By Alex McDonnell
The accommodation though, was first class and although the name Bayview
apartments gives the impression that you can see the bay from the apartments
…well, what you can actually see is …the fire station. However,
Killala bay is only a few minutes walk away and so we spent a lot of time
out of the building, walking about, taking the air and getting fit. A
group of the men took to hanging around the village streets and became
honorary locals, chatting to the official locals as they went about their
business. We got to know the local pubs pretty well and spent plenty of
time on the beach, a few of us braving a dip in the sea now and then.
Eilish walked to Ballina and back, twice.
was frustrated. He didn’t know what to do with himself. Many years
ago he had been working away in London, when his mother had died suddenly.
He knew nothing of the death until he read about it in the Sligo Champion
a couple of weeks later. He had travelled back as quickly as he could,
only to find that his brother, who had stayed at home, blamed Sean for
not being back in time for the funeral. ‘Sure, how could I when
no-one told me?’ said Sean.
‘You should have known’, was the illogical reply. There was
no arguing logic with his brother and Sean came back to London to grieve
for his mother and ponder the strange attitude of his brother. Sean was
adamant that he wanted no more to do with his brother. However, he did
want to spend some time in his home town. So one day we took him to Sligo
where we asked a local cab driver to find him a b&b for a few days.
We left Sean there and promised to pick him up in a few days. A group
of us spent the day in Sligo as Sean settled into his b&b. Peter bumped
into yet another old resident of Arlington house down by the river and
talked over old times. The town had changed a lot since our last time
there, particularly some of the old pubs which seemed to be boarded up.
And the Silver Swan hotel had gone. Overall though, Sligo looked prosperous
A couple of days later we were on our way to Donegal, Gerry had decided
that he would like to visit his home place. Although it was a long drive,
we thought it would be worth it and besides - we could pick up Sean on
the way, in Sligo town. Sean was waiting for us when we arrived in Dunne’s
Stores car park in Sligo. He looked a bit shook up and well he might,
as he had gone to see the brother in the family home the day before. He
was not welcomed, to say the least. And it seemed the whole street witnessed
the brother’s anger and bizarre attitude. Some local people took
Sean in for a while and explained that the brother had become increasingly
eccentric and that the neighbours were all afraid of him. Sean said that
he had really wanted a drink that night but that he had managed to fight
off the craving. He still wanted to stay a while longer in Sligo to visit
his mother’s grave. So, we promised to pick him up on the way back
I just hoped that he wouldn’t go for that drink.
was a beautiful drive up through Donegal, past Ben Bulben, through Glenties
to Dunglow, where Gerry’s stepmother lived. On the way, we stopped
off at Donegal town, to leave off Bernard who was making his own way from
there to Belfast. There was a bus that picked up at the hotel on the square
on the hour for Derry, and Bernie could make a connection from there to
Belfast and be home in less than four hours. The only problem was that
when we pulled up on the square, Bernie virtually fell out of the minibus.
He had been sober when we set out but he had definitely had a few drinks
in him since. Bernie always slurs his words after a few drinks and he
kind of looks at you very intently, so I knew he’d had a drink,
although he denied it. I gave him the bus timetable with the times marked.
The next one was at one-o’clock and he had half an hour to wait.
‘Oh no, I’ll get the later one at three o’clock’,
We drove off, leaving him at the bus stop. I drove around the square to
be sure but as we were going past for the second time Bernie was disappearing
into a nearby pub. We wondered if he would he see Belfast that day…
Gerry’s mother had died young and his father had married again
and started another family. Gerry had left home to go to Scotland to work
and travelled around England, working in Newcastle on the Metro railway
and eventually working his way down to London. He hadn’t been home
except for his father’s funeral some years before. We left Gerry
at the cottage just outside Dunglow and went off to spend some time in
the nearby pub, where we could see the lovely old-fashioned cottage from
the pool-room window. We had some lunch there, and Michael gave us a master
class in the game of pool. I have known Michael, who’s from Limerick,
for twelve years and he is a very quiet man who says little to anyone
and seems to live a pretty solitary existence. He only decided to come
with us at the last minute, having dismissed the idea of a trip home,
for years. Well, he’s one hell of a pool player and although he
has an unorthodox style it is deadly effective, as he beat us all, in
game after game.
We were about to leave when Peter came in, all excited. A man he had
been talking to outside, had a brother who used to live in Arlington House.
