The rain did not improve. If anything, it was more frequent in Ireland. I’m pretty used to it by now, but it’s not all that comfortable. Campsites are soaked; wet ground, wet wood. I’d get done with a day of cycling, set up camp, and all I’d want is a hot cup of tea, a sweet steaming mug to take off the chill and sooth my aching muscles… but everything is so wet that it takes me forty-five mintues to start a fire with a tea candle and a windblock. Taking breaks in the pouring rain. Wishing I could take a photograph in the rain. I rued the day I gave up my little campstove for its weight – just for that cup of tea, aah.
My first day in County Wexford, I met a trio of brothers decked out for bike touring, headed for the ferry back to Wales. Of course we discussed the weather, and neither of us were able to give a positive forecast… more rain on both sides of the Irish Sea. But they carried on, and so did I. I pedalled to Wexford City, and was searching the narrow streets for the public library. I was getting another “I don’t know” from a man on the street when a woman approached me and asked, “Are you looking for the library?” Her name was Saskia, and as she walked me to the library, she invited me to camp on the farm she lived on not far away. She gave me directions, pointed out the library, and disappeared. After a couple hours in the city, writing at the bench on the quayside and wandering around checking out some churches and graveyards, I headed out to Castlebridge and the road to her farm. As I arrive, Saskia is leaving, driving to Dublin to pick up a Dutch relative from the airport. “Just go in and ask for my sister.” With a bit of trepidation, I approached the barn where preparations for a huge party were under way. Saskia’s mother and father greeted me, and were very welcoming. But they weren’t sure where to let me camp: “Anywhere he pitches up, he’ll be washed away by the rain. Let’s put him in the castle…” Castle!? Sure enough, there was a 500 yro castle tower under renovation on the expansive dairy farm estate. I set up my tent on the second floor, up a steep, narrow, rough-hewn staircase, past windows and tiny views of the damp Irish countryside. My first night in Ireland, and I was already sleeping beneath the eerie rafters of a castle that’s older than the USA.
The next day Saskia told me about her parents’ wedding anniversary, and invited me to either A) get drunk and have fun or B) work behind the bar during the party. People continued to arrive from Holland all day, and after the lamb was on the spit, all their Irish friends showed up. Soon people were dancing and making merry, eating and drinking. I poured many a glass of booze, wines and mixers, and pint after pint after pint – Heineken. My fellow barman and I had to deal with drunken Dutch teenagers behind the bar, thinking they were helping out by filling pints of foam and pouring disgusting mistakes into innapropriate glasses for old ladies. After the third or fourth broken glass, as the queue for beer was growing, a drunken Irishman(holding his alcohol like a pro) told me to “Get him offa that tap! You pour ’em!” I learned how much head on their beer they like in Holland versus how much an Irishman expects. It was a great success, loads of fun, and a bit of cash in my pocket as well.
During the party, the woman who owns the land, “The Duchess,” approached me behind the bar and asked me to call over to her mansion for a visit tomorrow. “I’d be happy to,” I told her. The next day, after a wet walk to a gorgeous waterfall, I went over and had our visit. I felt a bit out of place in the luxury surroundings, and she didn’t offer me tea or anything, so after I wrote in her guestbook I went back to the farmhouse.
It wasn’t easy to leave my new friends, and pedal away into the rain again, but I gritted my teeth and said goodbye. Off then, through Co. Kilkenny and into Co. Tipperary. I had asked around, wondering which direction to go, and the common answer was Galway. “Dublin is Dublin,” most people said, “but Galway is totally class.” The most bohemian city in Ireland? The youngest average age in Europe? Sounds right up my alley. I had a few wet days and nights out on the nameless rural tracks, meandering my way on back roads, camping in treacherous bog, muddy pasture or squishy pine forest. My plan was to hook around Loch Derg and head North through Co. Clare to Galway, but somewhere on the back roads of Tipp, my plans changed.