Duleek Fair Days

Had I been allowed to simply pass through the village of Duleek, once voted the friendliest town in Ireland, I would have made it to my next destination before nightfall. As it happens, due to a man named Gearoid and my new mission statement in life, I couldn't leave.

At the town center, I passed a sign that read, “Duleek Fair Day On the Green.” It wasn't until then that I noticed the stage and all the tarps setup for exhibits. I paused and considered having a longer look around, but decided I better get moving.

"Hello,” said a man who had been talking to someone in an orange T-shirt, the uniform for Fair Day volunteers. Later, I'd learn that his name is Gearoid, pronounced Gare-owed. He said a few more words to the man then turned back to me. “Where you from?" he asked. He had gray hair, but didn't seem that much older than me.

"Indiana, in the U.S." I said. “A couple hours from Chicago.” I’ve started mentioning Chicago to people after finding out that not everyone in Ireland is familiar with the geographic location of Indiana. Not too surprising since I've talked to people in the western United States who weren't exactly sure either.

 "Where you headed?” he said.

“I'm walking across Ireland," I said. "But I'm headed to Newgrange tonight." Newgrange is a prehistoric passage tomb about 6 miles north of Duleek, and one of the oldest buildings in the world, 500 years older than the pyramids.

"Walking across Ireland, really?" he said. "Will you be staying in town?"

“Uh, no. I’m going to try to get as close to Newgrange as possible, so I can see it first thing in the morning."

“Well before you leave, come sign our Visitor Book."

He led me to an old courthouse, the temporary home of the Fair Day Art Expo. A car stopped next to us with a man in an orange t-shirt behind the wheel. "Just one second," Gearoid said and walked to the passenger window, "This is Ryan, from Illinois. He's walking across Ireland."

I waved and waited while they talked Fair Day business.  "Sorry about that," he said.

"No problem." I said and we went inside the old courthouse. Paintings, drawings, and photography hung from a maze of partitions throughout the room. The plaster walls of the old courthouse were cracked and crumbling in parts, making the room look better, not worse. Beside the doorway, the visitor book sat opened on a podium.

"Can I set down my pack in here to have a look around?" I asked. "Tell you what, sign the visitor book, then I'll take you to the Fair Day office. You can set your pack in there and they'll get you a cup of tea."

I couldn't argue with that. Actually, of course I could have, but I'm trying hard to stick to my life's new mission statement. When presented with a fork in the road, I'll choose the path that will most likely lead to the best anecdote. I believe this will lead to a more interesting, and possibly more fulfilling, life. And if nothing else, we should all live for the anecdote, because we're all just anecdotes in the end.

I signed the book then noticed he went back outside to talk to volunteers. "Did you sign the book?" he asked.

"Yes I did."

“Alright, good man. I’ll take you over to the office and get you that tea.”

As we crossed the street, he turned and said, "We have to have a certain amount of foreigners in town to..." He waved it off as though it would take too long to explain or maybe he decided the middle of a busy street was not the best place to explain something.

The office was full of volunteers. Most were just returning from a rubber duck race on the river. They filed in and sat in chairs lined up against the walls. We stood in the middle of the room, in front of a wooden cow with rubber utters used for a cow milking competition.

“You can set your pack anywhere,” he said. I put it on the floor out of the way. "Can we get this man a cup of tea?”

"This is Ryan," he said to a woman in orange. He turned back to me, “From Idaho, is it?” His smile made me wonder if he was getting it wrong on purpose.

“Indiana,” I said.

"He's walking across Ireland,"

"Hi, I’m Regina. Are you staying in town for the fair?"

"If you can show me a place where I'm allowed to camp tonight, then I'll stay."

(Photo: Regina's place
"You can camp in my garden," Gearoid said. I've learned that garden in Ireland is what Americans would call a yard.

"Or you can sleep on my sofa if you want," Regina said.

As much as I love camping, Regina won. Gearoid left and a few minutes later I was sipping a steaming hot cup of tea with the weight of my pack off my shoulders. The volunteers in the room fielded me with questions, offered me chips and sausages and refills on tea. As usual, I was glad I took the path of the anecdote.

I asked Regina if there was anything I could do to help out. “Umm," she thought. "Well, you could judge the Bonny Baby contest tomorrow if you want."

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The Bonny Baby contest. The mothers bring out their babies and you just have to choose which one is the cutest,’ she said.

So yeah, being the path which would most likely lead to an anecdote, that happened, but I’ll save it for my next post.

