit and write, surrounded by all manner of Guinness advertising. Just as I left the place. I take another selfie before popping in for a falafel to go next door – the Lebanese proprietor is extremely friendly and curious about my vegetarianism. I tell him I expect to see him still in business there in about two years.

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I race back to the car and after a wee bit of drama with the parking lot attendant I retrieve the car after four hours (16 Euro, ugh) and head out toward the North. It takes a good hour just to get out of Dublin on the M4 but once I’m on the motorway it’s smooth riding up through Belfast (including a stop to get a flat white and a delicious white chocolate Magnum ice cream bar) and on to Magherafelt, small town in County Derry and the site of the infamous “Flax 4” escapade of my last trip to Ireland in January 2014. Mark Madden – along with Jo and Tom, a sold contender for Ireland’s Resident Hospitality Ambassador – has become a great friend after that trip, having been to the US a few times since, where he was exposed (literally) to a French Maid’s race in Washington, DC, and the first Solas Nua in Boston staged reading I put up at The Burren in Somerville. It’s amazing the serendipity borne only of travel can form connections that last a lifetime.

I pass by and wave hello to The Flax Inn upon entering Magherafelt, about 45 minutes west of Belfast; the correct pronunciation of the town (Jo was coaching me) is something like “Marrafelt.” Mark has moved to a new house since last I was here, and I settle in. We head out and pop in at Bryson’s, site of the late-night music session where I serendipitously made my Irish singing debut in 2014. It’s so wild to be back here.

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We catch up and keep moving, next to Mary’s, an absolutely gorgeous and ornate Victorian-style pub with massive mirrors, French Nouveau art, and dim-lit corners with soft burgundy sofas. We get in an extended chat with the manager who gives me a tour and tells me to check out the Merchant Hotel cocktail bar in Belfast. (Which, time traveling ahead two days, is actually my next stop, as I’m writing this from the MAC in Belfast right now.)

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We close down the place – this being a Monday night we’re really the only patrons at this point anyway – and head back. I end up staying up until close to 5am watching the DNC speeches including Michelle Obama’s. She is such a gift. (#Michelle2024!) Getting to sleep this late doesn’t portend well for an early morning…

Posted by coolmcjazz 07:37 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged dublin magherafelt maynooth Comments (2)

Day 2: When in Dowth...

in which your author revisits an old haunt and conquers a paleolithic thing

rain 62 °F

Day 2: Maynooth, Ireland

Sleep, glorious sleep! After reacquainting myself with it, I get up around 10am, have some French pressed coffee and toast with honey and Kerrygold (all bread in Ireland is automatically delicious) and ask Tom and Jo about where to take a run. I’ve brought sneakers and will insist on running every other day over this trip – it’s so easy to eat and drink and I figure running will be a good way of seeing things. “The archive of the feet,” quoth historian Simon Schama, quoted in the paper I gave on Day 1.

Tom suggests we head over to Castletown House, site of our development week in January 2011, where I was so excited to return even if only for a brief walk. (Kinda fun to click back to the entries for our rehearsal week at Castletown House, found Right. Here. On. This. Very. Blog!) Castletown is a stunning, vast estate, like something out of Downton Abbey. I have such fond memories of being here and spending five consecutive days exploring structured creativity for 8 hours a day. Yoga warmups and those dreaded planks (great for the core!) first thing in the morning, and self-directed mini-projects in groups: click above for more, but suffice to say one of the touchstone artistic experiences of my life.

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I run close to three miles – literally that’s only part of the distance around the place – popping into the front hallway for a little bit and over to the mini-castle where I stayed that week. Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones plays randomly on my MapMyRun app as I peered through the spider-webbed windows. I would love to come back and stay overnight again some day. Jason McCool, Professional Purveyor of Personal Nostalgia.

