We are sitting at a small table at The Coffin Shed Cafe located down a narrow part cobblestone laneway just off the main street in Rathdrum a small town of population 1,586 in 2011. Rathdrum means ‘Ringfort of the Ridge’. After ordering a bowl each of vegetable soup with thick dark rye soda bread, hopefully butter comes with that, and spoons, I have a squizz about and it looks a bit tatty, run down but the ‘maitre de’, a large woman with cinnamon red hair, wears a broad smile and has a name made up of letters that contain no vowels. I can only guess at why you would name a cafe ‘The Coffin Shed’ although the place is long, narrow and the timber planked ceiling is shaped like a coffin lid with edges going up from the walls, then flat, then down tother side to meet the wall. Great, we are in a coffin and its a busy coffin for its Sunday of a l-o-n-g weekend and little Irish people are about with their ankle biters, small dogs and lilting guttural language made up of no vowels. My navigator, the lovely Sue, managed to guide us here out of Dublin via a maze of twists, turns, one way streets, cul-d-sacs, minor and major roads, several tit-for-tats between us, a near divorce, seperate bedrooms and finally into the clear air of countryside Ireland. We much love the backroads and small towns no matter where we are, all in preference to freeways and larger towns. Its a bloody sight cheaper there plus the people generally are unpretentious. Like me!! We wanted to have a look at the ancient monastic settlement at Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains begun in the 6th century by Saint Caoimhim which translates to Kevin in Gaelic speak. The monastic settlement set in a former glacial valley all heavily treed, streams, shady glens and possibly Goblins, was established by Kevin after he studied as a boy under three holy men Eoghan, Lochan and Eanna. I also studied under or was mentored by Dad, several Uncles, a nun Sister Frecklebottom, a priest Father Portly, most of them were far from Holy. Like Kevin, I feel the need to get away but I am yet to find a former glacial valley in Australia. Approaching Glendalough, It seemed obvious by the slow traffic and sheer numbers of people, that stopping here was near impossible. We needed Tom Cruise on Mission Impossible duty just to get a parking bay. Half of Europe and parts of China were here with the same idea. We did a slow loop and departed for quieter backroads whilst my mind dwelled on our last evening in Dublin, as we were strolling hand in hand down O’Connell Street. We heard loud giggling, laughing, squeals of delight, shrieks and other feminine sounds that a girl expels when she is given a Maria Carey sized engagement ring. Lo and behold, we look back behind us for there is a large mobile rectangular box moving slowly along the road like a viking ship in a wispy breeze but this one is powered by about 20 girls of the late teens early twenties varietal. Sitting on high stools in two rows all furiously peddling this is an all girl powered Hens Party bicycle machine. Its a huge 20 person pushbike steered by a handsome muscly black T shirted Tom Cruise look alike with the Chief Hen standing amidships, her hair decorated with ribbons and flashing fairy lights, beating a tom tom whilst steadying herself against fits of giggling and possibly the need to have another glass of bubbles. Its fairly obvious that all the giggling girls are partly full of giggle juice. Theres a business idea here for some sharp Aussie entrepreneur with a fat wallet and a city with no hills. In Oz, theres plenty of giggling girls and young ladies about, giggle juice is not a problem but there seems to be a hesitancy in Oz these days for the need to ‘tie the knot’ when all the service that offers are fairly readily available and whats not, is still available at Mum and Dads fridge, washing machine and wallet. You need to concentrate now as we are back in the ‘Coffin Shed Cafe’ at Rathdrum with empty soup bowls and crumbs of dark rye soda bread scattered about including under my bottom plate. Once upon a time, the ancestors of a man named Chalk Nolan came from Rathdrum Ireland to Oz land in the expectation of a new life. And Chalk found that when one evening, he aged about 41, unmarried as was the lovely Nora aged about 34 sitting alongside him. Chalk, a man of few words but what he did utter, had meaning and came from the heart. His marriage proposal to Nora was to the point, fairly blunt and a classic as he said after bracing himself with another tipple of medium dry sherry, ‘You wanna share my digs Nora’. Whether Nora saw scenes of sharing Chalks digging plot with a shovel is not recorded but what she did see was a strong honest hard working man. She accepted Chalk’s proposal, his shovels digging program and forgot her dream of having a hens party on a large bicycle. They finished up living across the back lane from us in Inglewood and their two boys Charlie and Tony, strengthened the Catholic gang numbers about Inglewood allowing us three O’Brien boys to repel attacks by the Protestant kids who smelt like dogs in and out the water logs. I’m on a religious roll here – yeehar. Back in Oz, we had pre-booked three nights at the Hibernian Hotel in Central Kilkenny as its a lovely historic town, has a castle, lots of pubs including a row of six cheek upon jowel one’s, bookshops and we have friends nearby. Yes, we have friends. Due to our late departure from Dublin, a curse on hire car companies and credit cards, we are running late and need to get to Waterford where we have a night booked in a motel before we even think about Kilkenny. So we need to hurry along which means driving on what passes for a freeway here. An Irish style freeway. Onwards from Rathdrum thru Avoca, Woodbridge and onto the M11 which shrinks and becomes the N11 and into and thru Enniscorthy, onto the N30 which shrinks in size again to become the N25 into Waterford. There was that not bloody informative. Our Waterford night is to be spent at the Travelodge Motel a bit out of town and our room is accessed via twisting turning passageways and five heavy fire doors. Good fun dragging suitcases, a large bottle of Glenmorangie and four carry bags plus my cosmetics sachet!! Waterford is BIG smoke, in 2016 it had a pop. of 53,504 not too many of them involved in making Waterford Crystal. Its the oldest city in Ireland set adjacent the broad Suir River and was established in 914 by Viking Raiders led by adventurer and pirate Regnall. He was the grandson of Ivor the Boneless and how some archaeological Detective knew that, well, its like one of Australia’s pollies telling you something!!! In 918, Regnall was getting restless, so he sailed his fleet across the Irish sea to Britain and captured the city of York, giving the then pommy defenders a taste of Viking muscle up the Khyber Pass. And today in Waterford, there stands Regnalls Tower, now corrupted to Reginald’s Tower, marking one corner of the ‘Viking’ triangle that once was Waterford. Actually, Regnall’s tower was of timber inside a timber palisade enclosing his fort built in case grandad Ivor the Boneless came visiting. Regnall and his Vikings were slaughtered and/or expelled by the Anglo Normans in 1170 by which time Regnall had became Regnall the Fleshless.
