Every once in a while, two cars will come from both directions and I have to quickly determine who will get there first, so I know which side of the road to run over to first. Occasionally, all of our timelines would bring us together simultaneously on a road too narrow for all three of us. If I had the option, I’d shove my body into thorny hedges or grab hold of a fence to let them pass, other times they’d be forced to stop and take turns going around.
A man stopped beside me and rolled down his window. “Need a lift?”
“No. Actually, I’m walking across Ireland, so I can’t take any ride or that’d be cheating,” I said smiling. “But I appreciate the offer.”
Another car stopped behind him, but he either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
“I’m only going to Ballyronan,” he said. “Just a couple of kilometers. You wouldn’t be cheating that much.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I have to walk,” I said.
"You should stay in the right lane, it's safer," he said and pulled away.
"Not when you're walking up a hill," I said to myself. The rain fell harder.
If I could just take a minute to address both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. You have two great countries here, nobody would deny that. And if someone did I would proudly defend you and be able to cite many examples of your greatness. However, lets be honest, you need wider roads.
I’m not asking for much, another half a meter on each side would be enough. Some of your roads aren’t even wide enough for two cars. You see why that is dangerous, right? On one occassion, I was walking down a country road with tall hedges on each side when a tractor, wide enough to scrape the hedges on both sides, came toward me. I had to sprint toward a gate to get to safety like the fat kid in Stand By Me trying to outrun the train.
You’re already sending the construction workers out to do the work, just give them a tiny bit more to do. If I can’t implore you to do at least that, maybe don’t allow walls of thorny hedges to grow on each side of your roads, which trap walkers like rats scuttling around in a laboratory maze. Also, enough with the blood pudding. It’s gross.
Anyway, so I'm heading to the next town of Ballyronan. Another car passed me then I saw break lights. The guy driving leaned out the window, “Want a lift?”
“No, that’s alright,” I said. “I’m walking across Ireland.”
“I can take you to the next town, so you don’t have to walk in the rain,” he said.
When I got to Ballyronan, I looked for a place to get out of the rain. I saw a sign for The Cove Bar. I was certain this was the bar Phelim, the man who let me use his WiFi the day before in Ardboe, said his cousin owned. I walked in, set my wet pack by the door, and took a seat in a booth.
I needed to order something in exchange for the shelter, but alcohol was out of the question. I was still hungover from last night’s Rockstock.
The bartender walked over to my booth. He looked young enough to be carded at pubs in the states. “Are you Ryan,” he said.
“Yeah,” I was confused.
“This is for you.” He handed me a cordless phone.
“How would anyone even know I was here?” I thought.
I put the phone up to my ear as slowly as someone peaking around a corner to see if their attackers were still pursuing me.
“Hello?” I said.
“Hello, Ryan. This is Philem,” the voice on the phone said. “So I see you made it to The Cove Bar. I thought you were going to be there yesterday.”
“Phelim, hi! Well I ended up being invited to stay with a family just a couple miles outside town.”
“Are you going to stay in Ballyronan tonight, Ryan?” he asked.
“Yeah I think so,” I said. “It’s raining and today’s my birthday, so I kind of wanted to be in a town tonight.”
“Okay,” Philem said. “Hey Ryan, put the barman back on the phone for me.”
I walked the phone up to the bar. “He wants to talk to you.”
I wondered if Philem had been calling repeatedly for the past two days to see if I arrived yet, or if this was just some kind of coincidence. They talked for few minutes then the bartender hung up the phone and set it on the bar.
“So, he said to tell you that anything you want in the bar tonight is on the house.” He looked a little confused as to why. “Also, he asked me to show you the room upstairs. If you want to stay there tonight you’re welcome to it.”
“Umm, really? Wow,” I said. “And yeah, I would love to have a room tonight.” I will always take a roof on a rainy day.
|(Photo: Rooster showing me how to fold a towel|
so it looks like a turkey.)
“What can I get for you? It’s all on the house," he said. "Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?"
“Go ahead and get started on his first beer,” he said to the younger bartender who looked at me to confirm.
“Make it a Guinness,” I said. My body, still hungover and unstable, is going to hate me for this.
“So, who are you?” the older bartender said, eyeing me suspiciously.
“No, I mean like, who are you? Why the special treatment?”
“I’m just walking across the country.”
“Nah,” he shook his head. “You have to be someone else. Are you in the military? You’re carrying around that big pack. You must be military.”
“No, I’m just walking.”
“Well, this is your bar tonight,” he said. “I’m Rooster. If you need anything let me know.”
I sipped my Guinness slowly. My recovering head and stomach were in disbelief. “I’m sorry guys, but it’s free!”
Rooster and a few other people in the bar ordered Chinese food and had it delivered. He asked if I’ve ever had Irish Chinese food, which he claimed wasn’t like American Chinese. He put a plate down in front of me and scooped a little of everything onto it.
The younger bartender brought out another Guinness. Later, Rooster made us both a drink that tasted like lemon and black licorice. "It will be okay stomach. Hang in there. You can do this."
|(Photo: Phelim and I)|
“Yes they did. And thank you. This is unbelievable.”
Phelim and I talked for a little while about his life in Northern Ireland. The more I got to know him and his wife, the more I like them. And it’s clear from the people I’ve talked to in the community that Phelim and Ann are highly respected. A few days later, I mentioned them to someone who lives in the area and they said, “Those two are so lovely!”
|(Photo: Whiskey and Cupcakes)|
I can't believe it either, trust me.
Suddenly, the lights went out. I looked around to see what was going on. From behind the bar walked the owner's wife with two cupcakes on a plate with lit birthday candles on top. Then everyone in the bar starting singing Happy Birthday to me.
After enjoying my whiskey and birthday cupcakes, a grouping of words you’ll rarely see together, I went to the table where Phelim and his family were sitting.
|(Photo: Ann did not want to be photographed)|
“Oh, so that’s how he knew I was here. I wondered.” Mystery solved.
On two more occasions, they tried to buy me more whiskey, but I had to be done drinking for the day… or perhaps the rest of the year. People were starting to wind down anyway. Even Rooster had passed out somewhere in the back. Phelim and his family went home and I went upstairs to my room.
|(Photo: The owners of The Cove Bar in Ballyronan)|
I don’t know that I deserved all of this special treatment, but I am so thankful for it. Thank you so much to Phelim, his family, and all the people at The Cove Bar. I've been lucky to have met so many great people while travelling, but I had to travel to Ireland to know how great people can be.