I run back to the estate – last time I was here, running to the estate required trudging through cold, wed mud but in the intervening years they’ve cleaned it up, even installing a few bridges. We drive back to the house, I shower and head out to try to get a bit of writing done before we embark on a mini-road trip to Newgrange. The walk into Maynooth takes about 10-15 minutes; it’s colder here than in New England and there’s an ever-present threat of drizzle. I get to Bon Bon Café , order some veggie focaccia and a sweet frappe and commence attempting to catch up with my promise to write daily; mostly, I spend time booking an Airbnb to Madrid where I’m flying Thursday night. Tom picks me up and we pick up his nephew Kilian, stopping to visit with Jo’s brother, whose other tyke sports a Red Sox t-shirt!

We’re heading to Newgrange, one of the oldest and most popular archeological sites in the entire Celtic world. Still fighting jetlag, I struggle to stay awake for much of the 45-or-so minute trip. Kilian is precious, to say the least; when I ask “How do you like growing up in this part of Ireland?” he practically gushes about al the things he gets to do and his sports leagues and friends. I sense a career in politics for this young lad.

Unfortunately, Newgrange is sold out for the day; apparently, because it’s newly a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they have to cap the number of people on each tour, and reservations fill up early every morning. (The woman at the check-in counter says once they expand to online ticket sales, the reservations will probably start four months in advance!) I tell the worst #dadjoke of all time: “If Newgrange is 5,000 years old, imagine how old Oldgrange must be!”

Undeterred, we take in a mini-tour with dioramas about Paleolithic people (they were just like us but smaller! And probably also would have no real use for Pokemon Go) and a short film about how Newgrange was set up to reflect the angle of the sun, then walk around the grounds a bit. (The shot of the diorama looks like I took it from a hot air balloon far above it, amirite?)

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Tom has the idea to drive to a spot where we can actually view the site (lamenting the days when one could simply jump over the hedge and walk around), and it’s pretty cool to see the place: a raised circular mound within which exist intricate tunnels and all manner of ceremonial carvings.

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We arrive at another site, that of Dowth, which is one of three Paleolithic sites; this one is in bad disrepair and is rarely visited – which to me makes it like the hipster version of Paleolithic ceremonial sites – mostly due to a bunch of pseudo-archeologists having decided to blow off the top of the mound using dynamite back in the 1850s. Apparently this caused the top to collapse inward; we walked around the upper ridge and looked below us and it felt like a sort of mini-mountain designed by elves. We spotted a few gates presumably leading into “the inside,” but all were blocked off. Crouching down close to one gate, we instantly felt the cold. We could spot rock carvings, fenced off from the public, on one side of the mound. A shaggy sparkplug of a dog lumbered all around us the whole time, including when we crossed a grassy field to explore on old graveyard adjacent to the hollowed-out remains of an ancient church.

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Come to find out there was a celebrity burial – or at least monument – here. Poet John Doyle O’Reilly (unbeknownst to me) was born in the tower abutting this church in 1844, and after he was exiled from Ireland for becoming a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, he moved to Boston, where he published The Pilot, the first Catholic newspaper in America. He’s actually buried in Hull, MA, but there’s a monument to him here at his birthplace. Apparently, he was John F. Kennedy’s favorite Irish poet, and JFK quoted him during his trip to Ireland in 1963. There’s also a memorial to him by noted sculptor Daniel Chester French in the Fenway area of Boston, which I will make a point to check out when I return home! We climb through the dilapidated old church which actually has old, crumbling graves inside it. The sense of forgotten history here is overwhelming.

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On the way back we stop in Slane at the birthplace of Francis Ledwidge, terrific Irish poet sadly killed 17 days before his 30th birthday at the Battle of Ypres during World War I. My great-great-grandmother’s mother (on my father’s side) was a Sarah Ledweedge, so there’s a chance I’m distantly related to him. Seamus Heaney was a big fan. There’s a rich sense of literary imagery, history, and presence everywhere you go in this country.

