Saturday May 28th, 2016
After another morning of farm fresh eggs and deliciously strong Welsh Breakfast tea, it was time for me to leave the mountain bunkhouse. Taking a few more intentional breaths of the mountain air, I was still sad to leave, but excited for where the next leg of my journey would go. My bunkhouse host was kind enough to give me a ride into town, so along with his daughters and the dog, we piled into the truck, headed through Bethesda onwards to Bangor. I got dropped off a few blocks from the train station. I had some time to spare to wander a bit. Desiring to find a loose leaf version of the black tea I had developed an affinity for, I went into a few cafes and shops. I visited a record store and window-shopped my way up the high road, arriving at the train station, exhausted and sweaty with my huge backpack frame lumbering over me. Receiving a few flabbergasted looks in town, it confirmed how ridiculous my life choices must seem that brought me 1000s of miles, now hunched crooked, nearly drenched in sweat and sore all over. Me, I was loving every minute of it and that much closer to Ireland.
The train to Holyhead was pleasant and my biggest concern was if I could bring my Welsh cheese over the border. Who knows what ferry security would be like? I had never done this trip before and I had no idea what to expect. I arrived in Holyhead with enough time to grab a pint nearby and I knew there was a pub just across the road from the Anglesea port. Dubbed The Edinburgh Castle, I was the only woman other than the server at this bar, which was occupied by 3 older gentlemen, either ferry goers like myself or more likely the regulars. It became apparent that I was not local when I proceeded to leave a tip at the bar. Well, that was a riot and everyone had a good laugh at my expense. I blamed it on my generous Canadian attributes and that got a laugh from the bar too. The other patrons hanging out included a large group of already drunk young Irish guys playing pool (or was it a game of Blackball?) and obviously having a ton of craic. An amicable bunch, they told me about all kinds of spots I should visit in Dublin, included the Foggy Dew and the Kilmainham Gaol, cracking jokes and laughing throughout. They were on a booze cruise, came over for beer and a ferry ride, using unbelievably amazing sale prices the ferry company was offering. We took turns picking songs on the jukebox: Velvet Underground, Joy Division, Rolling Stones and they ordered about 3 rounds of pints during the time I had my one. “I think I’m in love with ya”, one of the lads mumbles as we bond over our selection of jukebox tunes. I chuckle, I wasn’t even in Ireland yet and already there’s an Dubliner in love with me. Ha!
I finish my pint and wave goodbye to the raucous bunch. ‘See you on the ferry’, they call back while they are placing orders for a round of shots. Grinning and slightly buzzed from drinking the strong pint fast, I no longer feel as intimidated by whatever the ferry security might be like. I passed my carry on bags through the detectors, then remembered I needed my food out my big backpack to be checked, so I moved the lunch into my carry on and checked the backpack. After doing that unnoticed in the view of security, I realized I could have been transferring anything from one bag to another. Anything more volatile than Welsh cheese, then it might have been of concern. I was just glad to have lunch with me! Conclusion: Irish border control is much more forgiving than my experiences heading through the strict pat downs from England to France. I come to the realization later, that perhaps the Irish are more concerned about a local terrorist attack than from a foreign source <pulls collar, apprehensively>.
We are herded onto a bus that drives to the ferry departure point. I am sitting beside a prim and proper dark haired Irishman, in slacks and a collared shirt, a stark contrast to the lads at the pub. He tells me about his schooling in London and how he’s headed home to see his family in a suburb of Dublin. The bus drives right up onto the boat and it’s already very crowded onboard, with hundreds of people milling about. I’ve been on ferries in Toronto and New York and was expecting one of a similar size to those, but this massive vessel, dubbed The Ulysses was the size of a cruise ship. Featuring 12 decks, stores, bars and a movie theatre onboard it can carry well over 2000 passengers and 1000 cars!
Eyeing 2 seats at a group of tables, I plop down by the window and survey the hectic scene. I didn’t even notice when the ship departed, it glided so smoothly through the waters of the Irish Sea. I’m sitting with the fellow from the bus and 4 middle aged Americans from the east coast, a couple from the north and a couple from the south. After occupations, politics is brought up almost immediately. It was quite a riot hearing the Democrat vs Republican debate from the two couples on opposite ends of the US political spectrum, but I couldn’t handle it or get a word in for the 3.5 hour duration of the trip, so I set out to explore the ferry. Turns out most of the passengers are American and most of the staff are Eastern European. I may have met the one genuine Irishman on the boat, and being educated in London even he seemed more English than Irish, hah!
No sign of my pub acquaintances, I wondered if they missed the boat (turns out they were on another ferry line, the Stena). I found my favourite place on the boat up on the top deck, outside with sunshine, a cool breeze and waves crashing against the sides. I spotted sea birds and rare glimpses of dolphins. It wasn’t a bad way to travel, but I was glad when land was visible in the distance. Foot passengers both board and depart last, so we had to wait until everyone else was off. My friend for the ride spotted his family down far below, waiting in the parking lot and in his excitement I had a brief moment of sadness that no familiar faces were waiting for me here and that I was pretty much on my own for 3 weeks – which was silly, because my neighbours’ cousin, Sebastian was going to meet me in Dublin and I was on an adventure dammit! Smiling again, I retrieved my luggage and found the shuttle bus into the city centre. I had arrived in ‘the town of the hurdled ford’, Baile Átha Cliath, or Dubh Linn (Black Pool) in Gaelic.
