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OutofDublinAt age 22, I emigrated from Dublin to San Francisco. In addition to the shiny pink Green Card peeking from my Irish passport, United States law also required me to present to the sour-faced immigration official, his cheeks studded with pores like drill holes, a large X-ray of my lungs—the ghostly snapshot proved I was free of tuberculosis and made of the same stuff as Americans.

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I am filled with a rage fueled by sadness. Rage like a sourdough mother, a lump of material from which my outbursts grow. I cannot adequately express my emotions. My spectrum is happy to angry. The points between, obscured. This sourdough mother journeyed with me from my Irish childhood and has accompanied me across two continents and through several long-term relationships and two marriages. Its raw materials are to be unearthed in the fights and arguments of my childhood, long forgotten, but somehow embedded in my subconscious, dormant but alive.

Passage

I write across distances, from the gray waves of the Irish Sea to the blue-green waters of California’s Pacific coastline. More than this, I write across the elapsed seconds, minutes, hours, and years of my life. Only the other day I looked at the sweeping second hand of my watch and thought, how many times in my life has this perfect circle turned its course and marked time’s passage? In that time I’ve lived on two different continents, been married twice, have two children, three college degrees, and fallen in and out of love more times than I can admit. early evening, and across the tops of avocado trees, the spiraling of a red tailed hawk, the scent of the plumeria, grafted from an ancestor’s garden. A new world unfolds.

We live on a small avenue, thirty-two houses in a U-shape; all with perfectly square front gardens and identical red-bricked facades. We know everyone who lives on our cul-de-sac, and they know us. Living next-door to us at number ten are Tom Cahill and his wife, Dotty.

There’s a narrow band of road that snakes from Donegal town to Malin Head, Ireland’s northernmost point.

Sheep, goats, and the occasional, and increasingly rare corncrake, were some of the only witnesses to my days working in the late-1990s for Ireland’s LA Gear distributor. You know, the shoes with lights in the heels?

In those days the village of Malin had an urban population of in and around 120 souls, and it was my duty to drive the winding road to the 1991 Tidy Town’s winning location once a month as part of my territory. I loved the drive, through sheer landscape, rock and heather, a barren place where even the seabirds suffered personality disorders.

One shoe shop, opposite the Allied Irish bank, close to the large Celtic cross in the center of town. It was my privilege to service this customer, pointing out the merits of flashy American trainers with lights in the heels, and some with sparkles and rhinestones studding the uppers. One of the bestsellers was the MVP, endorsed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and that bore a remarkable resemblance to Nike’s original Air Jordans.

“Howreyedoingtoday?” the bent-double old lady said. “Sure, dyehaveanyofyonsparklyshoeswithyetoday?”

“Sorry?” I said, unable to decipher her Joycean stream-of-consciousness dialogue. The coconut crumbs from her morning snack of Kimberly Mikado biscuits were embedded in the wiry mustache she sported. She had the look of Fu Manchu on an off day, but I needed the sales because my figures for the month were dire.

“Thelightssonnythelights.” And then she wheezed, as if it was her dying breath.

I unzipped the bag and pulled out a selection of perfectly laced left-only shoes.

“Here’s the new Stardust range,” I said, offering the five sample shoes for her inspection. “They’re selling well, strong leather uppers, EVA midsole, great design.”

“Wherearethelightsforgoodnesssakesonny?”

I handed her a sample and she treated it as if it were a potato dug from her garden, rolling it around in her arthritic fingers, the long pointy fingernails crusted with dirt. She peered at the floral design on the outsole.

“Nogoodtoushereatallatall,” she decreed. “Itslightstheyoungwanswantlights.”

“We’ve got plenty of lights, still. You can put in an order for them if you like,” I said, plucking the order book from my briefcase.

Ten minutes later she’d ordered twelve pairs of shoes, between an 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 in the Catapult, and a 5, 6, 7, 8, including half-sizes, in a women’s lights model. Barely enough commission on the sale to buy me a fucking Mars bar at the nearby petrol station shop. I was zipping the samples back into the bag, when she appeared at the door to the back of the shop and waved feebly at me.

“Comehereandlookatthese,” she said.

On a table in the back room was a heap of Catapults and light-up shoes, tied with lace, in various states of decay and soakage. The smell was mildewy, and the woman shook her head from side to side. “Theyreallruinedfromthepuddlestheyoungwansdoberunningthrough,” she said.

