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An Innocent in Ireland


I rose at an excellently late 11 am in what was possibly the oddest-looking hostel I had ever been in.  Upon first seeing my room, I mistook it for a Hong Kong business hotel, though never having been in one.  The room slept approximately twenty people.  It had a large window at one end and no carpet.  Instead of the standard bunk beds with hideously uncomfortable pillows, this hostel allotted each traveller its own cubbyhole.  On the ground level there was a bed and a small amount of table space, all enclosed with a white curtain.  The upper beds had a mattress and a two-foot wide panel of walking space.  A white curtain enclosed this as well.  The top cubby had no roof, so standing up to put pants on was visible by all.  But the renters of the top beds were not the only ones suffering from a loss of privacy.  When standing to put on said pants, one could easily see the activities of the bed that was on the lower level of the opposite side of the room.  Honestly, what can one complain about when arising in Barcelona for the first time?  I propped myself up and immediately noticed the brain pain – then the stuffed up nose – and what was this: Itchy, watery, eyes?  I had all the symptoms that the non-medical professionals of the advertising industry told me I would have!  I wondered how one could get a cold in 33 degree Celsius weather?  Upon reflection however, I realized that I had hardly been maintaining the life of early bed times or 5-7 servings of vegetables a day.  I was travelling Europe.  I had been hitching in Ireland, smoking in Amsterdam, and puking in Paris.  It was no wonder I was ill.  In fact, it was a wonder I was alive.

Dublin

My first day in Dublin was one of the longest days of my life.  I had left Toronto at 9:15am, May 1st 2002.  I landed in Dublin at noon on May 2nd, after being in four countries, three time zones, reading two Rolling Stone magazines and wearing only one pair of underwear.  I needed a shower, a meal, and a week of sleep.  I got none of the above. 

I took a coach bus into Dublin for 6 euros, having no idea where I was to get off, as like me, everyone else on the bus knew little or nothing about Dublin.   The USIT office was on the Aston Quay (pronounced KEY not KWAY, as I learned at the end of the day) and my hostel was near there so I looked for Aston Quay.  I lugged my two bags around Dublin for three hours.  Note to future travellers: Under pack, for the love of God under pack.  Yes, they do sell socks and pants in Ireland, so no, you won’t be in trouble if you have a pants emergency. I was asking every Dubliner I came across where the Aston Kway was, not realizing that it was the name of one block on the road running parallel to the River Liffy; I would later discover that Aston Quay was a name that no one except my mapmaker used.  If I had simply asked where the Liffy was, I would have found the office without nearly getting hit by a bus three times, (traffic goes the other way in Ireland).  Instead I went every direction except the right way for at least two hours.  I found the USIT office, my travel gurus overseas, and they directed me to my hostel, a much easier place to find.

I had no idea what to expect of the hostel environment.  I went to the desk, showed them my reservation slip from my online registration and they gave me a key card.  I went to my room and was surprised at what I saw.  Instead of the gymnasium-with-army-cot that I envisioned, I got a naturally lit room with nice looking bunk beds complete with pillow and comforter.  I quickly locked all my belongings, put aside my shower gear, and went to the washroom. 

At the tender age of fifteen I was on a cruise travelling the Bahamas with my parents and siblings. It was here that I first encountered a washroom with a drain on the floor.  Yes, this meant that this tiny stall they called a bathroom was also the shower.  As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of these things I recognized that the shower in the Dublin hostel had two “advantages” over the cruise ship washroom.  This shower was push button operated like a hand dryer, which meant no constant flow of water.  You would press the button and for eight seconds get a warm weak flow of water, comparable to being urinated on… I assume.  For the remaining seven seconds, the water flow would slow and cool down.  Advantage number two was the window in the shower.  Yes, that’s right, the window in the shower.  Sure, it was stained glass, but without opening the window, one would suffocate faster than drunken Irishmen can start a fight over football.  It meant that this window, which overlooked studios across the patio, and hostel guests eating breakfast, allowed everyone to see everything from the waist down of the showerer. These two “qualities” did not make for the relaxing, spa-like experience that my road weary body so desired.  But I cleaned myself up and threw out the socks and underwear that I had been wearing for the past thirty hours, realizing I didn’t need them that badly.