Asking the driver how to get to O’Connell street from the bus station (Busáras), he pointed up the street, said to go under a bridge and turn left, then follow the road to the Spire and that there’s no missing it. And there certainly wasn’t! The Spire is the tallest free standing sculpture in the world and that’s where Sebastian, the cousin of my neighbour back in Ontario, would be meeting me. It was about a 15 minute walk, and my shoulders were feeling it. I didn’t stop to look at anything really, focusing on the Spire, the 120m tall spike slowly getting closer and closer. Once there, I did a lap around the 3m diameter base and then went to set down my bag. Almost immediately, I hear my name and see a smiling face greeting me. Guitar tucked over his shoulder, he gestured the direction to head. It must be easy to recognize a wayward Canuck, even though we hadn’t met before. A short walk west of the Spire brought us to a bustling little market street, Sebastian leading the way, chatting amicably. He warned me about the knackers, bratty tracksuit clad teenagers in the neighbourhood, who can be quite dangerous and nasty to those walking solo unprepared. The urban dictionary describes knackers as “Irish term of affection for general scum (low lifes)…originating from a term of reference for travellers. But nowadays covering whole spectrum of degenerates.” and “Someone who is found smoking a joint down the back of Dublin Bus i.e the 13A. During the bus journey they will treat the other passengers to all the ringtones in their mobile phone. Mainly up to date rubbish dance tunes.” and “All knackers enjoy Bockin’ da head o’ ya, gear, yolks, dope. hub caps, robbing, thieving, lying, transit vans, horses, lifestyle sports, penneys clothes, supermacs, macdonalds, cinemas, crappy civics and puntos. Fighting, rolling up their sleeves. They also can’t read or write, and try to rip you off by selling u a microwaved eight instead of a decent quarter. They can’t speak either. “Box da nick off ya, lid bollox, bate tha hid off yer showldees. Tum’on, I fite ya. I fite ya! I knife ya! I stikk me daggy in the side ur nick and slit ur throat. I will! Tum’on give us a yaro, go on, I’ll fite ya! I fite ya fo a five-o, bate ya fo a tenno. Ivya have 15 I bewwy ya fo it. An if ya don wan fite me, meh bwodja bate ya fo not chin.” Nice. I hope I don’t run in to any of them after dark!
The streets around here are all under construction, as Dublin lays new tracks for streetcars. We reach a 4 story walk up beside a church. Of course, the flat is on the top floor, but at least there is beer and food at the top! Sebastian’s a cook and kindly rustles up some dinner, as he and his roommate talk about their day and whether or not Sebastian successfully wooed a girl earlier in the afternoon with his guitar. The apartment is tiny, a 2 bedroom shared between 4 people: 2 Canadian boys and 2 Korean girls, an odd pairing, but a fine example of the International qualities of Dublin. I was incredibly grateful for the mattress on the living room floor to rest my head at night for the next 3 days. After drinking my last Welsh beer and a few tall cans in the flat, I am ready to go out exploring!
We head on a mini pub crawl, first stop at the neighbourhood pub, Lanigan’s, where the place is packed for a football match. The walls are covered floor to ceiling with kitschy knick knacks and Halloween decorations. Sebastian knows the whole staff and points out his contribution to the decor, a dragon or some such mythical creature about the size of my hand. It is crowded and ruckus in the pub and we gulp down a pint (My first truly local Guinness, Sláinte!) and head to the next stop, over the O’Connell bridge and into Cassidy’s, a bar which invites patrons to scrawl their name or a message on almost any given surface. I choose a lampshade to pen my moniker and we down another pint in the bustling lower level, before emerging back out into the streets and towards the chaos that is the Temple Bar district. Imagine combining Richmond Row (London ON will know), with cobblestones, debauchery, tourists and Irish gimmicks. Tacky and intoxicated, Temple Bar was not the place I wanted to spend much time in, but amusing to venture through nonetheless. Give me a quiet old pub over this any day. So, we headed to one of the pubs on my list which I wanted to visit, The Stag’s Head, a gorgeous Victorian pub with wrought iron chandeliers, resplendent in granite and mirrors and decorated with barrels and stuffed stag’s heads as the name would suggest. We headed to the upstairs lounge, washroom, ordered another pint and then back outside. Just across Dame Lane, we could see Sweeney’s and a sign for live music. After downing our pints we head over to check it out. Upstairs at Sweeney’s, the room is crowded and loud. We get another pint and find a spot near the stage which is occupied by a loud, raucous, bluesy 3 piece band from Belfast, called The Hard Chargers. Wailing on guitar is the frontman Chris Todd. Drummer Richard J Hodgen gets out the washboard for a few tunes and Dave Thompson rounds out the rhythm section on bass. Here are two songs I filmed from their set, one of which they shared on their youtube. We are loving the rocking tunes and the crowd is excited, since the notice on the chalkboard says that this will be the last weekend of shows at Sweeney’s, as the bar is closing (Turns out that they were able to keep the doors open, but we didn’t know that and it seemed like an epic moment in time!).
Hungry and tired, we leave the bar to get some falafel goodness. It is fortunate to be hanging out with someone who knows exactly where to get decent cheap late night vegetarian food. We cross back over the river and admire the lights reflecting on the Liffey and the Ha’penny bridge from afar before stumbling back to the flat for some shut eye. I have the next two days to myself to tour around the city and I want to be up nice and early! This was a great introduction to Dublin: a satisfying pub crawl, full of craic! Oíche mhaith!