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Monday, September 7, 2009


Tuesday morning and we are ready to hit the road.  After another fine Irish breakfast in our B&B, we called a taxi for a short ride into the car rental office in Galway.  Mike and the rental agent completed all the paper work and we were assigned a Ford Focus, automatic, right hand drive car that was one hubcap short of a full set.  No bother. 

Our goal for the day was to be in Labasheeda by dinner.  This would be no small task as Muhammed Ali was in Ennis.  Yes, that fine son of Ireland and former world champion was being given the keys to the city of his grandmother’s birth.  I’ll bet you didn’t know that Ali’s grandmother was an O’Grady.  The papers had been full of the story for days and huge crowds were expected for the parade and festivities.  This presented a particular problem for us as all roads in County Clare pass through Ennis.  Looking at our map was like a story problem in seventh grade geometry.  If a triangle has three sides and you are trying to pass a camel through the eye of a needle by avoiding one of the sides, what is pi?  The only consolation is that Ireland is roughly the size of West Virginia, so any detour we choose would only add an hour to our travel time.  We traveled southeast for a bit, swung southwest to the Shannon Estuary and then followed the river west to Labasheeda.  Don’t blink. 

Why were we headed to Labasheeda?  That story starts out with an Email.  It went something like this.  “Hi Jody. You might not remember me, but we went to high school together and you gave me a book that I still have with me.”  Um, yes, I did remember her.  So, I wrote her back.  “Hi Mary, how nice to hear from you after only forty years.  I live in Florida.  Where are you?”  She wrote back “Labasheeda, Ireland.  If you’re ever in the neighborhood….”.  So, we corresponded over this past spring and early summer.  Our letters were great fun because we both are very irreverent about life and fancy ourselves as undiscovered comedy writers.  The invitation was firmed up and we were expected for dinner on Tuesday evening.

We were a bit early, so we cruised through town to get the lay of the land.  I am guessing that town consists of about thirty houses, a pub, a school, a church, a post office and a community center.  We explored the road that lead out to a peninsula at one end of town.  Well, the term “road” is a bit of a stretch.  It is the sort of pathway that we all searched for in our teens as the perfect make-out spot.  As we drove along, the road became a single lane with grass growing in the middle.  We passed one car and that was only because we pulled into a hedge to allow the oncoming car past.  We followed the path until it drove straight into the Shannon River.  Thank God there was a little “T” where we were able to get turned around and head back to town.

We parked and walked to the door.  Mary and Bruce greeted us and welcomed us into their home.  It was a leap of faith for all four of us to think that we would simply sit down and be old friends.  And, that is exactly what happened.  Mike and Bruce got our luggage up to the guest room and then we were treated to the tour.  If I were to tell you that Mary and Bruce were doing a bit of remodeling, it would be like saying Joan Rivers had a wee bit of plastic surgery.  Their house had once been a dry goods store and home in a row of buildings that sit along the river.  Over the years, the house had become uninhabited.  It was a very old stone building whose roof leaked causing huge amounts of damage to the interior of the structure.  Some saw a derelict but Mary and Bruce saw their dream house.  The deal was done and they bought it. What sort of crazy folk would take this project on?  Why a dentist, of course.  Bruce showed us photos of the reconstruction process and they are amazing.  They are several years into the project and have completed the second floor bedrooms and baths, allowing them to sleep and bath in comfort, and have guests. 

When you enter the house, you sort of have to side step the new windows that are stacked in the front hall awaiting placement in the as yet to be added addition.  Off to the left is Bruce’s workshop.  This is the section of the house that was the dry goods shop.  Bruce has set up a dream workshop where he can fix or rebuild anything.  And I mean that literally.  He has power tools, table saws, hundreds of bins of nails and screws, workbenches, and things I don’t even know what they are.  He has a section where all the hand tools are hung in perfect order.  Turns out Bruce was an engineer before he became a dentist.  He knows how things work.  He can tear it down and put it back together.  Now that the second floor is finished, he is working at extending the back of the house to include a new kitchen and dining room with a beautiful deck looking out onto the Shannon Estuary.  The room that is now used as a kitchen will become a living room.

