I've always looked upon my trip to Ireland as a turning point in my life. I travelled to Ireland alone. Successfully completing that trip gave me a boost in confidence that I have carried with me.
My senior year in college I spent a trimester in Europe. My college was Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Every fall they would have a group of students travel abroad in a group with Augustana professors who would teach courses to the students who were travelling. We went in a group and spent five weeks in London, England; two weeks in Strasbourg, France; three weeks in Munich, Germany and a week in middle to travel on our own.
Through a quirk in my schedule one week in London I had no classes after noon on Tuesday. This gave me almost a week to travel. No one else had the same quirk I did, so I was on my own. I decided to go to Ireland. It is the land of my ancestors - all of them according to my dad; a lot of them according to the rest of the family.
I spent Tuesday afternoon travelling by train to the coast and then taking a hydrofoil across the Irish Sea to Dublin with no problems, except that I realized I had left my jacket in London.
I'd like to tell you about three of the people of Ireland; how I met them and what they did for me.
I spent a night at a youth hostel in Cork. The next day I made my way to Blarney Castle. (Yep, I kissed the Blarney Stone.) From there I was going to go to Kilarney. I started walking the road to Kilarney and putting out my thumb whenever any vehicles would pass by to try and hitch a ride. I walked. And I walked. The few cars that were on this road weren't picking up hitchhikers. I was enjoying the walk. But after several hours, I was beginning to get a discouraged. Suddenly I saw a bunch of cars coming my way led by a small station wagon. Hooray! Maybe one of these cars would stop for me. Things were about to improve. I turned and walking backwards held out my thumb.
Now, to be fair, cars in Europe were a bit smaller than American cars. So, misidentifying a car on first glance wasn't my fault. When the cars got a bit closer, I realized that the station wagon was really a hearse. Oops. My thumb quickly came down and I turned around. I was mortified. Sometimes I wonder if in the pub that night they were talking about the American who was trying to hitch a ride to heaven.
About an hour later a car stopped to pick me up. It was a priest who was going all the way to Kilarney. He said he could drop me off at the youth hostel there. We had a nice talk on the drive there. He asked me what I thought about Ted Kennedy's chances of becoming president; this was back in the early 1980's. It was only years later that I realized he was probably the priest from the funeral procession.
When I left Kilarney the weather was nasty; it was windy with rain trying to decide between misting and drizzling. The train station was small, which meant everybody was waiting outside under an awning that stopped only rain that fell straight down. I stood on the platform with the wind blowing right through my sweater missing my jacket and feeling uncomfortable. An older woman on the platform with a couple companions left them and walked over to me.
"Don't you have a coat?" She asked me.
I explained that I had left it in London.
"You'll be taking my extra then."
She pulled a clear plastic rain coat out of her bag and gave it to me. Thanking her I put it on. It was several sizes too small. The sleeves ended midway between my elbows and wrists and I could only pull it closed to two of the snaps in the front. But it shielded me from the wind and wet.
Later, on the train I tried to give the coat back to her, but she wouldn't take it.
I took the train to Kilkenny. Prior to my trip, I had been leafing through a book that listed all the youth hostels in Europe. I had seen a listing for Foulksrath Castle in Ireland. I decided if I could I would like to spend the night in a castle if I had a chance. I started walking and putting out my thumb. I was a bit luckier this time and got picked up quickly.
I got in the car and the man who was driving asked me where I was going. I told him about the youth hostel and that I wasn't sure of the exact location.
"Ahh yes, I know the place. I'll take you there. But would you'd be liking to see a bit of the area first?"
I said yes and was given a scenic tour. He drove me to several spots with views of the countryside. At this time of year in Minnesota, the leaves would be falling off the trees and the green colors of nature would have faded. In Ireland, the greens were vibrant as if it were springtime.
We talked as he drove. I told him about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday in America. He asked me about Ted Kennedy's chances for the presidency. Eventually we made it to the youth hostel where he dropped me off.
I had traveled to Ireland and back to London. That trip gave me confidence in myself and my ability to make my way in the world. But of course, I wasn't really alone; the Irish people were there with me.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.