“Ma’am, they’re not supposed to be worn in the rain, or to go through puddles,” I said.

“Fortheloveofgodsureareyoukiddingmeatalltall?”

“Honestly. They’re not built for that abuse.”

“Bythehokeysureisnttheweatheralwaysbadinthiscountryanddontallyoungwansmcukaboutinpuddles?”

She had a point. It must rain over two hundred days a year in the North-West of Ireland. There’s no chance shitty, mass-produced sneakers will hold up to the ravages of such a climate. Resignedly, I dropped my sample bag in the car and came back in for the returns. I loaded thirty pairs of shoes in the trunk of the car and drove the desolate road back to Donegal town for the night.


Next morning, car stuffed with returned shoes, I sat outside a drapery in Donegal town, paralyzed with a hatred of my job. Instead of calling on the account, I filled in the Irish Times crossword, both Simplex and Crosaire, and had a sausage roll and cup of tea in a gaily decorated café. Finally, I sucked every ounce of self-esteem from my nether regions, and walking into the account for the last time.


That Friday I unloaded a cache of over one hundred pairs of crap sneakers from the company car, walked into the director’s office, and handed in my resignation. Worst part of it was I had to work out my notice and endure two more weeks of sneaker abuse at the hands of little old ladies speaking in tongues, and ruddy-faced farmers trying to diversify their interests, accepting their returns, and taking orders for more of the happy, shiny shoes I hated so.


And now, twenty-odd years later,with my summer school teaching job coming to an end this week, and no real prospect of work beyond that, I remember the old days, driving out to Malin Head, Achill Island, and Oughterard, trying to sell shoes that had the habit of falling apart at first wear, and consider that things could always be worse. Recession be damned.




Why Moneyless?

Money is a bit like love.We spend our entire lives chasing it, yet few of us understand what it actually is. It started out, in many respects, as a fantastic idea.

Once upon a time, people used barter, instead of money, to look after many of their transactions. On market day, people walked around with whatever they had produced; the bakers took their bread, the potters brought their pottery, the brewers dragged their barrels of beer and the carpenters carried wooden spoons and chairs. They negotiated with the people they hoped would have something of value to them. This was a really great way for people to get together,but it wasn’t as efficient as it could have been.

If Mr Baker wanted some beer,he went to see Mrs Brewer. After a chat about the kids, Mr Baker would offer some bread in return for some of Mrs Brewer’s delicious beer. A lot of the time, this would be perfectly acceptable and both parties would come to a happy agreement. But – and here is where the problem began – sometimes Mrs Brewer didn’t want bread or didn’t think her neighbor was offering enough in exchange for her beer. Yet Mr Baker had nothing else to offer her. This problem has become known as ‘the double coincidence of wants’: each person in a transaction has to have something the other person wants. Perhaps Mrs Brewer had discovered her husband was gluten-intolerant and so Mr Baker had been contributing to her lesser half’s irritable bowel syndrome. Or that rather than bread, she really wanted a new spoon from Mrs Carpenter and some fresh produce from Mrs Farmer. This was all very confusing for poor Mrs Brewer.

One day, a man in an exquisite top hat and tailor-made pin-striped suit entered the small town. The people had never seen him before. This new fellow – he introduced himself as Mr Banks – went to the market and laughed as he watched the hustle and bustle as everyone chaotically mingled and tried to get what they needed for the week. Seeing Mrs Farmer unsuccessfully trying to swap her vegetables for some apples, Mr Banks pulled her aside and told her to get all the townspeople together that evening in the Town Hall, as he knew a way in which he could make their lives so much easier.

That evening, the entire community came, jostling with excitement and intrigued to know what this charismatic stranger in the top hat and beautiful suit was going to say. Mr Banks showed them ten thousand cowry shells, each stamped with his own signature, and gave one hundred shells to each of the one hundred townspeople. He told them that, instead of carrying around awkward beer barrels, loaves, pots and stools, the people could use these shells to trade for their goods. All everyone would have to do was decide how many shells their wares and produce were worth and use the little tokens to do the exchanging.‘ This makes a lot of sense’, said the people, ‘our problems have been solved!’

