Something from the Vault: Volume 2
After dinner in Westport, Ireland, we saw an inviting pub with a red awning and green lettering beckoning us inside. Then again, there are very few Irish pubs that don’t shout, “come join us in here!” So we wandered inside and found ourselves in the midst of a wedding party.
The mother and father of the groom were the first to begin conversation with us. Once we answered “Where are you from?” we continued the dialogue by answering “what do you think of your President Bush?” This was 2004, so the Irish enjoyed hearing Americans, regardless of their political disposition, stumble around for an answer.
Whatever we said, and I couldn’t tell you today how we responded (though I have my suspicions) certainly struck a chord with this County Mayo family. In a few short hours, the empty pint glasses lined the table and they were offering to buy us yet another round. “Sure,” we laughed triumphantly, “Guinness doesn’t taste like this back home.“
There’s something fun and amusing about saying “back home” and then toasting a bride and groom you’ve only recently met; the meaning of home and that sense of belonging becomes instantly circumspect. We are all one, particularly after a Guinness, or four.
“So, you’re climbing Croagh Patrick tomorrow?” The father of the bride asked us with a smile we should have been less hazy about in that moment.
“What’s Croagh Patrick?” I asked innocently and hopeful.
“Only the prettiest and finest mountain in all of Ireland,” the groom’s father, Eddie, chimed in, his Irish drawl luring us, “with the most stunning views of the County and the Atlantic. It’s a pilgrimage you know?” Eddie continued, illustrating a picture of poetic beauty.
Another family member joined in, “pilgrims have climbed her every year for centuries. Barefoot. Making their way to the little church of St. Patrick on top to find freedom from their sins. You won’t want to climb her barefoot though.”
“Mike here’s going to climb it.” Mike was a groomsman, and had clearly been a linebacker for his college football team. And he happened to be the only other American in the bar. Another clue. “We’re leaving at 10,” Eddie proclaimed.
I looked at the pub clock sheepishly. Not even midnight. We could stay a bit longer and still get eight hours of sleep and eat a full breakfast. “What do you think?” I asked Lindsay, hopeful that her Irish blood would boil with excitement for a sport (mountain climbing that is) which she’s not usually inclined to enjoy.
“Sure, ” she shrugged her shoulders and actually sounded enthusiastic.
Everyone laughed and suddenly two more frothy pints sat before us, “you’ll need these for strength!” Someone shouted. They don’t just say that on the posters.
10 am came as surprisingly fast as it just did for you. And there certainly wasn’t a large breakfast between the last pint, the singing walk back to our hostel, the deep Guinness slumber, and the sudden beeping of the alarm.
And sure enough, right on the dot, Eddie and Mike, sober and smiling, pulled in front of our hostel (neither of us actually remembered telling them where we were staying). I looked at Lindsay, “they drank last night, too, didn’t they?” She shrugged, not so enthusiastically this time.
“Top of the morning to ya.” Eddie really did say that to us. “Croagh Patrick!” He laughed.
Eddie drove the car down a bumpy dirt road a short distance from the main highway, stopping abruptly when the incline began, and laughed again, “here you are. This old road is no good for cars anymore, but she’ll take you right to the top.”
I followed Eddie’s gesturing hand which pointed somewhere into the clouds above us, and it all became clear. The Irish are too kind and generous of a people to breed any ill-will, but they certainly enjoy a good laugh. As our Irish host climbed back into his car (if you haven’t figured it out yet, Eddie wasn’t ever coming with us) I pictured him arriving at the pub, chuckling and boisterously telling the tale of dropping off three American souls at the base of Croagh Patrick, “that she-devil of a mountain. But don’t worry,” he’d break-up the laughter, “I’ll go back for them in an hour or two.”
I don’t think the thought crossed Mike’s mind, but Lindsay and I looked longingly at the stream rolling down the hillside through the green grass, and contemplated joining the strolling sheep for a morning siesta. The moment passed, the mountain called, the Guinness fueled our frightened souls. We began our ascent into the clouds.
It goes without saying, but there were no views from the top. Even with all of Ireland’s magic, no one can see through fog that thick. And the minute we hit the cloud line, about three hundred yards from the summit, the wind began blowing so hard that we had to hold onto one another for fear of blowing away. This is not a hyperbole, I assure you. We reached the summit, slowly, but steadfast, regretting our short sleeves and those last pints.
I’m not sure what the pilgrims felt when they reached the top, their feet undoubtedly bleeding from the jagged rocks, their faces stung red by the wind. But the ghost of St. Patrick met us there, laughing and happy, handing us another pint, and reminding us that neither mountain nor life is about the destination, for the views are always better sitting with family and friends at your favorite pub on the eve of the most momentous occasion.