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We will travel again but in the meantime, enjoy Gerry’s ‘Buddy Trip to Ireland’

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Editor’s note:  We will travel again.  And when we do, it will be with renewed anticipation and appreciation. In the meantime, please enjoy Ireland – A Buddy Trip, by Gerry Feehan.

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Despite my bona fide Irish heritage, I never had any burning desire to visit the Emerald Isle. But some years ago when I asked my mom if there were any place she’d like to go, she leapt at the chance to see Ireland, “Your father and I were there in 1970 and I’ve always wanted to go back.” So my brother and I, together with our better halves, took mother Teresa on a grand tour. We stayed at the venerable Gresham Hotel in Dublin, drove the Ring of Kerry, peered over the Cliffs of Moher and visited the multi-purposed Feehan Pub and Funeral Parlour in Tipperary. We even kissed the Blarney Stone.

Feehan’s bar and funeral parlour

My mom was astonished by the change the Celtic Tiger had wrought since the ‘70s. It was 2003 and Ireland was roaring with economic prosperity. What had been drab villages lined with grey terrace houses had evolved into affluent towns filled with bright new homes painted all colours of the rainbow. It was an emotional trip. On what would have been my dad’s 80th birthday, the five of us stood on a hill overlooking Galway Bay at sunset and sang his favourite song:

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland — Then maybe at the closing of the day — You will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh — And see the sun go down on Galway Bay

I get a tear in my eye e’en now as I recall that brilliant Irish evening. It sounds corny but I truly felt at home in Ireland. I felt a bond with the peaty earth and a genetic connection to the people, their demeanour, wit – and love for a pint.

I’d been itching for an excuse to return and, as Irish luck would have it, last year the opportunity arose. But just like the first time around, this latest sojourn to Ireland wasn’t my idea. It was my school buddy’s notion that a bunch of us – eight old friends – should celebrate our 60th year on the planet by gifting ourselves a trip to the golf links of Ireland. I’ve known this group for a while; five of us attended kindergarten together. Collectively my association with these fellas has spanned 352 years. I did the math.

So in late May we packed our clubs and boarded a jetliner bound for Eire. After a couple of nights wandering the streets of Dublin’s fair city, in a state of jet-lag-induced somnambulism, we boarded a private coach bound for the lovely port city of Kinsale. Distances on an Irish map can be deceiving. The 250 km traverse took us almost five hours. Fortunately we had a couple of guitars, some harmonies, plenty of bonhomie and the affable chatter of our driver, Mr. PaeBottle, to shorten the journey. And there’s no better way to pass an evening than marvelling at the serenity and bucolic beauty of an Irish country lane.

Ireland’s roads are ancient and narrow

In the morning we arose to a brilliant sunny day, a rarity in soggy Ireland, and chowed down a modest Irish breakfast of rashers, black pudding, white sausage, runny eggs, fried tomatoes, baked beans, soda bread, butter and preserves – all washed down with fresh-squeezed orange juice and black coffee (I waved away the creamer to avoid the fat).

“Yes, once, briefly,” Morris said sheepishly, “no one deserves to be happy all their life.”

Sated, we departed for Old Head, our first test of links golf. I have stricken many a golf ball in my day but never have I enjoyed  (or endured) a more beautiful (yet painful) experience than my introduction to Irish golf.

The devilish 12th at Old Head

It is bittersweet to see a brand-new Titleist sail up over a gorse-laden glen, observe its apex framed by a heather-topped mountain, then watch its descent over a 200-foot cliff en route to a watery Atlantic grave. “Gimme a double,” was the oft-used phrase of our Irish experience – both on and off the course.

On the trip with my mom in 2003, the Irish cuisine was noticeably un-notable. Supper invariably consisted of boiled fish, boiled chicken… or some other bland boiled protein substance. And always there was the ubiquitous potato, served in two or three varieties at every sitting: mashed, fried, boiled, etc., stacked grimly on one’s plate. One evening, tired of the usual fare, my mother politely asked if she could have a vegetable side with her dinner. The waitress promptly delivered a baked potato. “I asked for a vegetable,” said my puzzled madre. “The potato is a vegetable ma’am,” deadpanned the waitress, then turned and delivered two plates of over-boiled haddock to an unimpressed American couple at the adjoining table.