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We drop off the young lad, drive back to Maynooth, and talk about evening plans. After being given free reign in Jo and Tom’s liquor cabinet I improvise a cocktail borrowing a line from Swampoodle, according to the following recipe:

IT’S A WONDERFUL SHOW
2 oz gin (we used Bombay Sapphire East)
0.75 oz gentian liquor (they had this delicious Italian stuff but Aveze or Suze would also work)
0.5 oz lavender simple syrup
0.25 oz fresh lemon
splash of club soda
fresh lemon balm (from the garden!)
luxardo maraschino cherry

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Dublin seems too ambitious after a long weekend for everyone, so Jo proposes a short trip: “how do you feel about a pub in the middle of nowhere?” Always, always.

Maria joins us and we drive the winding, narrow roads, passing the field where Jo and Tom were married some fourteen years prior. Fagan’s is truly in the middle of nowhere, and is set up oddly: a long horizontal structure divided into three portions – a dank, ancient feeling space with TVs on the left, on the right, a living room with couches and books, packed to the gills with about 20 people who all know one another, and the middle section which only fits about 8. Maria leaves to pick up Stephanie, German-born mother of future politician Kiiian. We settle ourselves in and have a few pints of Guinness, interrupted at one point by a representative of the local GAA football club who sells us raffle tickets to the weekly “Ball Buster” drawing in which we could win over 1,000 Euro for correctly picking the four digits which come up on the yellow balls in the machine he carts around. None of us win, but it’s a good story. We talk about regional dialects and eat numerous bags of crisps and discuss the American election and family dynamics and Tom demonstrates the inhaling sound the Irish allegedly make when they’re listening to stories and it’s all good craic. Walking to the car, the Big Dipper is overwhelmingly bright.

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Back in Maynooth, I catch up on the political news of the day (what the hell did the DNC do now?!) and it’s off to bed. Just as, gentle reader, I ought to head to bed now – it’s 2:30am local time from Magherafelt on Day 3 (I write these entries the day after, dontcha know?) and I’m yet again, exhausted. But also, exhilarated. I love traveling. I love how travel mars you as “someone who is about to travel” for days and weeks prior to your trip – and now here I am and everything is flying by so very quickly. Until the morrow – there is much to tell!

Posted by coolmcjazz 10:19 Archived in Ireland Tagged dowth newgrange maynooth Comments (1)

Day 1: May(nooth) the Road Rise to Meet

in which your author lights a fire under his wanton, atrophying urge to travel

semi-overcast 75 °F

It’s been so long – too long – since I’ve launched myself out into the world and tried to write about it. When last I wrote in this blog I was wrapping up a trip through Ireland and Edinburgh with my brother and good friends in January 2014; I’ve only traveled domestically since then. And when I was forwarded a notice about a conference opportunity in Maynooth, Ireland – where I presently tap away ensconced at a friendly, sunny café – I thought applying and attending might give me a decent reason to get back out there and to see some old friends. And here I am!

The trip began with some rough timing issues, having missed my initial flight (due to an unfortunate combination of my leaving too late and horrific traffic patterns outside Logan Airport; it took almost 90 minutes to drive 1.5 miles), I was rerouted to Charlotte, NC the next day where I was granted juuuust enough time to leave the airport for a couple hours. My friend Kristin picked me up and provided a mini-tour featuring a terrific brewery with delicious food and a delightful 24-hour French bakery with facsimiles of famous paintings on the wall. (Well played, Charlotte.)

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Flying on an overnight to Dublin, I’m dismayed to find out my flight is delayed two hours, which causes me to miss my 9:30am speaking slot at Maynooth University. I’m able to finagle an internet signal, send a message indicating my delay, and they end up shifting me slightly forward in the day, so not a big deal. The flight is unremarkable – everyone’s reading newspapers bleating about that atrocious RNC our nation just endured – I spend a good deal of it catching up on some academic writing while listening to Bach and sleep maybe two hours. Right before I get to customs, a notification comes through on my phone that Hillary Clinton has picked Tim Kaine as her VP – oddly, I was in Ireland when Barack Obama announced Joe Biden (“my guy”) on my first trip here in 2008. #ImWIthThem, obviously. OBVIOUSLY.

