September 2011

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2011.

Down the hill to Paddy Healy’s

The view from inside our gypsy caravan of Danny eating dinner. Photo by David Lansing.

I really don’t know how much longer I can hold the caravan back, I say to Mr. Lynch with a grimace. We’re going down the hill that takes you into Kylebrack and Danny-Boy, sweating something fierce, is trying to keep ahead of the heavy wooden caravan that wants to push him forward and I’m using every muscle in my right leg to brake-and-release, brake-and-release the foot brake on my right to keep the cart from pushing into Danny’s ass.

You wouldn’t think there’d be much work to driving a horse-drawn caravan, I say to Mr. Lynch, but this is like climbing a mountain in the Tour de France. At this point I’m sweating almost as much as Danny and feel just as hard at the bit, but there’s nothing to do about it because if I take my foot off the old mechanical brake for even a second sure we’re going to either run into a ditch or turn the cart over. God help us.

Finally we reach the bottom of the hill. I’m huffing and puffing and so is Danny. It’s been a run. Did Larry say anything about how we were to find Paddy’s farm? I ask Mr. Lynch. Not to me he didn’t, says he. Well, I suppose we’ll find it one way or the other.

And just then we spot an older man walking out from a farmhouse and opening an iron gate from the road. Sure it’s got to be our man. Are you Paddy Healy, I yell out. Aye, aye, he says, coming out to the road and grabbing a hold of the reins. I’ll just bring Danny in since the gate is a little narrow, he says. Fine by me. He swings wide from the road and carefully navigates Danny and the caravan through the gate. Stop for a minute at the wooden gate of a pasture and then we’re through, on to the thick wet green grass. This is your home for the night, says Paddy. Do you need some help getting the gear off or are you fine? I can do it, I tell him, but a bit of help would be welcome.

The two of us work together on opposite sides of Danny to remove the gear, just as Larry showed me. First undoing the shafts and the breech strap and letting Danny walk out from his heavy load, and then passing the reins through the rings on the straddle and the hames and taking off the collar, full of Danny’s sweat and hair, and the bridle and with that, Danny gives a snort and a rip and moves deeper into the pasture where he starts ripping at the thick wet grass, his hard day of work over with. And ours as well.

Tags: ,

Getting Danny-Boy to move

Me leading Danny-Boy through the Millenium Forest in Ireland. Photo by Allan Lynch.

It’s a bit zen, a gypsy caravan, I tell Mr. Lynch. Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop. Mr. Lynch is having a hard time staying awake. His eyelids slip south, his chin, like a slow-motion landslide, slides down to his chest; he jerks, looks around as if he has no idea where he is or how he got here.

The thing is, there’s not much to a gypsy caravan. You sit on a plank of wood with the reins in your hand and Danny goes clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop. For hours. To mix things up, once in awhile Danny will slow down, raise his white tail in to the air, and slowly push out fresh steaming road apples that land with a thick thuuuck on the road. It’s amusing.

And there are flies. Sometimes a few dozen, buzzing around his sweaty head and withers, crawling over his powerful rump. Big meaty flies that dive head-first into the white flanks and disappear. Must be biting him in there. God knows how they stand it. Once in awhile the road will dip and there might be a bit of a marshy area in the Millenium Forest we’re going through and the flies will be so bad you have to take the pillow out from under your bottom and flail away at them.

How is it zen-like? asks Mr. Lynch. I’d made the comment so long ago I’d forgotten about it. In the meantime, Mr. Lynch had fallen asleep, come awake, hopped off the caravan to walk beside Danny for a bit, and climbed back up.

Well, it’s like meditation, isn’t it? I say. The clip-clop is like your heart beating and the caravan swaying back and forth is like your breath and your mind clears and all you’re aware of are the sounds and feelings of being on this wagon.

I guess, says Mr. Lynch.

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop.

It’s a different way of traveling, isn’t it? I say. So quiet. And slow. How far do you think we’ve come so far?

Maybe a couple of miles, says Mr. Lynch.

No! We’ve been traveling for hours.

Mr. Lynch shrugs. Just then Danny stops. Come on, now, Danny, I say, giving him a taste of the reins on his rump the way Larry showed me to do. Danny doesn’t move.