Mr Banks said he would return in a year and that when he did, he wanted the people to bring him one hundred and ten shells each. The ten extra shells, he said, would be a token of their appreciation for how much time he had saved them and how much easier he had made their lives. ‘That sounds fair enough but where will the ten extra shells come from?’ said the very smart Mrs Cook, as he climbed off the stage. She knew that the villagers couldn’t possibly all give back ten extra shells. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out eventually’, said Mr Banks as he walked off to the next town.

And that, by way of simple allegory, was how money came into being. What it has evolved into is far removed from such humble beginnings. The financial system has become so complicated that it almost defies explanation. Money isn’t just the notes and coins we carry in our pockets; the numbers in our bank accounts are only the start. There are futures and derivatives, government, corporate and municipal bonds, central bank reserves and the mortgage-backed securities that so famously caused the world-wide collapse of financial institutions in the 2008 credit crunch. There are so many instruments, indices and markets that even the world’s experts can’t fully understand how they interact.

Money no longer works for us. We work for it. Money has taken over the world. As a society, we worship and venerate a commodity that has no intrinsic value, to the expense of all else. What’s more, our entire notion of money is built on a system that promotes inequality, environmental destruction and disrespect for humanity.

DEGREES OF SEPARATION

By 2007, I had been involved in business in some way for nearly ten years.I had studied business and economics in Ireland for four years, followed by six years managing organic food companies in the UK. I had got into organic food after reading a book about Mahatma Gandhi during the final semester of my degree. The way this man lived his life convinced me that I wanted to attempt to put whatever knowledge and skills I had to some positive social use, instead of going into the corporate world to make as much money as I could as quickly as possible, which was my original plan. One of Gandhi’s sayings, which struck a chord with me, was ‘be the change you want to see in the world’, whether you are a ‘minority of one or a majority of millions’. The trouble was, I had absolutely no idea what that change was. Organic food seemed (and in many respects still does) to be an ethical industry, so that looked a good place to start.

After six years deeply involved in the organic food industry, I began to see it as an excellent stepping-stone to more ecologically-sound living, rather than the Holy Grail of sustainability I had once believed it. It had many of the problems rife in the conventional food industry: food flown across the world, convenience goods packed in too many layers of plastic and large corporations buying up small independent businesses. I became disillusioned and began exploring other ways to join the growing movement of people worldwide who were concerned about issues such as climate change and resource depletion and wanted to do something about them.

One evening, chatting with my good friend Dawn, we discussed some of the major issues in the world: sweatshops, environmental destruction, factory farms, resource wars, and the like. We wondered which we should dedicate our lives to tackling. Not that either of us felt we could make much difference; we were just two small fish in a hugely polluted ocean. That evening, I realized that these symptoms of global malaise were not as unrelated as I had previously thought and that the common thread of a major cause ran through them: our disconnection from what we consume. If we all had to grow our own food,we wouldn’t waste 40% of it (as is done now in the US). If we had to make our own tables and chairs, we wouldn’t throw them out the moment we changed the interior décor. If we could see the look on the face of the child who, under the eyes of an armed soldier, cuts the cloth for the garment we contemplate buying at the mall, we’d probably give it a miss. If we could see the conditions in which a pig is slaughtered, it would put most of us off our BLT. If we had to clean our own drinking water, we sure as hell wouldn’t shit in it.

Humans are not fundamentally destructive; I know of very few people who want to cause suffering. But most of us don’t have the faintest idea that our daily shopping habits are so destructive. Trouble is, most of us will never see these horrific processes or know the people who produce our goods, let alone have to produce them ourselves. We see some evidence through news media or on the internet but these have little effect; their impact is seriously reduced by the emotional filters of a fiber optic cable.

Coming to this conclusion, I wanted to find out what enabled this extreme disconnection from what we consume. The answer was, in the end, quite simple. The moment the tool called ‘money’ came into existence, everything changed. It seemed like a great idea at its conception, and 99.9% of the world’s population still believe it is. The problem is what money has become and what it has enabled us to do. It enables us to be completely disconnected from what we consume and from the people who make the products we use. The degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed have increased massively since the rise of money and, through the complexity of today’s financial systems, are greater than ever. Marketing campaigns are specifically designed to hide this reality from us; and with billions of dollars behind them, they’re very successful at it.

