I had spent two whole weeks living the slow life in the Belgian countryside. My friend David and his wonderful family had welcomed me in as their own, sharing family meals and good conversation. Life was easy and lovely.
Finally, though, it was time to hit the road again and start my UK trip. I felt recharged and ready for the adventures ahead. So on to Ireland I went. I had no idea what to expect. Would I go hiking in Ireland? Perhaps. But more than likely, I was in for a lot of Guinness and new friends.
Despite having decided to venture ahead at a slow pace, I raced along, graced with the presence of the incredible generosity of the Irish.
The first day, having skipped over the big city of Dublin entirely, granted me a hot meal over good conversation. Next, a new friend went far out of his way to bring me to my destination, Dingle. Sure, I missed some awesome places like Mayo County, but I’ll be back!
After exploring the Dingle Peninsula (and many other spots like the Cliffs of Moher) with my new French friends, I hit the road once more. And here, the stories began.
A man picked me up, passing me a bottle of apple cider vinegar as he began to tell me of his days hitchhiking Canada, forty long years ago.
A man gave him a ride the thousands of kilometers from Toronto to Vancouver, buying him meals and beers along the way, much like my own travels in Canada.
At the end of the long journey, the man giving him a lift turned to him: “You know, there are no free lunches,” he stated.
“Oh god,” my friend thought. “He’s driven me all this way, given me so much, what does he want for it?”
His ride continued: “For every mile I’ve driven you, you owe five miles. For every meal I’ve bought you, you owe five.” And on it went.
And here he was, still paying off the best debt you can owe.
“It’s not the first time he’s brought hitchhikers home.”
After a nice meal of chickpeas straight from the can (an everyday meal) overlooking the ocean in the beach town of Kilkee, I thought I’d try for one last ride in order to find a good place to camp.
A man in his 70s pulled over, and I explained my plan. “Today’s your lucky day,” he told me. “You can camp in my yard.” I gleefully hopped in, and he called the wife to let her know.
Shortly after we arrived at his home, his wife, her brother, and his wife turned up. They all looked at me a bit puzzled – as it turned out, they all thought he was kidding about bringing a hitchhiker home.
A few minutes later his wife came up to smiling. “This is not the first time he’s brought hitchhikers home!” They fed me tea and fresh bread before I went off to sleep.
The Accidental Visit
A man picked me up, and when I mentioned I was from Canada, he said he’d once been there… By accident.
I laughed. “How on earth does an Irishman accidentally end up in Canada?!”
“Think about it,” he smiled.
“You must have been visiting the States? Somehow took a wrong turn?”
He carried on with his story: “I was flying to New York City on my very first visit to the States. Suddenly there was an announcement on the plane: the twin towers had been hit. We were diverted to Gander Island, Newfoundland.”
This tiny island had thousands upon thousands of people on it for the next five days. There were obviously not enough hotels, so people stayed in big halls. The message was spread across the local news, telling locals that these accidental visitors of sorts didn’t have enough food. Well, that was enough for the Newfies; in they came with food aplenty, as they told the people who were stuck there that they were welcome to come to their homes for showers and such. They’re a special breed out there.
A couple of weeks before my arrival in Ireland, I messaged an Irish friend I met near the beginning of my travels in Broome, Western Australia. I didn’t think he’d be home, but thought he might have some recommendations for me.
He told me he’d be home in two weeks. He was in a detention centre, getting deported.
Now this same friend once told me another friend had stolen his pot of gold and gone back to Ireland. For some ungodly reason I believed him, and was thoroughly surprised to find both of them in Darwin when I visited a couple of months later.
Needless to say I was skeptical to believe him. On the one hand, this was the type of story he’d tell. On the other hand, this was exactly the type of situation he’d get into.
What I loved most was that he arrived home, having not told his family he was returning. No one was upset or telling him off for living in Australia illegally. No, everyone – myself included – thought it was ludicrous that someone had put their head where it didn’t belong, and reported him to immigration. He had indeed been messaging me from a detention center in Australia.