The waterfront is where most of the action is with the river moorings crowded with expensive yachts, launches, cruisers and some interesting old ‘tubs’. Reginalds Tower fronts the river angled towards the sea a little distance away. This was once a thriving port with large ships either manufactured here or coming to trade. Today its all much quieter with the noise coming from the thousands of tourists on this busy l-o-n-g weekend and on Custom House Quay, Coal Quay and Meaghers Quay, which collectively make up the main waterfront street. Its crowded. And unlike in Oz land, hardly anybody strolling along has their eyes, nose and fingers concentrating on an iPhone as they are far too busy enjoying the day, shepherding their ankle biters and soaking up the ambience which oozes joy and antiquity from the many aged buildings lining the Quay. We love it and to celebrate we find an Inn that does not look too crowded and we are thru into Jordans American Bar. Its all shabby sheik thats taken hundreds of years to get this way. Bits of Irish memorabilia line the walls and ceiling, books tumble one upon the other on window cills, shelving and in corner stacks. A small Guinness for Me and a Smithwicks for Her please 65 year old barman/owner of the slightly built frame with a concentrated countenance. Sue sits alongside a withered semi hunched man with wispy wild grey hair he in animated conversation with his part time mate just over there. Its a part time friendship as they break off every 30 seconds or so to have a sip of beer, a think, another sip and then a new subject arises. It takes a while for my Guinness and its five food groups to settle as I watch the barman topping up those settled glasses of Guinness. He does this by operating the beer tap like a morse code ‘drip-drop-drip-drop’ and so on in a dance with the froth in the glass as his other hand moves the glass. Lo and behold, he shapes a shamrock leaf in the froth. Each and every glass of Guinness gets a shamrock leaf in the froth, faint but discernable. Its a shame to drink it after an Artist of the Froth has been at work. Semi Hunchback finds out that I am an O’Brien and a Desmond one to boot and he wants me as the new King of Ireland due to my extremely tenuous connection to the last King of Ireland Brian Boru. I feel very important, and do not deny that connection as he prepares to kneel before me to kiss my hand. I tell him that I am far too busy trying to organise myself and do not have time to attend Garden Parties, Polo Matches but that if he purchased me a Guinness, I would Knight him. Later, we have dins sitting up high in the rooftop Garden Restaurant of ‘The Reg Pub’ just behind Reginalds Tower and down below a crowd gathers alongside the Tower and a replica wooden Viking ship to watch ‘The Killers’, a four man 30ish aged group belt out loud but great music with every tenth Irish word able to be understood by us. I was in a bonzar mood and felt I should grant all people in Waterford, the keys to the city. Next day we depart our Motel, its early, a Bank holiday Monday and we require brekky but nothing seems to be open at 0800 apart from the posh looking four star, boutique manor-style Granville Hotel all dripping gold leaf, leather, ornate lamps and staff with part of a broom stick up their bottoms. Yes sir, says the receptionist, he obviously considers me the King of Ireland, continental brekky 12.50 euro each sir. Don’t work the exchange out, we are on holiday and this establishment is where Sue and I belong not down at ‘Joe’s Saturated Fat Diner’. Well, between you and me, 12.50 euro equates to about $18 Oz each. But wait, it turns out to be a magical breakfast for theres porridge available in small bowls and we have missed our oats. But wait again, theres a dreamlike magical twist to this particular brew of porridge as my eyes alight on three bottles in front of the porridge tureen. One contains Baileys Irish Cream, another Dunphys Irish Whiskey and the third, Cognac. Its effin breakfast time and I am encouraged, nay instructed by the waitress to put a splash or two or three of Dunphys excellent Irish Whisky drizzled over my porridge. Its tasty so I have a second bowl with Dunphys life giving whiskey drizzled over and back at our table look up at my bride with a wide grin, drops of porridge in my beard, and see that she has that look on her face which says, Why did I marry this dickhead. If he dares start having whiskey drizzled over his morning porridge back home, he’ll wear it on his head. Suitably and appropriately chastised, I had a bit of a sook then got on with life. Ooroo from Des.
PS Thomas Meagher was born in Waterford where the Granville Hotel now stands. He went on to design the Irish flag around 1848 basing its design on the French Flag. A green stripe symbolising the south, orange the north and a white stripe in the centre for peace between these two traditional warring factions. It was’nt until 1937 that it became the official flag of Ireland despite the warring factions still warring up until recently. Later in 1848 Thomas was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered due to him not liking the poms. He wasn’t alone there at the time. This was commuted to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania, where he managed to escape to America in 1852 due to the fledging Greenies movement allowing him out to collect kindling. He fought in the American Civil War, one of the few wars American has entered and been victorious, became a Brigadier General and went on to become acting Governor of Montana. Theres a grand statue of him opposite Reginalds Tower in Waterford and one of him mounted on a horse in Montana.