In our modern financial system, most money is created as debt by private banks.Imagine there is only one bank. Mr Smith, who up to now has kept his money under the bed, decides to deposit his life savings, 100 shells, in this bank. Naturally, the bank wants to make a profit, so decides to lend out a proportion of Mr Smith’s shells, let’s say 90 of them, keeping ten in their coffers in case Mr Smith wants to make a small withdrawal. Another gentleman, Mr Jones, needs a loan. He goes to the bank and is delighted to be given Mr Smith’s 90 shells, which he’ll eventually have to pay back with interest. Mr Jones takes the shells and elects to spend them on bread, bought from Mrs Baker. At the close of the day, Mrs Baker takes her newly-acquired 90 shells to the bank. Do you see what’s happened? Originally, Mr Smith deposited 100 shells in the bank. Now, in addition to Mr Smith’s 100 shells, the bank has Mrs Baker’s 90 shells. One hundred shells has become 190. Money has been created. What’s more, the bank can now lend out a proportion of Mrs Baker’s deposit! The process can start again.

Of course, the physical number of shells hasn’t changed. If both Mr Smith and Mrs Brown wanted their shells back at the same time, the bank would have a problem. However, this rarely happens and if it did, the bank would have shells from other depositors to use. The problems start when the bank lends out 90% of all their depositors’ shells. The result is that of all the shells in all the bank accounts of this fictional world, only 10% exist! If all the depositors wanted more than 10% of the total amount of shells at the same time, the bank would collapse (a bank run) and people would realize that the bank was creating imaginary money.

This system may seem ridiculous but it is what happens today, every day, in every country of the world. Instead of one bank, there are thousands. Instead of shells, we have the world’s myriad currencies. But the principle is the same: most money is created by private banks’ lending.Our most precious commodity doesn’t represent anything of value and the figures in your bank account are mostly someone else’s debt, which itself is funded indirectly by another person’s debt, and so on. Neither are bank runs fictional. Recent bank crises, from Northern Rock in the UK to Fannie Mae in the US, show the inherent instability that comes from basing our financial system on an imaginary resource. The edifice is built on pretence and, as shown by 2009’s bank bail-outs across the world, tax payers inevitably have to subsidize with billions to keep the pretence alive when the system implodes.

DEBT FORCING COMPETITION, NOT
CO-OPERATION

In the current financial system, if deposits stay in banks,the banks make no interest and therefore no money. Therefore, banks have a huge incentive to find borrowers by whatever means possible. Whether by advertising, offering artificially low interest rates, or encouraging rampant consumerism, banks share an interest in lending out almost all of their deposits. The credit this creates is, in my opinion, responsible for much of the environmental destruction of the planet, as it allows us to live well beyond our means. Every time a bank issues a human with a credit note, the Earth and its future generations receive a corresponding debit note.

It seems we can’t get enough of it. According to the US Census Bureau, there are now almost 1.5 billion credit cards in the US; the US has more than four times as many ‘flexible friends’ as people. The average household debt (excluding mortgages) is $17,510 and to compound the situation, at the time of writing the US’s national debt is growing by an astonishing $4.5 billion every second. Payback time, in both economic and ecological terms, will inevitably come. While all this money creation is great for the economy, it is not so good for the people that the economy was originally intended to serve. An estimated 77 million Americans struggle to pay for their medical bills, with credit card debts averaging $5,000 per household. Every year, almost 1.5 million people are declared bankrupt or insolvent, and approximately one million houses are repossessed.

In the end, the process of money creation inevitably means the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Banks lend out money that, by any objective measure, they didn’t have in the first place and at every stage, accrue interest and keep the right to repossess real assets if loans are not repaid. Is there any wonder that huge inequality exists in the world?

Let’s return to our little town. In the past, at times such as harvest,it was common practice for the people to often help each other out on an informal, non-exchange basis and the people there co-operated a lot more than they do today. This co-operation provided them with their primary sense of security; indeed, a culture of collaboration still exists in parts of the world where money is deemed less important. However, the pursuit of money and humans’ insatiable desire for it has encouraged us to compete against each other in a bid to get ever more. In our little town, competition replaced the co-operation that once prevailed. Nobody helped their neighbors bring in the harvest for free any more.This new competitive spirit was partly responsible for many of the town’s problems, from feelings of isolation to a rise in suicide, mental illness, and anti-social behavior. It has also contributed to environmental problems, such as the depletion of resources and the climate chaos that currently go hand-in-hand with relentless economic growth.



