The drive to Ballymaloe


A fairy tree in Ireland

A fairy tree in County Cork, Ireland. Photo by David Lansing.


At half-past nine Mr. Robert Daly arrived at The Fitzwilliam to take us to Ballymaloe, near Cork. Mr. Daly was in a bit of a panic since he was two minutes late. “I’m never late,” he assured me, stuffing our luggage in to the back of his mini-van. “But there were some complications this morning.”

The implication was that I could ask Mr. Daly what those complications were and, no doubt, here about them all the way to Ballymaloe, or just tell him it wasn’t a problem. I told him it wasn’t a problem.

At one point on the drive we got a bit lost and Mr. Daly pulled out the map scrunched in beside his seat and asked me to find the highway from Midleton to Shanagarry, which is the closest little village to Ballymaloe. I told him it was R629. Or R632.

“Well, which is it then?”

I told him either one would get us there.

“Yes, but, damnit, which do we want?”

And just at that moment, Mr. Daly saw a wee sign pointing towards Shanagarry and that’s the road we took, whatever it was.

Here’s the thing about Ireland: Everyone gets lost. Even professional drivers who’ve been driving these back roads for 20 years, like Mr. Robert Daly. The thing is that most of the roads are just narrow country roads and every few miles there’s a Y in the road and seldom any signage so you tend to wander off one direction, realize it’s not right, and then backtrack and take the other fork in the road. As long as you’re not in a hurry (and we weren’t), it’s a lovely way to travel.

And it lets you see a bit of the countryside. The endless green fields, the black-faced sheep, the fairy trees. Mr. Robert Daly pointed out several of the latter to us. And what, you may ask, are fairy trees? They’re lone trees, usually on a mound in the middle of a field, that, legend has it, is home to the little people. And out of superstitious belief, they’re seldom if ever cut down. Because who would want to destroy the home of a leprechaun?

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