One day we decided to take Seamus home to North Cork which we reckoned we could do comfortably in a couple of hours. We also had a cunning plan to take Padraic by his home town near to Tipperary town on the way. Padraic had been with us on a previous trip to Mulranny and had been putting off visiting his brother in the family home. We headed south bypassing Limerick, got hopelessly lost in a fairy ring (Pukane is a fairy in Irish after all) and ended up back in Nenagh an hour after we left. We eventually got on the right road and were just outside of Tipperary heading west when Padraic piped up:
‘Jesus, we’re going near my place, take a right turn here…keep going up this road. I didn’t know we’d be coming this way’.
‘It’s on the way to Cork, Padraic’, I said.
’It is in me bollox on the way to Cork, anyway we’re here now. That’s our gate there on the left’. I drove in through the open gate. Padraic wasn’t happy.
‘I didn’t say you could drive in the gate, did I?’
‘Sorry Padraic, were you just pointing it out for interest’s sake?’
‘Well I suppose we’re here now’, Padraic muttered. ‘Jesus they haven’t done much with the place in 20 odd years’. The house was newly whitewashed, had newly painted fencing, double glazing and wild flowers growing in pots around the yard. The place looked great.
I stopped the van in the lane away from the house and Padraic went to the door kind of reluctantly. We could hear his voice talking to his sister-in-law and then he came back to the minibus. The brother was away working in Limerick and his wife had invited Padraic in but he decided not to wait. She had given Padraic his brother’s number which he rang on Brendan’s mobile. We could hear Padraic talking to his brother who sounded like he was keen to come out to where we were staying to collect him or meet him in Limerick: whatever Padraic wanted he could arrange. It had been a long time and I don’t think he’d heard from him in all those years. Padraic promised to ring in a day or two to arrange to meet.
We drove on to north Cork arriving in good time for lunch. Seamus directed us to a row of houses on a hill overlooking the village down below. As soon as we stopped the minibus, doors opened and neighbours came out for a chat and Seamus was in his element catching up on the news. There was no-one in the family house, with his father and brother both away. Word went out to them both and they arranged to meet in the local pub. Theresa had a friend who lived nearby and she arranged to meet her and her daughter in the pub too. So a big reunion was building up. I drove Brendan up to visit a friend who lived on Eagle Mountain a few miles away. Frank came with us and played with the dogs and geese in the yard of the old house which was midway through total reconstruction. By the time we made it back down to the town it was time to leave. We went into the pub expecting to find Seamus surrounded by his family but sadly no-one had turned up. We offered to stay longer but Seamus wanted to get away fast. At least Theresa had met her friend and was full of chat about it on the way back to Pukane.
Seamus is normally a very chatty person, and usually in good spirits but the non-appearance of his family hit him pretty hard and he was rather morose for a day or two. Later on he did cheer up and before long he was more like his old self and no-one could bring up a subject but that Seamus would have a preposterous story to go with it, like the time he had two flat tyres on the one wheel of a Morris Minor coming back from the dance in Kanturk. It’s too long and involved to go into here so you’ll have to wait for Seamus’ book to come out. Padraic, on the other hand was in the opposite position to Seamus and didn’t ring his brother. It was sad but revealing that the returning emigrant and those left at home could both be the ones to decide not to make the connection when the time came.
One of our group was coming up to his first year off the drink while we were in Tipperary and he was like a caged animal much of the time, walking miles and pacing up and down outside the cottages. There were several dogs around and Colm was able to burn off some of his excess energy playing with them, throwing an old tennis ball for them to chase. He calmed down eventually, I think it was the day after he hit his first anniversary, and he relaxed into the holiday, coming on trips out with us and chatting with the other people. Our next trip will be a dry trip to give some of the people we’ve worked with over the years and who are recovering from their alcohol problems a chance to enjoy a sober holiday. It will be interesting to see how it works out. I suppose a lot of the time Colm was wrestling with frustration as he saw others going to the pub and having drinks in the house, and although his own house was "dry" he was constantly being reminded of his situation. Recovery from alcohol is so difficult, more so for anyone coming from a culture where the main social activity is alcohol fuelled. At least when we are in Wicklow next we will all be in the same position and hopefully the same situation won’t arise or, at least be so pronounced.
Peter kept the minibuses spotless for the whole week, waking me at seven in the morning for the keys. We did several trips out around the area and John managed to take a group to the ancient monastic settlement at Clonmacnoise, which he has been wanting to do for many years. Charlie, who’s from a farming background spent time tractor spotting as local farmers were busy saving hay. It was a pleasure for many just to watch the animals in the fields around about and the weather was so good that Brendan went swimming in the lough a few times. Mattias cooked dishes from his native Italy including an incredible spaghetti omelette. Joe has been back to Ireland with us couple of times but has only seen his sister once in all these years and then only fleetingly. She lives in Ennis which is a short but scenic drive and so he was able to spend a lot more time with her.
Ted went home to visit his family in Dublin on the bus from Nenagh. His cognitive ability seems to have seriously deteriorated so much recently that it was difficult to get him to take in the simplest information. We were in contact with his family and made sure that someone was there to pick him up from the bus in Dublin and put him on the right bus coming back at the end of the week. John went to pick Ted up from Nenagh on the Friday before we were leaving, luckily Peter went with him. As the bus came in John was looking for him among the passengers disembarking and they were all soon off with no sign of Ted. As the doors closed, Peter spotted Ted sitting at the back of the bus looking blankly out the window and they managed to stop the bus before it headed off for Limerick.
Kennedy’s pub was renowned in the area for music and dancing and it even has a function room attached that was a magnet for musicians down the years. They still have a session in the bar on Thursdays and we were there that evening. It wasn’t very traditional and they had an electric piano which drowned out most of the tunes but when the local talent got up to sing the evening really took off and everyone had a great night. We made firm friends with many of the locals as we went out into the night. The night before heading home a few from the group went to Kennedy’s early. Myself and Charlie went down around eight o’clock to tell them that their dinners were ready and to remind them that we would be heading off very early in the morning. After leaving the pub we listened at the window and heard one or two voices complaining to the room that we were out of order telling them what to do and we couldn’t cook anyway.
Say you are going to Tipperary and invariably someone will say, ‘It’s a long way’. Even though the First World War song is about a brothel in Soho, it has imprinted itself in the consciousness of everyone no matter what their age. All I can say is that it’s an even longer way for some others, in fact it gets further day by day as someone once sang about Clare, but it can be the first step on the long journey home.
reports on other Aisling trips