Ah, vacation.  Those three syllables that once a year symbolize escape.  Escape from our lives, escape from what we know to go look upon something as yet unseen by our own eyes.  At least that’s what I like to do, and preferably in a foreign country.  This year, as dictated by ticket price alone, it was Ireland: Land of the green pastures and hauntingly sad songs; land of Guinness, local pubs and rich in history and castle ruins from long ago.  My fatherland.

My pockets not being large, it seemed prudent at the time to attempt to avoid large cities, and possibly find a place to stay that offered a kitchen.  At first I dreamed of staying in a castle.  I had Rapunzel fantasies brewing and castle after castle appeared before my eyes as Google lead me on my search for shelter.  I forgot, however, that Rapunzel and the like were princesses and either owned their castles outright or had themselves a hefty inheritance to pay all the servants.  And so I, peasant that I am, decided it wasn’t so bad to be one of the common people, look what happened to Marie Antoinette, after all, and abandoned my castle dreams.  What I found next was charming enough; cottages.  It turns out the Irish are nuts about renting cottages, particularly in a little area south of Galway called The Burren, and so I did.

Sounds stark, doesn’t it?  It is.  And then it isn’t.  The Burren is partly a nature conservancy and mostly farm land.  It’s identifying and unique feature is the limestone that covers absolutely everything.  It has been eaten away by rain and, being porous and easily degraded, the rocks have become uniquely divided, yet smooth.  It is common to see erratics; large boulders sitting atop small pedestals of limestone, the rock having protected the stone underneath from eroding and thus leaving itself on display and often mistaken by tourists…okay me…for some Paleolithic monument.  “How did they do that?”  It wouldn’t be Ireland if it wasn’t also green.  The rocks are only visible thanks to the wind and the cows as otherwise grass and moss would cover everything and never let us know what lies beneath.  The Paper King, my partner in crime this trip, was incredulous that something so large might graze on such difficult and craggy landscape.

“Cows can’t get up these hills,” he proclaimed as I watched, with glee, his foot descend dangerously close to evidence that they certainly can.

I live in a city, and so remote sounded just perfect to me.  No car alarms, no horns, no people shouting, and no construction equipment backing up at 6 AM right outside my window.  Heaven!  As we drove into The Burren, I was ecstatic.  It seemed I would, indeed, be getting away from it all.  The directions to the main house for key pick-up were: Turn right into Bell Harbor and I’m the second house in next to the pub.  She was.  A smaller town there never was.  Three houses in town and all the same, there was a pub.  Our landlord led the way to our rented cottage another mile or so away.  We turned right up a dirt road and bounced our rented Nissan Micra up over stone and dirt to come upon home for the coming week.  She took our money, cash only, and turned to go leaving us with these parting words:

“They’ll be doin’ a bit o’ work on the road here.  Sorry ‘bout that, but they just told me.  They’ll be done in a day anyhow.  Enjoy!”

Damn!  Well okay, one day, I guess that’s not so bad.  And the road did really need to be smoothed out.  With The Burren laid out in front of me, I was ready to let it go and get my walking shoes on.

The Beginning

“Let’s walk to the Abby!”  I proclaimed.  One of the reasons I chose The Burren was the plethora of ruins available in the area dating all the way back to the 4th century B.C.  The Abby was a medieval ruin visible from the cottage, and I was hot to get to my first historical site.  My parents, I’m sure, are incredulously shaking their heads as I did nothing but complain about such adventures as a child.  Well, you are vindicated.  It rubbed off and now I drag other unsuspecting souls to stare amorously at large piles of rock.  We set off down our beat up driveway avoiding cow dropping after cow dropping along the way.  I had truly escaped!  We’d asked our hostess how to get to the Abby and she’d given directions that seemed straight forward enough.  But as we continued up the road looking and looking for the correct turn off, it became clear we’d misunderstood something.  Not so hard to do when taking directions given in such a manner as this:

“You’ll come to a road on the right.  You don’t take that one.  Keep going and you’ll see a road on the left.  You don’t want that one either.  Not the second but the third right.  You’ll come to some land with cows in it and it’s my pasture, so don’t worry yourself about it.  Cross over that and you’ll come to The Green Road.  Take that a ways and you’ll find the Abby.”