The brother had been missing for years and Peter was pretty certain that
if it was the same man, he had died about 7-8 years ago. We waited around
for a while but the man never came back. I left one of our flyers at the
bar, in case the man wanted to contact us. And we went off to meet Gerry,
who was ready and waiting to go, after his brief but fulfilling meeting.
Gerry had been very nervous up to then and increasingly so on the journey
up to Donegal, particularly when we stopped at his mother’s grave
on the way to the house. I must confess I had got a bit short with him
when he was giving directions.
‘You can go this way if you like or turn down there if you like’.
‘For god’s sake Gerry, what I like has nothing to do with
it! Just tell me the direction…’
I got the feeling that he and his stepmother had had some differences,
which had kept him away for so long, but they seemed to on the way to
being resolved, if the relaxed smile he wore all the way back was any
Pulling into Dunnes car park in Sligo that evening, we found Sean waiting
for us. As he sat down in the bus he let out a long sigh.
‘Well, I thought it couldn’t get much worse, but I was wrong...
While I was waiting for you, a young woman came up to me and told me to
get out of town. I didn’t know who she was at first, but then it
dawned on me that it was my daughter. I hadn’t seen her since she
was a baby. Myself and her mother split up years ago, over my drinking.
And that’s when I left the country. I haven’t seen her since.
She must have known me from old photographs. She wouldn’t leave
me alone. She kept going and coming back, getting more angry and abusive.
In the end, I said I was sorry for what happened between me and her mother,
but that this was my town too. I was brought up here. I was polite, but
I said that what happened between her mother and me couldn’t be
changed. I want to come back to this town again and I will. Well, she
kept saying “We don’t want you here”, over and over
again, but I mean it… I will come back again. I’m not going
to hide anymore. …And I still didn’t have a drink’.
We had many more days out, and trips to Bundoran and even as far as Connemara,
where Anne took a group to visit her uncle in Clifden. It turned out that
that was where Kathy was from and that they knew each other. Our friend
[Doctor] Niamh drove all the way from Dublin to make us rhubarb crumble.
She stayed long enough to check the health of some of the group before
driving back to Dublin to be in time for work in Beaumont hospital in
Mick had an epileptic fit on the first night in Enniscrone and he was
taken to Sligo general hospital in an ambulance, with Eilish in the back,
and John driving behind. It turned out that he had drank a bottle of whiskey
which he had bought on the boat, plus the cans we had given him to stop
him withdrawing, as well as a 2 litre bottle of 10% super cider that he
had brought from London, the empty bottle of which we found stashed in
his bag along with another less deadly flagon of the local variety. It
was the over-indulgence that kicked in the fit, rather than the withdrawal
from alcohol. Eilish is a nurse and she kept an eye on him the rest of
the week. After Mick returned from the hospital he was feeling well, having
been rehydrated and put on a course of tranquilisers for the week. The
rest of the lads wouldn’t believe that his fit had anything to do
with drink, but blamed the mackerel heads he ate after frying up his catch
of the day from the pier at Enniscrone. They could have a point there
Everyone reduced their alcohol intake drastically, and thankfully, safely.
Everyone ate well. We cooked, mostly communally, in two of the apartments,
taking turns as chefs and cleaners. The shopping was done mostly locally,
except when we were passing a Dunnes in Sligo or Ballina. And our meat
bill was reduced massively, thanks to Peter Quinn, John’s friend
from Ballina, who’s in the meat trade and who brought us a mountain
of steaks, chops, rashers, sausages, etc, which we thought we would never
get through. However, by the end of the week we were buying more, as our
appetites were that good. Mick and Jimmy spent most days on the pier fishing,
as did Johnny, who had befriended a local man, who took them out on the
sea a few times.
Florrie was still nervous of us and checked up on us regularly, nagging
us about the large communal seating areas we had set up in one of the
flats. We mostly just smiled and nodded, although Johnny did tell her
to stop wagging her finger in his face in no uncertain terms. But by the
end of the week Peter had charmed Florrie, telling her tales of the hardship
and cruelty he had suffered in his life. She even invited us to a dance
at the hotel, the night before we were leaving. And as we were packing
and cleaning, I’m sure she had a little tear in her eye. Or maybe
she was just relieved to see the back of us...
< back to part one
reports on other Aisling trips