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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tralee - A Fighting Town

I spent almost 7 years living in Tralee, between going to college there and working there afterward. I absolutely loved it. I had always felt that my heart was in Tralee, even as a child and wished that I'd grown up there. I felt so lucky that a third level course that I really wanted to do ( Folk Theatre Studies with Siamsa Tire, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland) was available in Tralee. I was heading back there after three and a half years and it was pissing down rain. Apt really - it must be one of the rainiest towns in Ireland. After a washed out drive around Slea Head, albeit still a very pretty route, First stop in Tralee was checking in at Manor West Hotel; Terence, one of my best friends, had reserved a room for us, which was extraordinarily nice of him! Then we went downtown to meet my aunt Mary briefly and see how she was recovering after the wedding (Aeda is her youngest daughter). We popped into Paddy Mac's for a late lunch - the food was still as lovely as I remembered it. Then Gareth went for a lie-down while I had a little catch-up with Terence. Around 6pm we decided it was beer o clock and pitched ourselves up at the Bistro Bar in the hotel for an aperitif before we headed down the town. A friend I knew from Dublin, Aidan, text to say he would join us for one or two so we headed down to the Blasket, a popular spot in the town. It was empty, but then it was a Tuesday night.
After Aidan joined us and enlightened us with some risqué tales (that man's mouth needs to be washed out!) we decided we should probably get some ballast in to prepare us for the rest of the night's drinking. On Terence's recommendation we headed around to Willie Darcy's Restaurant. When I lived in Tralee, Willie Darcy's was a pub on the corner of the square but Willie obviously has other talents! They had a great deal on - 3 courses for 20euro and we decided to splash out and order some Prosecco too. The waiter had a bit of craic with us when opening the bottle, saying it lent "an air of affluence," to our table. I'm not sure about that - we looked like a motley crew! The food was really good, we were fighting over the brie, and Aidan even complimented the vegetarian offering. They even went so far as to change Screaming Dion off the stereo and replace it with Bob Dylan. It would be a really nice place for a romantic meal too; I liked the decor and setting. I know we were probably a little raucous towards the end, but we were the last there, so at least we didn't disturb anyone else. We pottered across the square to Sean Og's, an old favorite of mine, always good for a few tunes. As usual, it was packed - as on any night of the week. The boys decided it was time for shots; jagers of course, but a few other hideous concoctions landed in front of me which I absolutely refused (tequila TOPPEd with sambuca?). Ran into a few other old friends and decided a trip to Late Bar, The Abbey was in order. Another old haunt; I used to spend every Thursday night dancing til 2 or 3 in there. It's undergone a refurbishment since I was a regular, and the crowd seems to be a lot younger (but then we were once too!) but we had a dance nonetheless. There was a lot of drink flying around and as sometimes does; some disagreements started. Aidan and myself decided we should probably finish off the night on a high but it was a struggle getting Gareth out of the bar, apparently not enough Jagers had been consumed! He seemed happy enough in the taxi a few minutes later, head out the window like a labrador lapping in the Tralee air. I'm not sure what happened when we got into the hotel room; I remember him falling over the bed, and acting like a drunken idiot (although given I was drunk myself I probably wasn't the best judge of this). There was a silly argument, and a bathroom door slammed (him, not me!) and I curled up in bed thinking that this was really typical of Tralee; There always seems to be a fight to be had in Tralee. No matter how much I love it, no matter how many good memories I have, it's a fighting town.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mellow days and music...