Well I’ve got news for you.  Everything is a pasture, they all have cows in them, and there’s no such thing as The Green Road.  And so it happened that we walked two miles up the road, and not anywhere near my desired destination.  We did, however, find a road people seemed to be using as a walking path over the mountain and took that.  It was beautiful.  Views of Galway Bay lay beneath us and rocky green in front.  The sky was perfect and the air cool.  You couldn’t have painted it better.

Until, of course, around mile 4 when my blood sugar gave out.  We’d not planned on such a hike, you see, and thus had neglected to pack food or water.  My close friends know that I am two people.  My every day self is rather happy and easy to get along with.  My hypoglycemic, evil twin is a real bitch.  I do everything I can to keep her under wraps, but after 4 miles of hiking on craggy rocks with no food or water, my inner soul was crying out “Danger Will Robins!  Danger!”  And poof, there she was.  The Paper King, in a valiant effort to save himself, made rash promises of dinner at the pub as we’d have to walk past it to get home.

“I have money!  It’s only another mile, you’ll make it.  Just around that corner and we’re there.”

We weren’t there, of course.  It was another two miles to the pub but it lay like a beacon in the night and it brought me ever forward.  Finally we rounded the turn.  I all but ran to the door, pulled on the handle and nearly sat down to cry as it held fast.   The door was locked, the pub was closed, and my boyfriend nearly lost an arm in the aftermath.

Food

Let me make the bold proclamation to vegetarians everywhere…stay away!  There’s nothing for you.  One might imagine that with Europe so close at hand, you would find a selection of international cuisine and that large portions of it might be prepared by people of it’s origin.  It seems, however, that the French, Italian, and German folk have rejected Ireland as a place to put down roots, thus leaving the indigenous people to recreate regional dishes on their own.  Not a good plan.  Not a good plan at all.  Largely, the Irish seem to have decided not to try, which may actually be better for the ethnic food lovers of the world.  Of the non-Irish food we had, the best was the Thai dinner we ate in Dublin, and of that, I can only speak highly of the soup.  We tried one Italian spot and the pasta may well have been Stouffers.  The pub food was admirable, as pub food goes.  You really can’t go wrong with fried potatoes.  Ordering a salad, however, can be harrowing.  I ordered a vegetable plate, looking desperately for something green and healthy, and was brought a plate with cole slaw, cheese, and carrots drenched in vinaigrette.  Breakfast was equally daunting as runny eggs shared a plate with baked beans and something called black and white pudding.  Said puddings I believe to have parts in them and, while parts is parts, I like to know from whence my parts come and preferably they come from a plant.  I was fairly sure these didn’t, although no one was certain what comprised pudding after all.  Lunch and dinner didn’t look much better.  At a local bistro, one could order the following: “The Peelers Plight: Local Potatoes, hung drawn and quartered, tarred with Sour Cream and feathered with chives.”  or “The Dolmen: A quarter pound of Burren Mionain Burger embalmed with relish, buried with Tomato and Onion under a slab of Savory Bun, standing in a field of salad.”  Now do we really need to turn potato skins into a bloody massacre?  And if I did eat meat, I’m certain I wouldn’t want it to be embalmed with anything!  It’s a wonder anybody eats out.

Poop

I must take a quick moment for the poop.  It was truly everywhere.  There was no escaping it.  The cow patty didn’t seem to exist.  All the cows have chronic diarrhea or parasites or something because it was drizzled over every patch of ground and made me long for the round, disc shaped piles of crap found in our own fields.  It must be the extra chloroform in the grass.  Not only was it runny, it almost fluoresced.  Yet another reason Ireland is called the Emerald Isle.  Who knew?

Driving

Rip off #1: Car rental.  Since we were staying is such a remote area, it seemed prudent to rent a car for getting around.  I did a little search on the web and found a real steal of a deal through Budget.ie; 88 Euro for the week!  Who’d ever heard of such a thing?  With taxes and insurance, I really expected it to come to a about 150 Euro but still, very reasonable.  We arrived in Galway and low and behold the Budget office sat right there across the square from the train station.  How convenient!  This was going well already.  Sitting down at the desk, I pulled out my information happily, knowing I was getting such a bargain.  Living in New York, I don’t have a car and thus don’t have my own auto insurance.  I know Visa covers the basics but as I was to be driving on the left for the first time and as the round about system is treacherous, I wanted coverage for damage to the car and any persons I may inadvertently hit.  Bad idea, as I didn’t hit anyone, although I wanted to by the end of the trip, and the vehicle came out if it all smelling like a rose…okay, not like a rose, more like cow shit, but still, without damage.  With insurance and tax my charges came out to just over $300!  A far cry from the 88 Euro I was quoted.  I argued and put on my best Brooklyn accent to no avail.  Batting the baby blues went over like a wet sock and thus it was that this tiny little Nissan Micra more than doubled itself in cost.

