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Crane Lane in Cork

Another letter from Katie Botkin’s travels in Ireland:

Crane Lane in Cork, Ireland. Photo by Katie Botkin.

After Counihan’s Mary and I head across the street to Crane Lane, a big place with hanging plants above the outdoor walkways and frequent live music. I’d been there a few nights previously with Mary and Emily and Nicole, the last two of whom have returned to England since then. It was that evening that Mary decided to christen Emily Five-Foot due to her height, and some ill-fated Irishman overheard and decided that gave him leeway to use her head as a table for his drink. He kept insisting that she cooperate, and she kept telling him in exasperation that she was not going to allow it.

This evening, things are considerably more quiet. We sit at tables and talk above the noise. Once again, we stay out until the place closes. Once again, the music stopping gives the males in the place one last surge of adrenaline, and they try to make conversation as we’re being swept out the door. One fellow asks me where I’m from. “Idaho,” I say “I bet you don’t know where that is.”

“I know Josh Ritter wrote a song about it,” he replies, and before I can compliment him on his taste in music, we’re separated by a wave of people, and I’m outside on the sidewalk, jumping up and down in the chill. Slightly to my right, lo and behold, there’s the other Katie from Idaho. Maybe she’s the reason the boy in the bar knew about Josh Ritter. But then, I kind of doubt it.

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Another letter from Katie Botkin about her adventures in Ireland.

Soon enough, I feel the need to get up from the table and find the ladies’ room. As I go in, I catch a glimpse of a blonde girl in the mirror as she stands at the sink washing her hands. She looks like someone I know. For the next minute, in the stall, I’m trying to remember who. Maybe she looks like someone famous. And then I remember: she looks almost exactly like a girl I’ve seen in yoga class a few times in my town of 10,000 people. I bolt out of the stall to get a better look at her, trying not to seem creepy. And sure enough, it looks like her identical twin.

“Are you from Sandpoint?” I blurt out.

“How’d you know that?” she asks, obviously startled.

“I’m in your yoga class,” I say, still trying not to be creepy. “Hot yoga. The one Noelle teaches.”

She doesn’t know who I am, but it doesn’t matter. “I’m Katie,” she introduces herself.

“I’m Katie, too,” I say, and I laugh. What are the odds?

So we go downstairs, and of course we take a picture together and tell our mutual friends about it, and then they meet each other. And we go back to drinking our Irish stout.

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Lost once again

Thatched cottage somewhere near Killarney. Photo by David Lansing.

I’ve been blaming Mr. Lynch’s driving for our navigational problems but it’s me that gets us lost trying to get out of Blarney. How can you get lost leaving a village with only one road in and one road out, you ask? Well, it’s not easy but I manage. The thing is, there are two roads headed west towards Killarney, where we’re headed. One is well south of Taiscumar Loch (really a reservoir) and is the major highway; the other closely follows the north shore of the lake and is nothing more than a two-lane country road.

I’m suggesting we take that but the thing is, once you get out into the country there are all sorts of little lanes that split off here and there, few of them marked, and it’s not at all difficult to suddenly find that you’ve passed some village church and the old cemetery and are now out in the country where you’re likely to see only cows and sheep and the odd thatched cottage out in the middle of nowhere (my gawd, says Mr. Lynch as we slow to have a look at an old one-room stone house. Do people really still live in those?). Are we going north or west? A little of each it seems.

Mr. Lynch is driving so slowly that even the oul langer in the rusted out truck behind us is feebly honking his horn. Mr. Lynch pulls to the side and the oul bastard gives us the finger as he goes by. Well, that’s nice, says Mr. Lynch. What would his mother say to that?

We pull into the next cemetery we come across to turn around. And back down the country road we go, passing the same bored looking cows and the young lad pedaling the bike we passed twenty minutes ago. Never mind. We’re in no hurry. We’ll get to Killarney when we get there. That’s the thing about Ireland: It is always waiting for you.

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Kissing the Blarney Stone

Meself kissing the Blarney Stone. Notice the bottle of anti-bacterial spray. Photo by Allan Lynch.

