I usually head for Gormanston a few days early so I can spend time with some old friends in Ireland. They used to be at Urlingford on the Kilkenny/Tipperary border and on a convenient bus route but have recently moved to Co Galway in the middle of nowhere. We arranged that I would catch the bus from the airport to Ballinasloe and they would pick me up from there. I would ring to say which bus I was on; first or second.
I got there in time to catch the first bus and tried to ring to say so. No signal at all for my phone! I’m on the “3” network and they claim to have lots of cover. I shall have a whinge at them when I can. The bus got to Ballinasloe about 20 minutes late, despite there having been no obvious hold ups. Nobody was there to meet me. I hung around the bus stop outside The Duck. The landlady kindly brought me a cup of tea and allowed me to make space for it in the premises.
I chatted with a girl at the bus stop. She kindly used her phone to ring my friend’s number. Unobtainable! The second bus came along, also about 20 minutes late as had been those going in the opposite direction. I waited until 5 and then decided I’d better start hitching. I had no idea of the local geography and so bought a map. Williamstown, my friends’ nearest village was about 40 km away and there was no obvious direct route. I asked a local who advised going via Roscommon as there would be more traffic.
I towed my suitcase about a mile and a half (I’d like to shake the hand of the man who first thought of putting wheels on the bottom of suitcases), thumbing all the way to no avail. I ran out of pavement and stood for about an hour with nobody stopping, although several drivers indicated that they were turning off. I thought I might be benighted, as the day was gloomy and lots of drivers had their headlight on, so I considered seeking shelter in one of the many derelict buildings scattered about the area, but before doing so started to retrace my steps back up the hill to where there might be a better hitching place.
I paused outside a smart new bungalow and a lady popped out and offered me a cup of tea! She had seen me hitching earlier as she drove home. I explained my situation and she invited me in. She introduced me to her 8 year old son, Terry, and his friends. She told Terry that, despite her warnings that he should beware of strangers, here was a man he could trust!
The lady, Doreen McGowan, introduced me to her husband, Paul and directed him to take me to my destination! But first I was fed on pizza and chips with the children. Terry is a budding poet and read me some stuff he has been doing at school and I riposted with one of my own that I had recited at the Blood Donors’ presentation evening a couple of days earlier. I dug in my suitcase and found a jar of honey that had been destined for my friends’ daughter, Lucy and had her name on it, but I gave it to Doreen instead and she fed spoonfuls of it to the kids.
Paul drove me to Williamstown, but there was no sign for Pollaneyster, the townland where my friends live. Luckily I had looked on google maps. The satellite photos of the area are very blurred but the little walking man had let me explore the street and I recognised the turn off when I saw it. We drove down that way for maybe half a mile and then we saw a sign to St Patrick’s Well which had been mentioned as being close by so we turned down that way. After a few hundred yards I recognised a blue Austin A40! Problem solved.
My friends have bought a dilapidated bungalow (with swallows nesting inside!) and bumble bees in a wall and until they make it habitable and extended are living in a mobile home. I slept in the back of a camper van. During my brief stay I helped lay concrete, a new job for me, and also to herd horses. That was interesting. Young Lucy is to have a new horse and we went the couple of miles to collect it, a pretty grey mare with a foal at foot. Tracey led the mare on a halter while I followed on behind the foal. After about a mile there was a sudden whinney from a field next to the road and a large, hairy, stallion burst through his fence with obvious amorous intentions for the mare! Tracey could see up the road that there was a lady walking down with a pram, so with great presence of mind, turned the mare back the way we had come and released her. She and the foal galloped away into the distance with the stallion in hot pursuit and me following on, while Tracey tried to find the owner of the stallion.
I caught up with them after about half a mile where they were stood, the stallion probably having had his wicked way. John was coming up the road and blocked it with his transit van. We waited until Tracey appeared with the owner and then retraced our steps back to the field whence came the stallion. It was unlikely that we would be able to separate the horses without bloodshed so it was decided that the mare and foal should stay there for a couple of days. The delighted stallion immediately had his way again. It looks as if Lucy will end up with 2 horses instead of one!
I spent about 3 days there and during that time didn’t see a single honeybee although there was plenty of suitable forage. I did notice that I saw more swallows in one day there than I had seen all year in England, lots more insects too, probably because of the non-intensive agriculture, moisture, wild flowers and horse shit everywhere!
My next blogs will be more about Gormanston and bees. I the meantime, if any reader is within reach of Ballinasloe, please drop a jar or comb of honey on the doorstep of Paul and Doreen McGowan for me.