Once on the road, I began to feel confident fairly quickly.  Not true of my passenger.  Heads turned in our direction from other cars as he shouted “LEFT!!!  Stay left!”  while gripping any part of the car he could hang on to.  Got news for you bud.  That handle isn’t going to stop the truck from coming through the door if he wants to.  But it made him feel better anyway.  It made me nervous but he learned to control his outbursts.

“You want to drive?  Think you can do better.  Then you should have renewed your license, shouldn’t you.  Leave me alone!”  Ah, we were off to a great start.

Part of the frustration stemmed from the stellar signage.  Signs in the city were numerous but confusing and small, pointing in directions that seemed to make no sense.  They were small and scarce, leaving one to guess at the correct turn off.  If they were there, they were not easily read, particularly at night as they didn’t have  reflectors, and most often they appeared out of no where with no warning in such a way that I spent a lot of time making k-turns on tiny roads to get us back to the road I’d blown right past.  I suggest using your odometer to count kilometers and turning when you’ve gone the recommended distance, sign or no sign.  It would have saved us a lot of grief.

The roads were no little cause for concern.  Everything in America is bigger, it’s true.  Most of the time I scoff at our need to be the biggest and the best, but these days abroad found me praying we’d drive down a road actually big enough to fit two cars.  All roads are two way.  However, not all roads can accommodate two cars coming in opposite directions.  The biggest we drove on would allow us to pass by another small vehicle without pulling over although it left no shoulder and no room for mistakes.  They only got smaller from there.  Many roads had pull-offs carved into them so that one could park on the side to allow another to pass.  The smallest required one car to back up if another was coming, the rule of thumb being the car closest to the next cross section did the reversing.  And the speed limits…can we talk about the speed limits?  You might think that on roads such as these there would be a need to go a little slower.  Seems reasonable, and I, for one, did.  But I was shocked to see signs urging me to drive up to 100 kph.  Ah…hell no.  Our first night there we heard a report of three killed on a road not so far from our cottage.  Well duh!  I resolved to restrict night driving to “big” roads only.

Weather

The Burren is coastal and boy howdy, it was.  Day one was lovely and every day thereafter was rain, rain, and rain followed by some rain.  There were moments the sun tried valiantly to peek through the clouds and twice it rained on one side of the house while the sun shone on another.  The wind was intense, ripping off the ocean creating beautiful caps and strong enough to blow me straight into a pile a sheit.  Delicious.

Rainbows were abundant, although they didn’t come with pots of gold.  What they did come with was construction equipment.  Not what one hopes to find at the end of their rainbow.  Yes, the workers arrived on day two and contrary to the promise made to us of one day’s work, I woke each morning to the sounds of a backhoe reversing in my driveway.  Just what I’d left the city for. You can imagine my joy the first morning I woke ready to jet to the nearest pile of old rocks I had yet to discover I couldn’t find or get to and found myself blocked in by a dump truck.

“So…um…how long you guys think you’re going to be here today?  Any chance of letting us out?”

“Ah, sorry lass, the roads not passable, but should be long ‘bout 2 PM.”

Another lie, I might interject.  They left long about 5, possibly scared off by the steam jetting out my ears.  Did I mention we had no food in the house?  We had no food in the house.

“You might want to park at the end of the road tomorrow so you don’t get blocked in again.”

“What?  Caroline told us you’d be a day.”

“A day?  No, sorry.  We’ll be here all week.  We told her not to rent the cottage this week.”

What color is my rainbow?  My rainbow is colored PISSED OFF!  Only because there was large construction equipment blocking my drive and a field full of cow shit separating me from her did Caroline survive the day.  Second house on the left, lady.  I know where you live!