You don’t think about how claustrophobic a narrow spiral staircase can be until you duck your head to enter (my god these Irishmen must have been little people back in the 15th century) and then you try not to think about it at all as you slowly take a step at a time with large bodies directly ahead and behind you. Try not to imagine what you would do if the large lady grunting and panting ahead of you collapsed in the stairwell; don’t even imagine how you’d be trapped for hours if you had a heart attack half way up. It will only make you sweat even more and your heart beat faster than a rabbit running from a hawk.

I can’t breath, says the large woman above me. Her daughter, large on her own, has her mother’s elbow in her hand and is half pulling and half willing her mom to continue going up. Just stop for a moment, says the daughter. Mother huffs and puffs, pulls out a Kleenex from her purse and wipes it across her forehead. No rush, no rush, I tell them. Take your time.

The view from the top of Blarney Castle. Photo by David Lansing.

Meanwhile, I feel like I’m having a panic attack myself. Staircase so narrow both my shoulders touch the cold damp stones on either side. Everyone has stopped climbing. All of us looking up the dimly-lit staircase, trying to catch a glimpse of the large woman holding things up. Finally she starts climbing again. I start climbing as well.

Eventually make it to the top of the tower and gawd, has fresh air ever smelled so grand? Just take it in by the lungful. And lovely view of the emerald green countryside all around. Worth the climb, I suppose. But there’s still the matter of kissing the stone. Line snaking around the battlement like visitors at Disneyland waiting to ride the Matterhorn. All so we can get down on our hands and knees, roll over on our back, stretch out backwards under the parapet—feet held down by a bored young lad—and kiss a moldy stone in hopes it will magically confer us with eloquence. Ridiculous. Yet here I am. No wonder Mr. Lynch refused to do this.

My turn now. Down on my knees. Roll over. Push out beneath the parapet, grabbing at where I hope the wall is. Bend my head down and out. Kiss something cool and smooth. Must be the stone. Lad gives a yank to my legs to pull me back in. And that’s it. I’ve kissed the Blarney Stone. An Irish baptism. Wonder when I’ll start noticing the eloquence?

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Wishes at Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle. Photo by David Lansing.

When you get to Blarney Castle, says Mr. O’Connor, ask for Jean Murphy. She’ll get your tickets. So at the turnstile I ask for Jean and am told she no longer works here. Bit embarrassing that. Explain to the woman that we’re journalists and she says just a minute and wanders off. Meanwhile, the line behind us grows anxious. And it’s starting to rain again. Mr. Lynch and I are the only ones in line standing under cover. What’s the problem then? says a woman with two young ones at her side and a stroller in front of her covered with a baby’s pink blanket.

I smile and shrug. Nasty looks all around. Line continues to grow. So does the disgruntled nature of those behind us. Woman finally arrives back at the window and hands us our tickets. Thank gawd says the woman with the stroller.

Where’s the castle then? I ask Mr. Lynch. Like everyplace in Ireland, he’s been here several times. Yet he’s never kissed the Blarney Stone. I asked him why over breakfast this morning and he told me a story about bored guides at the castle ending their shifts by pissing on the stone that’s kissed by thousands each day. Sure that’s just an urban legend, I tell him. Maybe, he says, buttering his toast, but even if it is, think of the number of people mashing their maws against that stone every day. You really want to kiss something like that?

Probably not but I’m not going to come all the way to Blarney and climb the 127 narrow steps to the top of the keep and not kiss the stone. Piss or no piss.

The rain starts coming down heavy enough that we take refuge with several others beneath an ancient yew tree. At least this time I’ve brought a rain coat so I can tuck my camera between my sweater and my coat. The rain stops, the clouds flee, and it’s blue skies again. Odd country this Ireland.

Across a bridge, the stream down below filled with coins. Thousands of them. Maybe enough to cover Ireland’s debt. The mom with the toddlers and stroller stops on the bridge. Little ones want coins to throw in the stream. Mom gives them one each and tells them to throw them as far as they can while making a wish. The boy, not more than three or four, flings his coin but it only goes a few feet away. He starts to cry. What are you crying about? says him mom. It doesn’t matter how far it goes. Your wish will still come true. What did you wish for? An ice cream, says the boy. Ah, well, we’ll see about that, says the mom.

No doubt he’ll get his wish. But I wonder how many wishes lofted skyward along with the coins in the stream also came true? No many, I think. No many at all.

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