This time round the food was amazing. The Irish have upped their cuisinal game dramatically, fusing traditional Gaelic fare with actual flavour. Even the potatoes were tasty (although they are now mainly imported from Cyprus; apparently the Irish countryside is too good for the lowly spud). And the Celtic Tiger is alive and well. The streets are full of fancy imported cars and well-heeled women. The shops are stock-full and pubs overflow with tourists. But Ireland is expensive. Menu prices are similar to Canada but the currency is Euros, so the tab is 60% higher when converted to lowly Canadian dollars.

Which is not to say the Irish look down upon us. Au contraire, they love Canadians. We get it. The Irish are a loquacious bunch, always quick with a quip but also appreciative of a little conversational give-and-take. We Canadians laugh – then give it back.

Tralee Golf Links

Our driver Morris PaeBottle was a patient and diplomatic man, his Tralee accent oddly tinged with a Norwegian-like lilt. On the drive from Killarney to Waterville Golf Club we nearly rear-ended a number of cars. After the third incident I asked Morris, “Why do the drivers wait until the last possible moment before signalling a turn?” Unperturbed he explained at length how the Irish had suffered through centuries of poverty, then said, “They’re afraid to wear out the bulb.”

Mr. PaeBottle overflowed with Gaelic pride but was not full of himself. I asked if he’d ever been married. “Yes, once, briefly,” Morris said sheepishly, “no one deserves to be happy all their life.”

When we arrived at Waterville the friendly starter hurried out to help Morris unload clubs from the coach’s boot. My bunkmate Martin began gushing to them about how pretty were the Irish lasses.

“That barmaid in the pub last night took my breath away,” Uncle Marty said. “Surely, that would be a blessing,” Morris said, under his breath.

This wasn’t just a golf trip. A few of the lads are musical, so it was fitting that we’d join in a late-night ceilidh (traditional music, singing and dance) at the Cornerstone Pub in Lahinch.  The boys acquitted themselves nicely and received a thunderous ovation – before being politely asked by the barman to exit the stage and let the truly talented locals reel off a jig or two.

It was a rare treat to join a group of long-time friends on a journey to the old country. It may happen again one day but unfortunately some of the vintage 1957 parts are wearing out. One pal, I’ll call him “TD”, struggles with his hearing.

Memento from Ballybunion

At Ballybunion golf links, which is as famous for its fiendish layout as for its long history, he had a particularly bad finishing hole. As we left the 18th green I noticed him exiting in the wrong direction.

“TD,” I shouted, “the clubhouse is this way.” He looked at me, held up some fingers, and said, “Seven.” As always, Morris was standing by at the finish. He looked at me, winked and said, “Those hearing aids are a real eye-opener.”

I proceeded briskly toward the 19th hole and, killing two birds with the proverbial one stone, said to my scorekeeping friend Sid, whom I’ve known for almost six decades and whose turn it was to buy, “Gimme a double.”

The 19th hole

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. We hope you enjoyed his Irish adventure.  He and his wife Florence live in Red Deer, AB and Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for sponsoring this series.  Click on their ads and learn more about these long-term local businesses.

 

Angling and adventure greet our intrepid traveller on Padre Island

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‘Adventures in Pandemica’ or ‘What I did on my Isolation Vacation’

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Adventures in Pandemica’ or ‘What I did on my Isolation Vacation’

Our trip to Pandemica was unplanned. It began March 17, 2020, on a sunny St Patrick’s Day. The voyage was short, comfortable and hassle-free. No packing, no suitcases, no plane tickets – and no jetlag. We simply got out of bed and we were there. I wasn’t sure what to expect in this strange land or how long we’d be here, so I acquired a couple of travel books. Fodors Guide to the Living Room has come in handy and Lonely Toilet has been indispensable.

The climate in Pandemica is quite lovely. The weather hovers around room temperature year-round and there’s very little precipitation – with the exception of an occasional morning shower. The sights and sounds are unique, wondrous, spectacular. I never get tired of staring into the refrigerator. There’s something raw and primal about gazing vacantly into an appliance, the barefoot uncombed silence broken only by the perpetual tick of a kitchen clock. Pandemica is a fun, exciting place. Every day brings new adventure, challenges and occasionally, life-defining choices. Should I brush my teeth before or after checking the mailbox? Is that stale-dated yogurt edible or shall I just heave it?