I went down to the common room of the hostel not really sure what to expect from the common room of a hostel.  This room was also unexpectedly nice.  It had a ten- foot high ceiling and a very large window that overlooked the church and courtyard of Christ church.  Raised up in one corner was a television.  On the hard wood floor, couches covered the perimeter of the room.  There was a decommissioned fireplace and a bookshelf filled with paperbacks that had seen the world.  Every hostel had a bookshelf like this.  Leave a book and take a book.  I took The Beach, leaving nothing. I figured I had to start somewhere.  The T.V. was on MTV U.K.  The cable channel was showing Jackass, something new to the mostly German crowd.  I never thought I would see it, but the Germans were laughing.  I sat on a couch at the back of the smoky room with a Brit whose name I learned was Trevor.  I used a trick my dad taught me to remember people’s names.  I rhymed his name with another word immediately in my head, making him Trevor the Lever.  Trevor the Lever is one of the few names I remember from my two months in Europe.  He was a year younger than me, making him eighteen, and he had been in Ireland for three days.  He had found work at a pub down the street, some place with the name Thomas in it.  We talked for a while, slowly gaining respect for each other as we learned what the other had been through over the past couple of days.  I was glad to find someone in the same boat as me and I believe Trevor the Lever was glad to have someone to share advice with.  After twenty minutes he took out a bag of tobacco and started to roll a cigarette.  Although unusual, it was not something I had never seen.  What I had never seen before though was rolling hash into the fag.  I had smoked hash before, but a hash cigarette was new.  We smoked the joint, and upon smelling the smoke, realized that everyone else in the room was smoking hash too.  The hostel though officially non-smoking, knew it went on and let it happen. 
As most smokers, we too ended up with a serious need to fill our bellies. Trevor said he knew a place to get some good grub that was just across from the hostel.  Though reluctant to spend the cash, I was convinced to go and buy fish and chips, being promised that they were the best in the world.  The fish and chips stand had a list of the famous people who had been in and out of its doorway.  It was breathtaking thinking I was using the same vinegar shaker as Bono or Aidan Quinn.  We took our newspaper wrapped meals back to the hostel kitchen.

As I unwrapped the food that I only then realized I desperately needed, Trevor called over two guys to sit with us.  They were both odd looking.  I later attributed this to the fact that they were Swedish.  Swedish women are particularly gorgeous, but Swedish men, from what I know about women’s tastes, are less gifted.  Just look at ABBA.  For lack of knowledge of their real names, I will call these two Bjorn and Sven. They were on the tail end of a school trip through Ireland and were sharing stories with Trevor and I.  As they were talking, I unwrapped my fish.  It was then that I discovered a fish tail sticking out the back of my battered cod.  This was unsettling and it only got worse.  Upon digging through the batter, I discovered that the scales and fins were also still attached, and further investigation found the head and eye of the fish.  I was no longer hungry for anything that came wrapped in paper.  Being English, which helps people enjoy horrible food, Trevor wolfed it down and attacked mine soon after.  Bjorn and Sven were telling me about the Heineken festival, which was currently going on at Dublin Castle, an easy stumble from my hostel.  The Hives were playing that night.  They were an unknown Swedish rock band at the time, and upon hearing their description I politely turned down tickets.  Three weeks later when I bought their CD I realized they were one of my favourite bands and I would always remember the night I turned down tickets to see them in Dublin.  But come on, how tempting is it to see live Swedish garage rock when you have been up for thirty-six hours and have realized your dinner has eyes.  Trevor and I decided to hit Temple Bar instead. 