Later, Regina introduced me to her partner Fernando, who recently moved here from Italy. Two years ago, he didn’t know any English, but on the short drive to their home, I had no problems understanding him. When we walked into his front door a woman was there to greet us.

“Hello, I’m Joan,” she said. Joan was Regina’s friend from school, who now resides in Northern Ireland. She was staying in their guest room while in town for the Duleek School reunion for pupils who attended the school during the 60’s and 70’s.

(Photo: Fernando, Regina, and a shiny-cheeked me)
Fernando showed me where I could leave my stuff, where I would sleep, and where I could take a shower if I wanted to. If I wanted to feel comfortable in their home, a shower needed to come first.

After cleaning up, I joined them in the dining room. Regina poured me a Guinness and soon after, a glass of whiskey.

“Who was that man who introduced us earlier?” I asked. I suspected he could have been the town’s mayor by how involved he was with the Fair, and I wanted to get it right on the blog.

“That was Gearoid,” she said. “That’s the Gaelic version of the name, Jared, is it? Or Gerard? He’s one of the fair organizers,” Later, he'd tell me he was also a local schoolteacher.

Regina and Joan left for the reunion and Fernando went back into town. They left me with a key and permission to eat and drink anything I wanted in the kitchen and use of their laptop and Internet access.

(Photo: The local pub)
“Everyone will probably be at the pub tonight if you want to join us,” Fernando said before heading out. “You don’t have to, but if you want, that’s where we’ll be.”

I sipped on my Guinness while updating the blog on their laptop and sending out a few emails and instant messages. When I got up to leave, I realized I forgot to drink my whiskey. I knocked it back in one shot. It warmed my throat. “Bwaaaaah. Wow. That’s really strong whiskey,” I said to the empty house then locked up and walked downtown.

When I crossed the street, I could hear the muffled sounds of the busy pub. Upon opening the door, sound burst into the streets like it had been dying to get out. A woman with a guitar, Annie M Powderly, was on a stage singing an American country song. People crowded up next the bar, drinking, laughing, and talking loudly into each other’s ears, so they could be heard over the music

I ordered a pint and took a seat at one of the empty tables near the stage. I scanned the room for familiar faces, but didn’t see any until halfway through my Guinness. Fernando and Gearoid walked in, ordered drinks, and sat at my table.

“I knew he was a foreigner," Gearoid said to Fernando. He had to lean toward him and yell to be heard. "So I wouldn't let him leave town until he signed our visitor book." He leaned toward me and said, "If we can draw at least twenty foreigners into town each year, we can qualify for this thousand Euro grant,” he smiled. “So there was a fifty euro bounty on your head!”

"How'd you know I was a foreigner?" I asked.

"You were walking," he said. "The Irish don't walk."

When our beer glasses were empty, Fernando bought us another round. We talked all night, actually we yelled into each other’s ears to be heard over the music all night.

“So Ryan, do you have any Irish roots?” Gearoid said.

“I think so, but it was so long ago that I don’t really know anything about them. My grandmother’s maiden name is Mahaney, which if you go back far enough in my family tree, came from Mahoney or the O’Mahoney family, which I’m told most likely came from Cork.”

“No," he shook his head. "You didn’t come from ‘Ma-HO-ney. Don’t tell anyone else that.”

I was confused, but so unsure about my Irish ancestry that I didn't have a good argument.

“Do you have a pen?” he asked.

I gave him one. He took a cardboard coaster from the table and wrote, “Póg Mo Thóin.”

“This is a Gaelic phrase, pronounced Pōg Mah Hone. It means—” He spoke the translation as he wrote it below Póg Mo Thóin on the coaster. “Kiss… my… ass.” He turned the coaster to face me. “So you can’t go tellin’ people you come from Mo-Hone-ee. You’re telling them you come from your ass!

(Photo: Gearoid and Frenando. Sláinte!)
“Alright, well how should I say it?”

“It’s MA-huh-nee,” he said. “Now say it back to me.”

“MA-huh-nee,” we said in unison.

Fernando bought us another round before I even realized I was getting low. Gearoid slid his new full pint over to me, not wanting the town to see their local schoolteacher “getting pissed in the pub.”

Afterwards, Fernando and I walked back to the house. More accurately, we stumbled back. Without turning on any lights, he went upstairs to go to sleep. In the living room, the decorative couch pillows had been pulled onto the floor and a quilt was spread out on top. A big fluffy white pillow sat on the far end. It may seem like a small detail, but it’s not every day that I get the privilege of a pillow.

I crashed into it and slept like I hadn’t slept for days.