Normal Guy and Trippy Man
I had planned to hitchhike straight through Sligo, until the woman driving me to it told me a huge Irish music festival was going on. The streets were lined with people – mostly under the age of ten – playing traditional Irish music. It was beautiful.
After a couple of hours I decided to hitch on.
As I walked towards the highway, two men around my age stood outside of a camper van. One turned to me: “Are you headed out of town?”
“Yes, I am!”
“Would you like a lift?”
“I’d love one! Oh wait, what direction are you going? I’m headed towards Donegal.”
“We’re going north in that direction.”
I hopped in, ecstatic to have scored a ride before I even tried (which was actually not such a rarity in Ireland).
Let us call my two companions Normal Guy and Trippy Man.
Normal Guy was feeling sick due to being on the cider for four days straight, so Trippy Man handed him some sort of wheatgrass drink. He then handed me a cup of the same, as he played the harp beautifully on a ledge next to the river. I downed my delicious drink, and Trippy Man quoted some poetry to me.
Meanwhile, Normal Guy was not fond of the wheatgrass, and decided it was best to get back on the cider.
And so we drove up random back roads, myself and Normal Guy drinking ciders and hitting the pipe. I sat on a bed in the back, keeping the guitar and harp company, my view only slightly obstructed by the multitude of plants in the front.
We stopped to look at a beautiful and uniquely shaped mountain to one side, and a gorgeous ocean view to the other.
“Come over, I want to tell you a story,” said Trippy Man. He began to recount the tale of the people who lived peacefully for centuries on the island in our view.
The thing was, the way he spoke you really couldn’t tell – was this an ancient tale passed down for generations? Or was this actual history? I haven’t a clue, and it was neither the first nor last story of this sort.
How to even describe Trippy Man… He was straight out of a movie, but not one about this century. He was the sensitive poetic prince you fall in love with in the movie.
At one point he turned to me: “Would you like a wee kiss?”
“No,” I replied happily. I had anticipated that my brain would catch up with my mouth, giving some sort of polite follow up. But my brain decided nah, screw thinking.
This was by far not the first time I’d heard such a question, but this guy was different from the normal creeps to ask it. He was nice, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable in the least. But I still didn’t want to kiss him. No, unfortunately for him – the prince in the movie – I am far more partial to the rugged farm boy.
Eventually we parted ways, and I sat on the side of the road eating a can of beans and wondering: was this guy a douche, trying to impress? Or was he just an oddly magical creature?
Maybe some people can just be both.
A Political Name
I was hitchhiking to Derry after my night in Donegal. The signs all said Derry, though my map said Londonderry/Derry. I logically assumed they just shortened the name.
But as I left the Republic of Ireland, and entered Northern Ireland, the sign changed: Londonderry.
Between the couple of rides that got me there, a sign at the wall that encircled Londonderry/Derry, and a free art exhibit, I pieced it together a bit.
Northern Ireland, being part of the UK as opposed to separate as the rest of Ireland, has been quite the political place for a very long time. There are those who want Northern Ireland to rejoin the rest of Ireland, and those who want to be part of the UK. It’s a conflict of religion. Isn’t it always?
It seems the name was originally Derry, but the prefix London was added in the 1600s when the Brits sent some form of aid to the town. At least that’s what the sign said.
One ride told me he once had some Polish friends visiting the city, who asked a local where the Derry train station was. Despite it being very close by, they were told there was none.
They used the wrong name.
I figured I best call it Londonderry, as the signs within Northern Ireland had called it as such. Oddly, within the city, signs for tours and the like all had written “Londonderry/Derry”.
I was saying something in passing to a ride a couple hours later, and mentioned Londonderry. He stopped me as I spoke, not upset, but straightforward. “Don’t say that. It’s Derry.”
So if you ever find yourself in Londonderry/Derry, I suggest you don’t refer to it by name.
By the way, if you want an actual idea of what to do in Ireland, rather than my weird stories, check out this guide to Ireland. I’m unhelpful, I know.