Come on, now, Danny. Gitty-up! I smack him a good one. Danny swishes his tail at flies but doesn’t budge. Mr. Lynch talks to Danny. Which is foolish since Danny has no idea who Mr. Lynch is. I’ll tell you what, I say to Mr. Lynch, it’s embarrassing when your horse won’t go. Maybe you’d better get down and lead him a bit.

Mr. Lynch climbs down off the caravan and grabbing the reins in front of Danny’s bit, pulls him forward. Danny throws his head back but doesn’t move. Please, Danny, says Mr. Lynch. I’m getting thirsty for a pint and I’m sure you’d like a little something to eat. The sooner we get to Kylebrack the sooner we’ll all be done for the day. Danny bobs his head up and down and starts walking forward, led by Mr. Lynch who looks back at me with a smirk and a single raised eyebrow. I guess some people are just better with horses than others, says he.

Kiss my arse, I tell him.

Tags: ,

Danny-Boy, our gypsy horse

Larry bringing Danny-Boy over to our gypsy caravan. Photo by David Lansing.

Leaning against the fence, Larry the horse wranger says, You’ve got two horses to pick from. That one there, he says, pointing at a bay in the back, is Molly and that one there is Danny. Does it make any difference, I ask Larry. Not to me it don’t but it might to the horse, he says.

Danny looks the more stout of the two. And less hesitant. Molly’s a fine looking gal but something in the way she looks at me suggests she’d rather have the day off, if you know what I mean. Let’s take Danny, I say, and Larry gives a shake of his wooly head the way a horse might and says, He’s got more the look of a traditional gypsy horse anyway, which is probably a load of crap but makes me feel better.

Now then, says Larry, putting a rope on Danny, who’s going to be driving the wagon? Not me, says Mr. Lynch. He points at me. He’s the horseman.

Well, this is only fair. Mr. Lynch has done all the driving in Ireland, even if he has almost killed us off several times, so I might as well take full responsibility for handling Danny-Boy.

You’ve done this before then, have you, says Larry, handing me the bridle. Never, I tell him. Ah then, sure you’ll be grand at it, just grand. When you harness the horse in the morning, says Larry, you start from the head and work back. When you take the tack off at the end of the day, you work in reverse: Start from the back and work your way to the head.

Head to ass, ass to head, I say. HAAH.

Exactly, says Larry.

You wouldn’t think there’d be a lot of equipment for harnessing a horse to a caravan (or maybe you would), but there is. Larry keeps going into the tack room and coming out with a new piece of tack, telling me what it is, where it goes, how many notches to give it, how tight to secure it, where to run it. Already I’ve forgotten everything he says. There’s no way I’ll be able to harness him tomorrow morning. Do the winkers go over the bridle or beneath it? Do you put the reins through the collar before you fasten the hames or afterwards? Does the straddle attach to the breeching or not; and how tightly do you buckle the belly strap?

Larry, whistling and nosing, backs Danny in to the shafts and attaches everything to the caravan. Mr. Lynch and I climb up and sit on little pillows on a bench in front. I feel like Cookie on Wagon Train. Larry grabs the reins in front of Danny and leads him out to the two-lane country road, slaps the horse on the ass, and starts laughing as Danny cantors down the country lane at a good clip with me holding tightly to the reins while imploring Danny to slow down. Mr. Lynch yells at me to use the goddamn brake.

I didn’t yell at you when you were driving, I say to Mr. Lynch, so don’t yell at me now, I tell him. Oh gawd, says Mr. Lynch. I don’t know if I can look. He shuts his eyes tight, bouncing up and down on his little cushion. And with that, Danny-Boy and I are off down the tree-shaded lane with the gypsy caravan bumping along behind us.

Tags: ,

Our gypsy caravan

The gypsy caravans parked in front of Cartron House Farm in Kylebrack, Ireland. Photo by David Lansing.

An attractive woman in her fifties opens the front door of her house the minute Mr. Lynch and I get out of the car. She’s got a crying baby draped over her shoulder. You’re late, she says with a smile on her face. We were expecting you hours ago. Yes, yes, sorry about that, says Mr. Lynch. We had god’s own time trying to find your place. The woman, who introduces herself as Ann, laughs and says, Oh, I’ve heard that story before. In fact, there’s another couple coming from Dublin that was supposed to have arrived three hours ago and we haven’t heard from them either.

Ann takes us into the modest farmhouse which is also used as a B&B and asks us if we’d like some tea. You’re probably hungry as well, she says. Can I make you something?

