Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kiss Me, I'm Irish

On top Knocknarea, Ben Bulben in the background.
In honor of the day, here's a story from my travels in Ireland with Mary last May.  

Strangers tend to take a shine to my sister quickly.  You'd think I would have remembered this fact, having seen it in action several times in the course of a weekend the previous November in Philly, but somehow it had slipped my mind.  Add in the fact that many Irish, especially in the west, are very quick to chat up a stranger, and you have a recipe for some interesting encounters.  People of all shapes and sizes are drawn to her, but probably the greatest percentage are men who give the impression they would propose if given the slightest encouragement.  There were at least three such encounters during this trip.  My presence occasionally inspired a certain wariness, but rarely any actual deterrence, and finding out that I was her brother rather than her husband usually brought the twinkle back to their eyes.  As it so happens, in two cases the men mentioned early in the conversation that they were themselves (happily) married; the flirting, if that is what it was, was just play, though I wouldn't say that meant it was insincere.  They were by turns cheerful, teasing (the Irish are big teasers) and charming but never offensive. 

On the Burren

This is not to say that none of them were persistent.  One fellow especially sticks in my mind. 
Galway,  First Day
 Mary and I were at the Ennis transport hub waiting for a bus to take us to our next destination, the town of Clifden.  The small crowd waiting was soon expanded by a school van dropping off a group of students.  It was immediately clear that this was a school for people with developmental disabilities.  With them was an older, lean gentleman whose age, smile and posture said "teacher" to us initially.  He greeted an older woman in the bus shelter with great warmth and seeming recognition.  Then he saw Mary. 
Cliffs of Moher
 There was an audible pop of the sound barrier being broken, and suddenly he was at her side.  Smiling radiantly.  His speech was clotted and soft, suggesting that learning it had not come easily.  His ability to communicate, however, was uncompromised.  He grabbed Mary's hand, kissed it, slid their clasped hands into her coat pocket, and kissed her on the cheek.  In the telling this might sound worrisome, but Mary clearly wasn't worried (it probably wasn't her first time, after all) so neither was I.  It was broad daylight, we were surrounded by people, and frankly if he had been any kind of problem, Mary could have kicked his ass herself, even without my help.  No, he was harmless, just smitten. 
Hiking to Clifden Castle
There were more kisses on hand and cheek, then he announced that she would be sitting next to him on the bus.  "No, I'm going to sit with my brother," she replied, indicating me on her other side.  We were, neither of us, convinced this had registered.  I wasn't entirely sure my existence had been.  When the bus arrived he quickly got on ahead of us, while we loaded our luggage below, and gave him a chance to roost somewhere.  When we boarded he gestured vigorously for Mary to come join him in back, but we filed into an empty pair of seats near the front, with me sitting on the aisle to act as a bit more of a barrier.   
Coming down Knocknarea
We had under-estimated this fellow's determination, however.  He moved up to sit across the aisle from us, reached across my body, grabbed both of Mary's hands with both of his, and rested them on my belly.  I had a human seat belt for the duration of the trip.  We probably could have dissuaded him at this point, but neither of us felt the need; we knew he'd have to go home eventually.  When other passengers boarded or left the bus, his plan was for them to play London Bridge, and crawl under his arms, but we did insist he let go at least on those occasions.  One of his classmates, a young man with Downs Syndrome, was seated a few rows ahead, looking through a date book filled with workshops and job interviews (I got a good impression of this school).  He looked back at one point, shook his head and rolled his eyes, obviously thinking, "ah, Séamus has found another one."   
The Sky Road outside Clifden
Any time I caught the eye of Mary's swain, he beamed joyfully, completely free of embarrassment or self-consciousness.  It was impossible to be annoyed with him.  

When we got up to leave (our stop coming before his) there didn't seem to be any regret on his part, no downcast looks, no objections, no demands she stay put.  Something tells me he had been in this situation before, and was wise enough to know there were plenty more fish in the sea.    
Hiking up Knocknarea
Happy Saint Patrick's Day. 


Kate D. said...

Love it! Oh Ireland...

Birdie said...

You and your family have the best stories. And Séamus' ease with Mary is perfectly easy to understand.

Twispie said...

Loved this, thank you!! Wanna meet your family ;-)

Jess said...

Love the shot of the two of you in front of the Cliffs of Moher. And yes, your presence does cause a certain wariness. I think it's just a Patrick thing.


(Like you could be any sweeter or less threatening!)

Patrick said...

Jess: well, I think they mostly wondered if I were her husband, and if so, how I'd respond to strange men flirting with her. Learning I was her brother didn't stop a couple of them. Not sure ANYTHING would have stopped this guy. He was smitten.

Butch said...

Patrick, I never made it to that site. Did you do it sans the shoes? Some of the more hearty souls make the journey that way, which I understand is a decent tramp in itself without making it anymore difficult. It will be ten years ago this September that I was in Ireland and I've missed it ever since. The Burren has its on magic. It's been awhile since I've visited, sorry for the hiatus.

Patrick said...

Butch, nice to hear from you, and no need to apologize for the hiatus. As you can see, I have been neglecting the blog myself, not to mention the blogs of my friends. Hope life is treating you well. Re: the site, are you sure you're not thinking of Croagh Patrick? I know that is a pilgrimage site, and doing it without shoes, or even on one's knees, is a common practice. I have climbed it, and the mountain is a much more daunting climb than the one pictured here, which is Knocknarea, in Yeats Country. If this is also a pilgrimage site, I've never heard of it, but it would be intriguing, since the cairn on top is supposed to be the resting place of one of the great, grand characters of pagan Ireland, Queen Medbh. To the best of my knowledge, there are no saints or Christian figures associated with the mountain. But of course the pagan foundations to many traditions are still visible in Ireland, especially in the west. Brian Friel does wonderful things with the subject.
My sister and I are already feeling like it's been too long since we were in Ireland, and it hasn't even been a year yet. The place gets under your skin, doesn't it?

Greg said...

"...ah, that old Lacey Magic has you in its spell..."

Fun story and as always, wonderful photos. Is that delightful hedge of gold broom? What a feast for the eyes in every direction. Thanks for taking such lovely shots.