Temple Bar is the centre of Dublin nightlife.  It is about three blocks from the Liffy on the South side of Dublin – the more prosperous side.  It is the area where the pubs are at their biggest and fullest.  At the centre is an open square where buskers perform.  As read in one of my tour books, if you want to see someone you know in Ireland, hang out on the steps of Temple Bar one night.  Alternatively, if you want to get so drunk that you don’t recognize people you do know, you also go to Temple Bar.  It is definitely the greatest place to party outside of Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday.  Stag and Hen parties are popular in Temple Bar.  Rugby teams also go from bar to bar, bringing their beers into the street (illegal but never punished), singing rugby cheers and looking intimidating as hell.  Trevor and I first went to the St. John Gogarty.  Trevor knew a good-looking American bartender from our hostel who poured me my first pint of Irish Guinness.  I now realize why Ireland has so many problems.  If I had Guinness available at every single turn, I would be pounding as much as the Irish are notorious for. We continued to order Guinness after Guinness from Melissa, my new American friend in Ireland.   Everyone says that they can’t get drunk off of Guinness because every glass you drink is like eating a sandwich.   This is true for I could not get drunk off of Guinness.  This is not to say that you cannot get drunk in a pub, for Guinness brings you to the point where you think it’s a good idea to start sampling the local whiskeys that Ireland is known for.  Trevor and I tried seven different types of whiskey that night.  We were in the bar until midnight, which is closing time for a lot of pubs there.  At this point, people usually go to nightclubs or go out on the streets and drink more.  Not being up, or dressed for the club, Trevor, Melissa and I decided to mingle in Temple Bar.  We drank more beer, which we bought from the off-licence and had a great time exploring Temple Bar and its many characters.  I witnessed a busker get fed-up with a drunk who continually interrupted his routine, and who started a brawl with him.  Though it was quickly broken up, both managed to sustain injuries that would leave marks the next day.  We bumped into the Swedes who were raving about the show I would eventually regret missing.  We were all hungry so we began our quest for food.  Not dying to return to another meal of fish heads, we went to a place that offered “American style” hamburgers.  I didn’t know you could cook a hamburger an Irish way.  We ordered our burgers and chips and dined in. Listening to “Billie Jean”, none of us drunken travellers could resist dancing in our seats and adding to the loud din that all the drunk customers created.  We sat in the burger joint for an hour and half, telling jokes and learning about each others countries of origins, before Trevor suggested we go smoke again at the hostel.  This sounded like an excellent idea to all.  We climbed/staggered our way up the hill to the hostel, which I probably wouldn’t have found alone.  As we passed Dublin Castle, I remembered a promise I had made myself: I was going to pee on all the European capitals I visited – not out of disrespect, though I suppose it was indeed disrespectful, I love tagging places like that.  I crossed off half my university campus in my frosh year!  Much to Melissa’s chagrin, I began relieving myself on Dublin Castle and was soon joined by Trevor and the ABBA’s other half.  Once empty, the exhaustion hit me like a ton of bricks.  It had been thirty-six hours since Newmarket and I now felt it.  I wanted nothing more than to crash and burn in my bunk bed, but I was talked into (a surprisingly easy task) smoking another joint with my new crew.  We rolled into the TV room with the help of a middle aged New Zealander who contributed to the joint.  His accent was so thick that only Trevor could understand him.  Luckily, Trevor translated.  I got wasted off my ass and asked Melissa questions about September 11th, hoping to understand what Americans thought of it.  I found out that she was one of the thousands that evacuated her home in downtown New York because of its proximity to Ground Zero.  Learning this, I wished I hadn’t asked her because this was obviously a very personal matter, which she had probably discussed more than enough.  She shared her thoughts anyways, and I was grateful for it.  She did not understand why nineteen men would do such a thing until we explained to her that most of the world hates the United States.  We explained to her that CNN only broadcasts what its viewers want to see and that American viewers didn’t want to see flag burnings and effigies of George W. Bush being hung.  This was obviously her first conversation about the matter with non-Americans because she was very reluctant to accept the fact that the U.S. had set up Bin Laden with his weapons and money, a fact that is apparently much more known outside the U.S. 