Ann shows us to a breakfast table at the back of the house and while she’s making us a pot of tea and some finger sandwiches, we go through an album filled with comments from others who have rented their caravans.

Like this one from Natascha and Erik-Jan Koolen from Holland: “We are here for our honeymoon. We had a caravan with the horse Molly and a riding horse named Tessie. We were here for one night and we had a great dinner and breakfast (our first Irish breakfast) and it was very good. Erik liked the Irish beer (Smithwicks). Thank you for the nice time in the pub and the hospitality of the whole family. We had a good time everywhere.”

Look here, I say to Mr. Lynch, showing him the entry. Honeymooners. Can you imagine? It’s probably very romantic, says Mr. Lynch. But not much room, say I. Well, when you’re on your honeymoon you don’t need a lot of room. That’s the whole point. To be together. I guess. But you think it’d be a little cramped in one of those caravans. Well, obviously Natascha and Erik liked it. I wonder if they’ve ever been back? I say, noting that the entry was written more than five years ago. Oh, sure, says Mr. Lynch. They probably come back every year on their anniversary. Unless they’re divorced, I say. Mr. Lynch just shakes his head. You are just Mr. Sunshine, aren’t you?

Ann brings out our tea and sandwiches and then goes back into the kitchen to take care of her grandchild. We finish our meal, bring the plates back to the kitchen, and sit back down at the table. I read some more of the entries in the guest album. We’re still sitting there half an hour later. I get up and go to the kitchen. So, I say to Ann, are we waiting on the couple from Dublin then before we start?

No, says Ann. You two can take the caravan out whenever you want. Should I give Larry a call?

Who’s Larry?

Larry owns the caravans, she says. I just run the farmhouse. We don’t have anything to do with the horses or the caravans. That would be Larry.

Well then, I suppose we’d better meet Larry.

Right then, says Ann. She calls Larry. And not five minutes later, there’s Larry: hair-disheveled, nose red, eyes bleary, looking like he’s just been dragged out of the pub. So then, he says after introducing himself, you’re going to take out one of the caravans this afternoon are you? That’s the plan, I tell him. Well then, he says, limping towards the pasture, you’d better come over here and pick yourself a horse.

And that’s what we do.

Tags: ,

Finding our gypsy caravan

I’ve read the directions Mr. O’Connor gave us to the gypsy caravan place a dozen times to Mr. Lynch and I’ve got a road atlas spread out on my lap, but we’re still lost. We’re looking for McCormack’s pub, I say. It should be on our left side.

We got from Galway to Loughrea all right but somewhere along the line after passing the lake (most unattractive) we missed a fork in the road or maybe several forks and now we’re just bumbling about out in the countryside looking for a sign or a village or anything that will give us an idea of whether we’re heading towards Portumna (not good) or Ballinakill (that would be the ticket).

Stop the car! I yell at Mr. Lynch. He almost drives us into a ditch and then clutches at his heart. You near gave me a heart attack, he says. Why are we stopping? There’s a local up ahead. Let’s ask him if we’re on the right road.

The gentleman in question is hunched over and stands at the gate of an old stone house as if he were waiting for a visitor to arrive. Mr. Lynch slowly pulls the car up in front of him. He eyes us with suspicion. A mad looking sheep dog is running back and forth behind the stone fence barking his head off.

Excuse me, says Mr. Lynch, but can you tell us if we’re headed for Ballinakill?

Ballinakill? says the old man. Ye mad yoke, dars nay Ballinakills here.

Kylebrack? says Mr. Lynch weakly.

Kylebrack? Come ‘round to yerself ye loother!

The sheep dog has escaped the yard and is dancing on his hind legs in front of the open window on Mr. Lynch’s side of the car, trying to take a nip at his chin.

Thanks anyway, says Mr. Lynch rolling up the car window. As he guns the car, he throws small pebbles back at the hunched old man who is giving us the finger as his dog dances madly around him on his hind legs.

An hour later we pass McCormack’s pub, although it is on our right side, not our left. We turn around and just past the pub take a fork in the road to the right until we come to the end of the road. Take another right, past a church and there, across the way, is a farm with three bright red gypsy caravans sitting out front on the lawn. We’re hours late, but we’ve made it to Cartron House Farm.

Tags: ,

« Older entries