Ireland is known for the three-day wedding. Maybe it's our love for each other, the drink, the craic - or a little of all three, and the fact that Irish weddings tend to be large, but we have to make that big day out into a sort of festival. Nowadays the bride and groom acknowledge this and actually benefit from it, because the day after the formal "do" they can let their hair down and relax. I believe these normal rules did not apply to my cousin Aeda, rumour has it she was up til 4.30am the night before her wedding. Well, we didn't call her "All-night Aeda" on the hen for nothing.... The day after The Baker nuptials we headed to Glounthaune for a bit of a session. Of course the Quinn's (my Mum's family) were first to arrive en-masse but soon we had a 40/50 strong crowd, some a little more worse for wear than others. The day after is also a great excuse to catch up on the gossip from the night before, no one can get away with sheepishly creeping out of hotels and holiday homes - they have to face the music later on the Sunday. This wedding had plenty of stories of people creeping past other's in residents bars, letting themselves into other people's rooms on the QT etc.... Music was provided by Cillian, Aeda's brother in law, Aoife (who played and sang in the church) and Neilus, making a guest appearance. Various people gave us a tune - a highlight being Aeda's Dad, Denis, doing some Johnny Cash numbers. Some of my earliest memories are of Johnny Cash being played in their house. Scott did a great rendition of "500 miles," in true Scottish fashion and Tony sang and played "Lazing on a sunny afternoon,". I even did a number or two! It was another late night, a party back in the Paddocks and a great way to round off a fantastic wedding weekend. After breakfast being cooked for us (Full Irish no.3 of the holiday!) Gareth and I hit the road for the second leg of our journey to Dingle in Co.Kerry. The clouds threatened rain but we weren't worried, just excited for a quiet night and a bit of music. There were a few hairy moments on the Ring of Kerry - driving around cliffs in the rain with low visibility and the fear after 3 days drinking is not my strong point. When we met a bus coming the opposite way I nearly had to stop to collect myself - the only thing that drove me forward was the prospect of getting off the cliffs. It is a spectacular place with stunning views - I wished it had been a little clearer for Gareth to really see it. We checked into the Quayside B&B in Dingle just after 3. The hosts - Muris and Therese were so friendly and welcoming from the off with loads of suggestions for places to eat and drink and things to do in the town. We headed out for a late lunch - Gareth had his first Irish stew and we had a little walk around the town. Later in the evening we were lucky enough to be two of a hundred people who got in to the folk concert in St. John's Church. It was absolutely magical. Eoin Duignan, the uileann piper, was the host and played some wonderful tunes at times accompanied by the guitarist, John Brown, who entertained us with some chat between tunes. We also got to hear a new instrument - the hang drum, only created in 1998. After a short interval we were treated to the melodious voice of Pauline Scanlon, accompanied by Donagh Hennessy on guitar. It was so good, we didn't want to go to any bars so we could keep the tunes lingering in our ears. We had a fish and chips on the quayside and took a little walk, relieved to have an alcohol free night. Against our usual grain we were tucked up in bed by 11, with the rain pattering against the window.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I woke to the sound of rally cars on Saturday morning, the day of the wedding. All the participants were staying in our hotel. I opened the curtains and once again the sun streamed in. I turned to Gareth and said "It's a beautiful day for Aeda's wedding," to which I received the mumbled reply "The Child of Prague must have worked,". Unbelievable. Less than 24 hours in the country and he already had the superstitions. Another successful integration! This is how the Irish take over the world; with our sayings, beliefs, music and drink! For those of you who aren't familiar with the Child of Prague, it's a strong tradition in Ireland that this little statue, if left out in the garden the night before, will bring good weather for the wedding day. My aunt Mary, Aeda's mum, had actually called my Mum on the way to Cork to check if we'd put it out. It's another theory that it won't bring you luck until the head is off it, and ours is decapitated (by accident I might add). I took off into Midleton to get my hair done at Oxygen Hair Design. A lovely girl called Louise gave me a blow-dry. Louise was very friendly but I'm not sure she knew where Dubai is; she certainly wasn't interested in visiting there once I told her it was in the desert. I can see how living in a town like Midleton would seem preferable to dwelling in the sandpit and I envy people who are completely happy with their lot, unlike us - constantly chasing the dream. Back at the hotel, Gareth eventually got out of bed and we prepared ourselves for the day ahead. The bus was late, and there were a few rain showers but as we climbed the steps in the grounds of U.C.C, the sun was splitting the stones again. The bridesmaid were resplendent in fuchsia and I felt a little tingle of excitement. I actually realized that Aeda was getting married! It had felt pretty surreal until now. Most of the reason for this is because there's 13 days between us and I still think we're 16! Lawrence looked dapper in his wedding suit and not in the least nervous, and much as it sounds like a cliche there were a few gasps as Aeda entered the church. She's a gorgeous girl anyway but as is only right, she was absolutely breath-taking and grinning like a cheshire cat as she walked up the aisle. Fr Michael Enright, Aeda's Dad's cousin, was the priest for the wedding. In