I eventually had enough of the longest day in my life.  I bid my goodnights to all, looking forward to the next night.  After staggering upstairs, I realized my bed was the one on the top off the bunk bed.  Clearly, this was not a climb that was I was gonna make without suffering/causing serious injury to myself and others.   Instead, I collapsed on the lower bunk, fully clothed and on top of the blankets.  I found out the next day that I had stolen Trevor’s bed and hence, made him make the climb to the top bunk.  I also remembered that I did not email my parents as soon as I got to the hostel, as I had promised.  They would be pleased if they found out the reason I didn’t tell them I was alive was because I was getting drunk and high with a rainbow of nationalities.

Galway

Limerick is an interesting city.  Not only did its jokes spawn year’s worth of bathroom graffiti, it used to be a fairly prosperous manufacturing city.  Manufacturing no longer supported the town and until recently, Limerick was seen as the armpit of Ireland.  Even the Irish wouldn’t visit the town, so it was advised that tourists didn’t.  Crime was horrible, especially after pub hours.  It was this notoriety that bread the nickname “Stab City”.  I am telling you this not because I expect you all to travel there, but because these are things you should know before you visit.  I didn’t know these things.  In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to go to Limerick, but apparently had boarded the wrong bus in Dublin.  I was supposed to be in Galway.  Instead, I found myself dropped in downtown Limerick at 11:30pm on a Tuesday night, being a wished a “Godspeed” from the bus driver as he shut the door and peeled out of Limerick.  This was when I learned of Limerick’s past because I opened my Ireland book to find a hostel.  I had no orientation of Limerick so I had to hail a cab.  He took me to three bed and breakfasts (the hostels were full) but none would have me as they were all closed for the night.  Even throwing stones at the assumed owners windows would get me nothing more than a “Fuck off!”.  I was seriously starting to worry now.  I had no place to stay and it was 1 am in Ireland’s version of Detroit.  The cab driver suggested we go back to the bus station.  He could park his taxi there while he waited for calls and make sure I was all right.  We went back to the bus station that was now poorly lit, as no bus would be here until six in the morning.  To add to my predicament, as soon I stepped out of the cab the driver’s radio squawked to life and he was called away, along with the last of my cash.  So for those who haven’t been following, here is the review:  I was supposed to be in Galway.  I was in Stab City.  I had no bed, no money and no company and no way out for another five hours.  I propped my bag against the brick wall of the dark bus station waiting for my chariot to take me to Galway.
I must have nodded off because suddenly, the air was much colder and the sky was no longer ink black.  Upon investigation, I discovered it was 5am.  I panicked at the thought of letting my guard down and immediately did a check for puncture wounds, missing organs, spectacles, testicles, wallet, and watch.  Thankfully all were present and accounted for.  I dug for a sweater in my bag and bundled up, waiting for the 6am to Galway and sure enough it came without a problem and I was in Galway in a matter of hours.

