I crashed while coming down a hill on a desolate rural track, somewhere in the Silvermine Mountains South of Nenagh. The fifth metatarsal of my right foot fractured and broke through the skin; my bicycle frame fractured in two places and the front wheel bent like a taco. It wasn’t until I was left alone in the Accident & Emergency at Nenagh hospital that I realized what this meant. I tried to keep a positive attitude, though; positive thinking is one of the most important parts of healing, and it’s never good to mistreat the medical staff when you’re at their mercy, just because you’re feeling sorry for yourself. So sure, I shed a few tears when I was left alone. But by the time I was moved to Limerick for orthopedic surgery and moved into the trauma ward, I was sure, somehow, somewhere deep inside, that I wouldn’t be stopped by any mere broken bone and broken bicycle. My faith sustained me, even all the way up to the hour of my discharge, into the cold wet night. “Things might be bad right now, but you’ll pull through. You will ride your bike around the world,” I told myself. Everything happens for a reason.
It was after dark by the time the doctors let me go, and in desperation I decided to spend some of my last Euros at a B&B for a night, and try to figure something out the next day during business hours, maybe hobble down to the public library in the morning. LizAnne and Edmund ran a really nice place, and at least for one night, I had the comforts of a home. In the morning I was heading out to try and find a place to stay, when LizAnne told me she wanted to give me a free week’s stay. I was flabbergasted; humbled and moved nearly to tears. It was like a weight was lifted from my heart; a whole week to figure something out! Whoo! I got some good mothering that week, took a trip to Kilarney to see the castle, watched the famous Rose of Tralee “beauty” pageant, tried my first liver-and-onion meal(yeuch – it wasn’t easy, but I ate both huge liver steaks I was served), and had my first Irish potatoes, boiled until the skin falls off. They looked at me weird when I ate the skin. “But that’s where all the nutrients are!”
After a few days and only some dubious prospects for accomodation, I called James, the guy who had stored my broken bicycle for me after the crash, to arrange to pick up my stuff – more specifically, my tent. After giving me directions from Limerick, he asked, “C’mere Charlie, tell me, do ye have a place to stay, do ye?” Unfortunately I didn’t. “Now Charlie, c’mere tell me, do ye have much money, do ye?” Ah, no, most unfortunately, I didn’t have much money. “Well I know a woman who’d be able to put ye up for a week, if you can pay for food.” Wow, really?!? That would be great! Thank you! Food I could afford, maybe.
LizAnne took me to a big Catholic church in Limerick City, to solicit help from the priests. One father running the reception desk was obviously suspicious of me, and kept making sure I wasn’t wandering off without her. I guess I was looking pretty rough, with a cast and crutches, wearing a ragged beard and the same clothes I had crashed in a week earlier. He pretty much said “No, he can’t stay here,” even after LizAnne told him how much I look like Jesus. It was a bit embarrassing. Wasn’t Jesus black? Anyway… she also connected me with the Saint Vincent de Paul charity, who were able to kick me a few Euro to get me by, and eventually she drove me out to James’ farm in County Tipperary. It turned out that the “woman who can put you up for a week” was his wife Kathleen, and he had really been inviting me to stay on his dairy-and-potato farm! Funny guy, that James O’Leary.
When we arrived, I was forced to say a hasty goodbye to LizAnne and Edmund; James and Kathleen were rushing out to see a local hurling match. I shoved my stuff inside and climbed in, and off we went to the village hurling field.
Hurling is a very popular sport in Ireland, one of the true Gaelic sports. It’s one of the fastest field sports in the world, and quite brutal. Shoulder checks are allowed, helmets are optional, and every player wields a big flanged-end, tin-plated, ashwood stick called a hurlie. I got to watch Kilkenny sweep Waterford in the All-Ireland final on the tele, and learned that even these, the most famous and popular men in Ireland, don’t get paid to play – it’s an amateur league. Of course if a famous hurler goes into a pub in his home county, he won’t have to pay for his drinks, and probably gets other perks as well. James whole family was big into hurling, except Kathleen who would rather the kids learned to play music. But even little 2 yro grandson Timmy had his baby-sized hurlie, and his two favorite words were “hurlie” and “tractor.”
I stayed there with the family for two weeks, slowly recuperating, and helping out around the house as much as I could. I wish I had been well enough to learn how to drive the tractor. I attended my first-ever Catholic mass, with what they called a “cup of tea”(actually a huge party) afterwards. The priest was a riot at the party, telling jokes and singing with a tumbler of whiskey in his hand. There was another priest that would come by the house, chainsmoking in the kitchen the whole time. I also got to help with their potato crop, monitoring the big grading machine and packaging ten-kilo bags – that famous Irish spud, right at the source. I was exposed to a lot of rugby and hurling, and John, the farmhand living on the estate, took me out to a rural roadside pub called Kennedy’s in Killeen, for my first authentic Irish Guinness(and second, and third… and lets not forget Powers Irish whiskey) surrounded by old codgers and young farmhands. Once, they asked me to sing, and I told them “I only know one song by heart, the Star Spangled Banner… and you don’t want to hear that one, do you?” Well, they did want to hear it, and I secretly wanted to sing it, in fact I’ve been secretly singing it when no one is around, so I sang it as passionately as I could, and to rave reviews no less. Aah, some day I’ll be back, America. Some day.
James connected me with a Nenagh man who was able to weld my broken bike back together, in exchange for nothing more than going for a bike ride with his son, who’s living and cycling in Holland. Alright, no problem! The frame is stronger than ever.
After a week, Kathleen wouldn’t take any money from me for food, and wouldn’t hear of me leaving. They were all so generous, and it was a nice quiet place to take it easy and stay off my foot, but eventually I felt the urge to move my recovery to Galway.
James dropped me at the bus station, and I didn’t have to pay extra for the bike because the bus driver couldn’t figure out what to charge me. Nice. I spent an uncomfortable few hours on the bus, once again heading into the unknown; and this time with a broken foot.