his opening he said "In the word's of Henry 8th to his wives' - I won't keep you long,". That pretty much set the precedent for the ceremony. He sped through all the prayers and kept us entertained at all other times. Aoife Collins provided some beautiful musical accompaniment with her singing and on the flute. Then it was a mad dash in torrential rain to the bus to take us to Castlemartyr resort where the reception was being held. There was a champagne and canapé reception in the drawing room whilst the photo's took place and I got a chance to speak to some Tralee people I hadn't seen in a few years. I lived in Tralee for 7 years prior to moving to Dubai and I absolutely loved it; it used to be one of my favorite places and I'm still very fond of a lot of people there. Castlemartyr - as an aside, is gorgeous. I wished I had time to walk through the grounds, I believe Gareth took a bit of a jaunt around later that night! The room where we had dinner was flooded with natural light, with floor to ceiling windows. For a change at a family wedding - I wasn't sat with family. I love my mum's family dearly - but it was a welcome change! We were on a really fun table - a combination of Aeda and Law's friends in Oman, and my cousin Alex. We even had a child of prague at our table - rumors that it was been plyed with jager later are unconfirmed. I wish I'd recorded the speeches! Denis hit all the right notes of humor and poignancy after giving away his youngest daughter. Then came Lawrence, and I've literally never heard a groom's speech like it. He should have his own show! We almost felt sorry for Dangerous Dave, the best man, to have to follow him! He did himself proud though. Usually at Irish weddings we play games betting on the length of the speeches or how many times people say thank you but we were mesmerized throughout. I welled up a few times but managed to keep most of my eye make-up intact! After a sumptuous feast for dinner (honestly we couldn't get through all of it, but it was fab) and a few more drinks - including Gareth getting on the jager-bombs, it was time for dancing. Gareth eagerly took part in the "Siege of Ennis" (This is a lively Irish ceili dance, often performed at weddings) despite having no idea how to do it. Anything that involves thrashing his legs and arms about at high speed is always appealing to Gareth when he's had a few. The band had all of us on our feet for most of the night and even convinced us to get quite mushy and romantic during the slow-sets. After the band it was trusty DJ Manus to bring us through to the early hours. Manus has DJ'd at many of our friends and family weddings and the obligatory Riverdance was performed a short while later. This is not Riverdance as most of you know it - but a much more raucous version where the guys basically try to jump as high as they can and take each other out. It is hilarious both to watch and take part in but not for the faint hearted! At some point in the merriment Mum suggested we should take a taxi home, this is an absolute first - normally I'm putting Mum in a taxi but I knew Gareth must me lying on the ground somewhere talking to trees or traffic if she was bringing it up! So, we left a great wedding...I heard tales of people bribing residents bar staff, flings in the holiday Village and singing til the small hours....I'm impressed Gareth stayed as long as he did! It was a fantastic day, and I'm sure Aeda and Lawrence are delighted with how it turned out.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Destination: The Peoples Republic of Cork

Friday dawned another glorious day in Ireland, we kept our fingers crossed it would hold for Aeda's wedding the next day. After the usual chaotic flurry before leaving the McBride household Mum and I got out the door only seven minutes behind schedule. I had butterflies on the way to the airport to pick up Gareth, honestly wondering whether unleashing my entire extended family on him was a good idea but it was too late to turn back now! When we saw each other at Dublin airport I was subdued, what to say now he had finally arrived. Mum and himself immediately bonded over a good laugh at me, when I realised I hadn't validated the parking ticket. Great, guys.... So we were finally on the road. I was distracted by their conversation, trying to monitor what was coming out of Mum's mouth and whether she could get me into trouble. This led to my driving being rather erratic and then I got nervous. It wasn't a great start. Thankfully Mum took over the wheel and we made it to Cork with no major incidents. After meeting Jen and Liam ( not her husband as she vehemently pointed out to Gareth!) we headed off from the Paddocks and checked into the Midleton Park hotel, we had time for a quick nap and shower and then it was time to meet the family in the bar. Everyone was in good form, the wine was flowing and all of a sudden I start getting pulled aside by various aunts "He's a fine man," , "Good catch there!", " Where did you find that hunk?" were some of the gentler comments I got in the early part of the night. I had visions of Gareth being like a summer Santa and having to give turns on his knee by the end of the night, thankfully there were no such scenes. It was brilliant catching up with everyone and of course I loved the attention Gareth was getting, it definitely brought back memories of Aeda bringing Lawrence home in 2009; it seems our family love a good Englishman! We dragged a few to residents bar and unsuccessfully tried to ply Lawrence with some shots under the watchful eye of Scott and Dangerous Davenport, the best man. They were on patrol but Lawrence needed no watching, he was eager to get to bed and wake up on his wedding day. The last things he said before heading off were "I'm so excited I get to marry Aeda tomorrow,".....all together now awwwwww. We got to bed about 230am, reasonable enough I thought, for Gareths first night in Ireland. What would the wedding day bring?