Galway is a very hippie like city.  It’s in the southwest which is also Ireland’s most beautiful part.  There are lots of theatres and art museums and it has one of the best live music scenes around.  This was the gateway for many people to the Cliffs of Moeher, on the coast or the Arian Islands.  It is also fairly prosperous. The streets were packed when I arrived at 9 am.  I was still cold from my vulnerable nap in Limerick so I was extremely glad to find out that there was a Hostel directly across from the bus stop.  Someone more aware of what this meant first thing in the morning or someone without a hangover would have been hesitant to accept a room there but I needed a place to drop my stuff and I also desperately needed food.  I got my room and dumped my stuff. I then hit the common room of the Hostel where breakfast was taking place.  Note to future travellers: Don’t let hostels ever fool you into thinking you are getting anything better than rank, day old bread and some jam.  If you want to shell out for the ritzy place and get your bread toasted, then go ahead but I didn’t have that in my budget.  The room had a kitchen, a T.V. and two coin operated computers for Internet access.  Unplugging the computer, then plugging it in again gained the user free access.  This design flaw was well known amongst hostel users.  I filled up on scrumptious bread and jam and checked out the bookshelf.  The Beach was excellent.   Live the place you are travelling is what I learned.  I dumped it for what is possibly the most clichéd travellers book: On the Road by Jack Kerouac.  I felt embarrassed reading it but I had only gotten through the first half in high school and felt I owed it to myself to finish it. 
I went back to my room and evaluated my surroundings for the first time since my arrival.  It was three bunk beds and floor to ceiling windows.  When opened, you could crawl out onto the balcony where there were two chairs.  You could see over the park that had the Kennedy monument.  The sky was cloudy, and the brewing rains were whipping the curtain around the room.  In a chair on the balcony there was a guy wearing a team Canada hockey jersey. I went to say hello, expecting a fellow Canadian but receiving, instead, an Australian named Jeremy.  Jeremy was currently working at a hotel one could see from our balcony, but was thinking of not going today in favour of moving to a new town and because his boss was a dick.  That was the glory of travelling jobs; you didn’t have to worry about references for later or burning a bridge with a family friend; they were strictly to make just enough money to stay in the town for a max of two months and fuck off whenever you wanted to.  But to do that, you’ve got to be a smooth talker.  You have be able to talk to the kind of people that don’t require social insurance numbers or bank information, if you know what I’m saying.  Jeremy’s jersey was real and it was from Canada.  He had just been there before coming to Europe to work his way through the continent.  He said he loved “shaggin’” the Canadian “peaches” but that Australian women would still own his heart.  He asked what I was in Galway for and I suggested I might be looking for work or just passing through.  He recommended I try his hotel, a recommendation I know he only half meant, remembering the stunning endorsement he had already given it.  I asked if he knew the best way to get to the Cliffs of Moeher and he recommended the bus leaving in four minutes across the street.  Looking across to the bus station I had chosen to reside next to for the next couple days, I saw the bus with Cliffs of Moeher on the dot matrix screen in its windshield flash departure time as 10:30.  I quickly grabbed my day bag, shoved On the Road in, along with my discman and wallet and bolted out the door and downstairs to the hostel exit.  Running up the paved incline to the bus station, Jeremy yelled at me to wait for him to get off work before going out tonight.  I said that was fine with me and clumsily ran to the ticket office.  I got my ticket, grabbed two bags of cheese and onion crisps and a coke and made it onto the bus in time to wait for ten minutes before the bus finally left. 

It was eleven by the time we got out of Galway.  I was very tired, an affliction that followed me a lot in Europe, but I would not dare sleep as Ireland was beautiful.  What intrigued me was the huge amount of stonewalls that filled farmers fields.  Ireland grows rocks it seems, and instead of moving all the stones to the edge of the field, the farmers simply make stonewalls all over their fields.  This makes total sense and it also assures the farmer that his land will not be overrun by English ground troops.  This does make it extremely difficult to navigate a field though.
 The sheep were plentiful and quite haggard looking.  These sheep had been beaten up by the wind and rain so characteristic of Ireland.  In a so-clichéd-it-had-to-be-fake moment, a herd of sheep came out and blocked the one lane road our coach bus was travelling down.  A farmer, with his crooked stick and woolly sweater, came out and desperately attempted to herd his sheep of the road.  Me and the guy I was sitting next to made comments about how it seemed so “postcardy” and planned.  Upon hearing him, his accent puzzled me.  I had heard quite a few in my weeks in hostels, but this was a new one.  Not quite Australian, Kiwi or English.  I inquired about his origin and I learned he was from South Africa and his name was Patrick.  Patrick was 28 years old and was taking a sabbatical from being a reverend, where he had begun doubting hi faith, to figure what his true calling was.  He was tall with broad shoulders and big hands.  He had blonde hair and was tanned.  Patrick was working in Ireland and England for the next couple of months until shipbuilding season started in Italy.  This was the first I had ever heard of a season for shipbuilding.  He planned to meet up with a buddy there and get in the crew for a new yacht (as he was a yachtsman) and sail around the world for a while, pondering life and faith.  I found out that he was going to the Cliffs as a sort of pilgrimage.  Patrick’s grandmother was Irish and she used to sing a Gaelic battle song that mentioned the Cliffs and he had come here to sing that song.  I was going because I heard they looked nice.  We decided to keep each other company for the afternoon.

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