I rent a car – so far, so good, Sixt, who doesn’t have enough automatics and therefore upgrades me to a BMW – and after a slight adjust to the “driving on the wrong side of the car and road” thing, I arrive at Maynooth University, an impressive place. I sit through a paper on Breaking Bad and after a short break, give mine. The delivery goes well, methinks – there’s only about 15 people in the room but I have so much travel adrenaline and after giving this paper at UNC-Asheville and Harvard over the past two years I fly through things confidently. Everyone is pleasant and I hear a few interesting papers (including a talk on keynote from a woman who teaches at Tufts, right in my backyard!) but after being up for over 24 hours with hardly any sleep I’m clearly the least attentive person in the room. I say my farewells and beeline toward the nearest available bed.

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Jo and Tom are theatre friends from my days working with Solas Nua in DC. They envisioned and executed one of the most special works of art I’ve been a part of in Swampoodle, a non-linear retelling of the Irish history of the same-named neighborhood in Washington, tucked behind Union Station. They co-run The Performance Corporation, one of the most audacious theatre companies in Europe, infamous for having produced plays in rowboats and parking garages. Knowing they lived in Maynooth where the conference was to be held made applying all the more attractive, and they were so kind to offer their spare room for the few days I planned on being here.

I settle in and say hello including to three exuberant, fluffy dogs named Glosster, Eva, and Puppy, who is sick. Tom and Jo head off to a wedding, though Jo’s sister Maria sticks around, from Maynooth but lives in Italy except back at home during the hot Italian summer; she’s lovely and cordial and as we chat I push through my obvious 5-hour jetlag and overall lack of sleep. I decide to plop down for 25 minutes under the express agreement with myself I won’t make the same mistake I made on my first solo trip which is to maintain American sleep hours and not adjust until the third day. Near miraculously, I only sleep twenty or so minutes past the alarm and drag myself up for a walk into town.

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I pop in at Brady’s, a local corner pub in fairly docile Maynooth, grab a corner seat (always my favorite) and enjoy my first Guinness back in the auld sod. The sharp, bracing tang – it’s true, it’s better here than in the US – is familiar and darkly welcoming. The men positioned around the pub are older and planted like roots, friendly but guarded, there to gossip about not very much; a few fold their arms across their chests like statesmen at portrait seatings. I ask: “Where’s the craic tonight, gents?” “Here,” one says blankly, sans irony. Their shirts seem almost deliberately varied in color: stark red, striped blue, canary yellow, an Irish pub sponsored by Damon Runyon. A fierce competition of darts is broadcast on two TV sets. I ask a few innocuous questions for which I receive answers, but there are no great conversations to be had here tonight.

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I finish my pint and wander around the Main Street a bit, ending up inside a more boisterous, crowded pub. I have a local red ale, McGargle’s (that can’t be a real name, can it?). Tom tells me that as of late, Ireland’s craft beer scene is expanding far beyond Guinness, who sometimes appear a benefactor of the entire island. I read a bit from Stage Door, the 1933 classic play I’m directing in September, and a fellow cranks up the guitar, singing a few decent songs but mostly the ones drunk administrators want to hear: Wonderwall, Proud Mary, Hotel California. He looks like so many bar entertainers in this country: closely cropped hair, piercing voice, aggressive delivery. A fella could use a tin whistle.

I walk back to Jo and Tom’s, eventually figuring out the feel of the lock (!) and crash into bed. My first day is behind me and I have two weeks of exploring ahead of me. Keep checking in, friends!

Posted by coolmcjazz 09:50 Archived in Ireland Tagged maynooth Comments (1)

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