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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.

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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.

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A lynching in Galway

Mr. Lynch in front of Lynch's Castle in Galway. Photos by David Lansing.

The only real reason we’ve come through Galway is that Mr. Lynch has a hankering to see Lynch’s Castle, a once grand 16th century town house that is now a bank. I can’t complain. From here we’re headed east to Loughrea so I can take a gypsy caravan out into the countryside for a couple of days, and I suppose that if Mr. Lynch can be good-humored enough to indulge me I can certainly have a look at a wee castle that he claims is part of his family history.

The story: For over two centuries—roughly 1450 to 1690—Galway was controlled by 14 merchant families, or “tribes,” one of which was the feared Lynch clan who lived in the castle we’re looking for from sometime in the 1500s until 1690 when William of Orange, a Protestant, led a hardened army of 36,000 French Huguenots, Dutch, English, and Scots against the Catholic King of England, James II in what was called the Battle of the Boyne. Well, James got his fanny handed to him and fled to France; all the Catholic lands were confiscated (including Lynch’s Castle) and the Protestants held power in Ireland for the next 300 years. I guess you could say this is where The Troubles all began.

Well, I’ll tell you, after coming all this way, there isn’t much to see of Lynch’s Castle. So I snap a couple of shots of Mr. Lynch standing in front of the bank and then we walk around the corner to a side of St. Nicholas’ Church where Mr. Lynch stops in front of a mossy stone façade with a window at the top. You ever wonder where the term “lynching” came from, says Mr. Lynch. Well I hadn’t but it doesn’t matter because Mr. Lynch is going to tell me the story whether I want to hear it or not.

The Lynch hanging window.

The Lynch family supplied Galway with over 80 majors between the 15th and 17th centuries, says Mr. Lynch. One of those mayors was a fellow named James Lynch. James Lynch had a son named Walter who was a bit of a hothead and the story goes that in 1493, Walter murdered a young Spaniard over something to do with a woman (of course).

Well, in addition to being the major of Galway, James Lynch was also the magistrate, and determined to seek justice for the murdered Spaniard, he convicted his own son and sentenced him to death. On the fateful morning on which Walter Lynch was to be hung, the Mayor and bailiffs tried to escort him to the gallows. But a large crowd, sympathetic to the young man, had formed to prevent the hanging. So the Mayor, still holding his bound son, took him into their house nearby and on reaching an upper window overlooking the street, he fastened a rope around his son’s neck and launched him from the window, hanging him in full view of the “Lynch mob” assembled below.

Mr. Lynch pointed to the very same window on the stone façade above us. And so you have my family to thank for “lynching,” says he.

Just to be on the safe side, I stayed a few paces behind him on the walk back to the car.

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Galway buskers

Buskers in Galway. Photo by David Lansing. To listen to their music, play the video below.

We’re walking around Galway’s Latin Quarter, looking for Lynch’s Castle (more on that tomorrow) but I’m getting hungry—and tired of walking—so I suggest we find a café along Abbeygate Street and take a break. This is a university town, Galway, and you can’t go a block anywhere in the Latin Quarter without coming across a busker. Sometimes working a corner by themselves; sometimes three or four of them looking like they just woke up and bruisin’ their way through one traditional Irish tune or another.

Look, there’s a couple of blokes just setting up next to that café, says Mr. Lynch. Why don’t we get something there and we can sit at a table on the sidewalk and be entertained at the same time. So that’s what we do. And after a couple of tunes, the two guys—one playing a banjo and the other some sort of metal acoustic guitar—are joined by two more, a lad on fiddle and another banjo player.

They’re not half-bad, says Mr. Lynch and they aren’t. A green felt-lined banjo case is open on the sidewalk in front of them and passersby toss in a coin or two, and then there’s a tike in blue cap and striped sweatshirt, no more than two or three surely, whose mum has given a coin so he can throw it into the banjo case but when he gets in front of the buskers, the music seems to animate his little body and he starts spinning and dipping about, inventing his own little dance, and throwing his hands up in the air in great joy. Even the buskers, who look tired and almost bored by their performance, are entranced and pick up the pace of their playing as the child spins around and around until he has made himself so dizzy that he falls hard on his arse.

Everyone laughs, including the young boy who promptly gets up and, after depositing his coin in the banjo case, starts clapping and dancing again. Happy as any child this fine morning in Galway.

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What’s wrong with Galway?

A scene on the road to Galway. Photo by David Lansing.

I don’t know why Mr. O’Connor thinks I don’t like Galway, I say to Mr. Lynch as we cross over the River Corrib. Because that’s what you told him, says Mr. Lynch. I didn’t say that. You told me when I was putting together the itinerary that you had no real desire to go to Galway. That’s because I spent a fair amount of time there a few years ago, I tell him. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it. Those are two separate things. The next time I come to Ireland, I might tell Mr. O’Connor I have no real desire to go to Kinsale either.

What’s wrong with Kinsale?

There’s not a thing wrong with Kinsale! That’s my bloody point! I quite like Kinsale. In fact, I think I’d like to go back.

Then why would you tell Bernard you have no desire to go there?

I didn’t say that! Watch the road now. You’re crossing over into the other lane.

I will yeah, says Mr. Lynch sarcastically. You know, he says, I’m often amazed that you’re not shot.

Why would anyone want to shoot me?

Because of the things you say.

That reminds me, I say. I was once in a bar fight in which everyone but me got socked in the kisser. I walked out of it without a scratch. But the gal I was with was quite upset with me anyway. I was flabbergasted. I said, What are you so riled up about? Look at me; I’m totally unscathed. And she says, Of course you are. Hitting you isn’t enough. Shooting you, stabbing you, that would be worth it, but not hitting you.

Smart girl, says Mr. Lynch. Whatever became of her?

Most unfortunate, I tell him. I married her.

And on to Galway we go.

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