Sight Seeing

What I came for, my reason for choosing The Burren…the ruins.  I had a guide book suggesting only a few possibilities, but I knew from reading that there was much more to be had in this area.  As I’ve mentioned, there was much to be seen and our first day out we bought a map that detailed all the numerous possibilities for ruin sighting.  I bustled us out the door at an earlyish hour on day two, anxious to get to my first castle.  The boyfriend was in charge of directions and did an admirable job negotiating the unmarked roads as we drove on.

“It should be just around the corner here.  Yes!  Down there, see it!”

“Yes, yes!  I see it!  Where do I turn?  How do we get there?”

“Well, it should be right here.  Hmm…turn around, we must have missed it.”

We had not, in fact, missed it.  We couldn’t get there.  It was on the map.  It was visible from the road, but it was not accessible by vehicle or even by foot as, once again, it was beyond a sea of cows, poop and pasture.

No matter, there were so many more who could be disappointed by one?  We drove on looking for something called “The deserted village”.

“It should be right here.  The map says it’s right here.”

“Are you sure?  Could it be any further?”

“No, we’ve already gone too far.  This is the right road, I know it is, I’ve checked.”

“Well what’s it supposed to look like?”

“I don’t know.  Deserted and villagey.  What about that pile of rocks over there.  It looks sort of like it might have been something, doesn’t it?  Is that it?”

“Hmm…”

And so on to the next we went.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get much better from there.  We drove up to a castle listed on the map only to find out we were trespassing on private property and people actually lived there.  We drove up a road looking for an 11th century something-or-other and came upon a bewildered young woman going out to slop the hogs and wondering what the hell these stupid Americans were doing on her property.  It was on the map, lady, I swear!  But mostly, we spent a lot of time driving by things we could see from the road but had no visible way of approaching by car or otherwise.  The resounding cry became, “Look!  Ruins!”  “Yeah, but you can’t get there from here.”

I finally decided to give up and spend time and money going to see the big tourist attractions.  Things such as Ailwee Cave: Ireland’s premier show cave; rivaled only by Dolin Cave: Home of the Great Stalactite.  What?  And The Burren Perfumery where there was a lovely slide presentation of Burren flora and fauna and a large selection of soaps made from it.  We did manage to see the High Crosses of Kilfenora, which were indeed worth seeing, Pulnabrone Portal Dolmen, a megalithic tomb housing, at one time, 65 ancient bodies, the famous Cliffs of Moher, well worth the visit and the crowds, and our little 12th century Abby across the way, Corcomroe.  (We eventually found the road.)  It was lovely and interesting and intricate, these places all oozing history and a time not documented such here at home.  I was, at last, a bit sated in my quest for piles of old rocks.

The Final Blows

The week ended and back to Galway we drove.  Used to the driving system and the car, the Paper King no longer gripped the seat in fear.  We even drove into the city without mishap.  Finding a hotel was another story, but we finally did although it cost a fortune.  Heading up on the elevator I noticed a sign.

“We apologize for any inconvenience during our construction.”  How apropos.

Returning the car was a nightmare.

“Go drop it at this garage and bring me back the keys.”

“Okay, can I leave my stuff here since my hotel is just across the way?”

“No.”

Said garage was about 1.5 miles away from the key drop, so we found ourselves walking with numerous heavy bags through the streets and back to the Budget office where it took everything in my power not to throw the keys at the representative.

Galway itself is lovely and I could have spent another day or two there, perhaps should have, but we were out of time.  Blessedly, there was a vegetarian restaurant and we even had a lovely, although expensive, dinner.

The following morning it was back to Dublin.  Every hotel offers bed and breakfast and there’s no way to separate the charge.  As we were being soaked already, I really wanted to take full advantage of the breakfast.  We were both out of money, so I made sure we were up and in the lobby by 6:45 AM to catch breakfast at it’s advertised time, 7 AM, so we could catch the 7:45 bus to the airport.  We waited.  7:15 came, then 7:20 and the dining room remained closed.

“Look, we really have to go and we’d counted on having breakfast here as it was included in the price.  Could we be refunded for breakfast so we could have some at the airport?”

You can guess the answer.

As you may imagine, I was not sorry to be leaving Ireland behind.  It was beautiful.  It provided some good stories.  But I cannot recommend it as a relaxing or economic vacation destination.  If you, like I, desire to look amorously on large piles of rock, go to the Grand Canyon.  It’s pretty, it’s cheap, and you can get there from here.