And, now to Mary’s temporary kitchen.  This is where we found ourselves seated after our initial welcome.  When I tell you that there is no sink or running water in the kitchen, I know you will be surprised.  There is a drop dead gorgeous dark green professional stove and two refrigerators, a table, chairs and two worktables built to form an “L” along two walls.  The worktables are covered in oilcloth and have a set of shelves underneath to hold bins that contain silverware and other kitchen items.  The end wall has the exposed studs that will some day be dry walled to form the living room wall.  Till then, little shelves sit between the studs for glasses and plates. Food is prepared, meals are eaten and the dishwasher is in the laundry room.  It all works.

Now, you may think this kitchen arrangement sounds rather primitive.  Not so.  This is the true heart of Mary and Bruce Dietz’s home.  What comes from this kitchen is nothing short of miraculous.  The food was gourmet.  The hospitality was world class.  We sat.  We ate.  We drank.  We laughed.  We became the best of old friends.  While Mary sat at the table peeling potatoes for Wednesday’s dinner, I sat and knitted and we talked.  We told each other about our brothers and sisters, our Mothers and Fathers.  We talked about what sort of women our daughters had become. The memory of that late afternoon, of two women sitting in a kitchen, listening to Motown as the day unwound will be something I will carry with me. Mary prepared dinner and I tried to memorize how she was doing it. Bruce puttered in the workshop and Mike read.  Over cocktails and then dinner, we discussed politics, the Irish economy, our cholesterol, travel, our individual roots. 

We didn’t eat and drink the entire time.  Mary took us on a drive about on Wednesday that included a trip along the cliffs that form the southern tip of County Clare, reaching west out into the sea.  I will dare to say that, in my opinion, these cliffs, out beyond Kilkee, are more breathtaking than the Cliffs of Moher.  The road is a single lane that winds along the top of the cliffs.  The sheep are on one side and the sea is on the other.  Magnificent. 

Thursday morning Mike and I packed up the car and said our good byes to Mary and Bruce.  Our time in Labasheeda was nothing short of fabulous.   I’m hoping we get an invitation to revisit and see how the house changes and reshapes itself over time.   And, I’m hoping Mary will cook. 



Friday, September 4, 2009


Is this the bad dream where you are back in high school, sitting in a classroom?  You didn’t do your homework, and you are hoping the teacher doesn’t call on you.  Well, it’s Friday morning and I am a full five days behind in writing about our trip.  But wait, I have some really good excuses.  Umm, I didn’t have an Internet connection some of the time.  Umm, Mike was asleep and I didn’t want to disturb him with my typing.  Well, you see, we were sitting up late with friends and I lost track of, umm, time.  Never mind the excuses and watch carefully.  I have nothing up my sleeve.  Pick a card.



Monday was one of those days that you have on every trip.  The day’s events didn’t fall into place quite as we planned. The racing was not of much interest to Mike as it was to be only seven races, all on the flat.  Translation…no jumps.  He thought he would take a pass on attending, but left a window open in case he changed his mind.  We decided to take a bus tour of the Burren for the day.  That particular tour would take us over a scenic route that I had traveled four years earlier. The tour included the Allwee Caves, the Cliffs of Moher and a lunch stop at a pub in Doolin for a steaming bowl of Irish stew and soda bread.  My previous visit to that pub will live in my memory forever as a five star meal.  The tour would have us back in Galway by 5:00 and the races didn’t begin till 5:30.  Then, IF Mike decided to take in the races, he could hop a taxi and head in that direction and I could either go with him or return to our B&B for a quiet evening.  It was a great plan.


As fate would have it, we had the very same tour driver this day that my friend Judy and I had driven with four years ago.  He is a wee bit of a man named Desmond.  His son, Declan, also drives tours, but he was on holiday, so Desmond was our man.  Isn’t it funny how time softens memories?  It took all of five minutes for me to remember the things I found a bit tiring about Desmond.  He spoke in double speak four years ago and now speaks triple speak.  He now speaks triple.  Now speaks triple speak.  The other difficult thing about him is that, as he has aged, Desmond’s Irish accent has become much heavier.  As he has aged, he triple speaks faster and with a much heavier accent. He speaks faster and has a much thicker accent.  In the interest of time, I am going to assume that you get the picture and I will not write further in triple speak. So, we are on the bus, we are heading out of Galway and the bus is sort of swaying.  Hmmmm?  We drive along like this, the bus swaying, and Desmond saying things most passengers can’t understand.  We pull over and Mike says to me he thinks there is something wrong with the bus.  A few passengers exit the bus for a rest stop and Desmond gets on the phone.  Here is why it is important to speak Gaelic.  No one on the bus knows what is happening and Desmond is making some sort of deal for our travel day with an unknown Gaelic speaker on the other end.  Everyone off the bus.