Although not a big place (as vacation spots goes), Pandemica has lots of interesting, undiscovered regions to explore. Don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path. Move that fridge. Open the hide-a-bed. Look behind the stove. Venture outside your comfort zone. Here you will discover strange sights, ancient artifacts, long-forgotten foodstuffs. And before vacuuming up the primordial grime and decades-old grit, reminisce and enjoy the moment. Take the time to really examine that plastic letter ‘K’ you found under the oven. Time will fly. Before you know it, it’ll be time to stand naked in front of the fridge again.

The view from my armchair is comforting but yesterday, throwing caution to the wind, I snuck out the back door to dump the garbage. I scanned the perimeter for Covid-19 police, then made a dash for the alley. The fresh air on my face was intense and exhilarating – but also unfamiliar and a little unnerving. I looked up at the clear blue sky. There were no contrails. I shuddered involuntarily and scurried back inside to seek comfort from the daily White House briefing.

Often, we sleep in. But one day, it was a Tuesday, maybe a Wednesday, I got up early… and sat on the couch.

Time in sequestration can pass slowly if one doesn’t keep mind honed and body occupied. And since I’m a ‘get things done’ kind of guy, early on I created a to-do list:

  • look longingly out window
  • observe woman at other end of sofa knitting something
  • check corona virus stats
  • wander aimlessly from room to room wondering what it was you went in there for
  • descend into YouTube wormhole/re-watch Groundhog Month
  • stare vacuously into refrigerator
  • (repeat above steps as necessary until mind is comfortably numb)

Before you know it the day will be over and it’ll be time for bed. And you can look forward to tomorrow – and another pathetic day executing the same monotonous rituals. But remember, a steadfast routine is what makes life worthwhile, consequential, meaningful.

We borrowed a 1000-piece puzzle from the neighbours. It took forever. Cleaning each chunk before assembly was enormously gratifying and a real time killer.

 

For moi, self-isolation has ratcheted up the agoraphobia factor a couple of notches. The more I’m confined, the less I’m socially inclined. Humans are an adaptive species – but also remarkably sheep-like. The new awkward requires that, on those rare occasions where we dare step outside to seek provisions, we keep our heads down, move quickly to the other side of the vegetable aisle and, at all costs, avoid eye contact. I’m really enjoying it.

And it’s interesting how quickly we have evolved to accept and adopt strange new mores, such as physical distancing. On the thirteenth straight night of Netflix, I began talking to the television, quietly berating the stars of a ‘90s sitcom. The actors were co-mingled around a coffee table, unabashedly unmasked. I really lost it when they hugged, high-fived and then broke bread together. Disgusted, I switched over to watch Gravity, not my favourite flic, but at least the cast had the decency to wear space suits.

From the heights of my step ladder in the dining room, the vista is stunning. I have an unobstructed look at the neighbour’s garage and a bird’s-eye-view of our entire ceiling. Overcome by this stippled splendor I nearly forgot my purpose atop the ladder. But I was quickly brought back down from my lofty reverie when my wife hollered, ‘Are you or are you not going to remove the dead flies from that light fixture.’

We so enjoyed our trip to Pandemica that we decided to exercise the full two-month extension. And I’m proud to say I’ve now checked off some lifetime bucket-list items: taking down the Christmas lights before June, vacuuming the wood pile, discarding a pair of mis-matched socks, sharpening a drawer full of dull pencils. There’s more but I don’t want to boast about my less sensational achievements.

At the end of week nine we finally caved and invited a couple of friends over for a social-distancing dinner. What with catching up, toasts to the ‘new normal’, etc., it went rather too well and, since no taxis were operating, our friends and their car had an impromptu sleep-over. After breakfast, unwilling to don her previous evening’s formal attire, our lady-friend exited the house barefoot, clad only in a pair of borrowed pajamas. Fortunately, no nosy neighbours were extant. But a murder of crows, blissfully ignorant of their obligation to self-isolate after a winter abroad, were on hand to raucously caw Barb’s ‘walk of shame’ down the driveway.

When this mess is finally over, I’m not sure I want to go back to work. Come to think of it, since I didn’t have a vocation before this compulsory vacation, I’m pretty sure I’m not going back.

Thanks to Rod Kennedy and Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for helping to make this series possible.  Please support them.

 

“Can you tell me if there’s a good spot to fish around here?”

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