We milled about on the side of the road for fifteen minutes when an older, much smaller bus pulls up.  Desmond asks if any passengers have to be back to Galway by 5:00.  If so, they should get on the short bus.  I do not know where these people were driven.  I am only praying that they weren’t asked to take a shower at the end of their ride on the short bus.  Off they go.  Soon, a second short bus arrives.  It’s Declan, the son of Desmond.  He loads those of us who are remaining and says he is taking us down the road for a cup of coffee or a pint and we will wait for our new big bus to arrive.  My only prayer at this point is that Declan will drive the new bus because I can understand him.  We all take a seat and Declan leads us in some good Irish song.  He drives really fast.  Really fast.  We are taken to a nice coffee shop, slash souvenir stand to await the new bus.  When it arrives, we are now two hours behind schedule.  And, Desmond is still the driver.


Off we go.  We wiz right past the Allwee caves without stopping.  Because we are so behind schedule, there are many other interesting sites that are pointed out to us as we drive past.  You needed a very fast shutter speed if you wanted to take any photos from the speeding bus.  The other reason we were omitting tour stops was pure economics.  Over the last four years, Desmond and his son had purchased the busses we were riding in.  That meant that the admission fees at various sites had to be paid out of the ticket price we paid for our tour.  Also in the last four years, Ireland had upped the admission fees to many of these stops.  But, as we climbed up in the Burren, we did stop at the ancient dolman where the dead were laid out 5,600 years ago. 


We drove on.  Fast.  By now it was after 2:00 and I held out little hope that we would be stopping in that wonderful tavern in Doolin for any lunch.  We drove right to the Cliffs of Moher.  Again, I was remembering what it was like four years ago.  Well, the Irish government hadn’t changed the cliffs, but they sure as hell redid the visitor center.  The cliffs are still a magnificent site to see.  In fact, I am glad that the path up to the edge of the cliffs had been improved.  When I was last there, there was only a railing that stood twelve inches off the ground to keep tourists back from the edge.  In fact, I remember Japanese tourists stepping over the wee barrier to lie on their stomachs and shoot photos looking straight down the cliff face.  I always thought this was a bonus.  If they fell over, it was an exercise in jungle survival.  Only the smart survive.  Go over the edge and all of mankind is better because there is one less stupid person alive.  The Irish have added a proper wall of stone slabs standing on their sides all the way along the cliff edge.  This wall is about four feet high and protects the stupid.  I just hate that. 


But, that isn’t the worst of it.  We were forced to eat lunch at the tourist center.  Close your eyes and imagine you are in a rest stop somewhere along the highway in West Virginia.  Not the pretty part of West Virginia.  No, the baloney sandwich, pickup truck with no tailgate, Bubba belt of West Virginia.  The Irish government spent over turdy million Euros to build the most incredibly ugly cluster of caves into the side of a hill and called it a tourist center.  The main bunker is two stories and houses a pathetic, vending machine filled lunchroom that also serves frozen pizza and some other cardboard items.  All that is visible are two half moon shaped windows because the rest is in the hill.  They spent all that money to drill out a cavity in which to place the washrooms and a souvenir shop.  From the outside of this you can walk down a bit further and find about eight more caves that house independent tee shirt vendors, some sort of a music shop and another shop that sells punk regalia.  Of course, none of these shops are open.


So, we bid a fond farewell to the cliffs and head back to Galway.  Fast.  By the time we reach the city, it is 7:30 and there is no thought of Mike getting to the races.  We have no recourse but to find a wonderful restaurant and order a really good bottle of wine.  This turned out to be the very best part of the day.  In fact, when we return to Galway to drop off our rental car, we will try to return to this restaurant.  I liked it so much that I asked for their card so I can share it with some friends who will be in Galway next spring.  Cookes is a very small venue in a very old building.  It is intimate and cozy and the perfect end to some sort of bizarre day.