Article By Katie Marion, Mary Martinez and Mary O’Neill (only Posted by Allan Friedman)
When we look back on that trip to Ireland in the summer of 2004, everything about it exceeded our expectations.
The weather was mostly sunny and warm although we had been prepared for rain. The people, often described as friendly were more than that. They were kind and warm with a more genuine appreciation of Americans than any of the other EU countries any of us had visited. But our most vivid memories of the trip were the days we spent with Phil O’Reilly and Tod Moore.
Initially the trip was planned by and included Mary M., Mary O. and Tod. Lucky for us though, Katie decided to join us and booked at the last minute. Phil, who was visiting family in Ireland, was going to try to meet up with us along the way.
Some people reading this article never had the opportunity to meet Phil. Tod, however, was in every one of your living rooms. He was the baritone voice of the Jolly Green Giant saying, “Ho, ho, ho!” throughout our childhoods.
The first week we spent cycling in Western Ireland. After meeting up in Leenane the four of us Tod, Mary O., Mary M., and Katie, headed Southeast. The riding was easy, the company was great; we got used to riding on the left and made our counterclockwise circuit of Co. Galway. The four of us even took an excursion over to the Aran Islands. The 1,200 inhabitants of the Aran Islands primarily speak Gaelic. Phil joined us a couple days later in Cong, where John Wayne’s, "The Quiet Man" was filmed.
It never occurred to us that Phil and Tod might not get along so well. We always thought they had more in common than not. Very much like Phil, Tod was of the mind that if the route was more than 30 miles to your destination, there simply wasn’t enough time to spend taking in the sights and talking to the people. Both had years of experience in getting groups of cyclists from one point to another safely and enjoyably. They could handle the silliest questions with patience and just about any mechanical or logistical problem with ease. Each had a unique sense of humor and loved to tell stories. So we were a little surprised when there was some tension the first day that Phil rode with us. All of us girls however relished having the attention of such distinguished gentlemen.
Granted, Tod had this routine that could have annoyed anyone as spontaneous as Phil. We’d stop in a pub for a leisurely lunch, which for Tod consisted of a beer and a salad, get to our destination and find our lodging so he could take a nap. But before taking his nap he would wash out his one pair of cycling shorts and jersey, wring them out in a towel and hang them on a bannister or the handlebar of his bike, with the pad out, to dry. Then, by dinnertime, he’d be rested and ready to walk around town.
Also, we don’t think Tod wanted to share his follower audience (Mary M., Mary O. and Katie) with Phil. He had to adjust quickly because by the time Phil met up with us he was overflowing with stories about his family in Ireland.
The first story to come out was his adventure driving SAG for his cousin Pauline’s barefoot pilgrimage up Croach Patrick which is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland. The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption. The natives thought he was a little crazy to be following her in a car and he seemed totally bewildered that someone would walk up a mountain barefoot.
Being in Ireland seemed to bring back memories of his first trip there to find his relatives after his military service in Vietnam. His father would not tell him where to find his relatives. He was embarrassed because Phil had long hair and a beard. Nevertheless, Phil located his relatives. They were happy to meet him and get to know him. He stayed longer than he had planned and when he finally decided to leave they insisted that he go to confession before traveling home. Apparently, they all followed him to the church and waited outside while he made his confession.
It didn’t take long for the tensions to ease and everyone was enjoying the trip until the one rainy, cool day. By mid-morning we were miserable and ready to find a warm café. We found what would pass for a truck stop here. Hot coffee! Heaven! So, we went in and found a booth. Then, Phil started giggling. We looked up and Tod was rubbing his back against the plush upholstery of the booth trying to dry his shirt off. It seemed to become a contest between Tod and Phil to see who could find the best way of drying themselves off without alerting the wait staff. First one would turn and rub his side against the booth while pretending to talk to the person sitting next to him, and then the other one would try to find a way to dry his leg off. It was hilarious!
Much too soon we were back in Leenane and the weeks bike trip was over. We said goodbye to Tod who was returning to the U.S. He'd been in Germany to scout a ride along the Danube prior to meeting us in Leenane. The rest of us followed Phil to his cousin Pauline’s house in Roscommon which was on the way to Dublin, our next planned stop.
Phil wanted us to meet Pauline, her husband, Christopher and their three kids, Daryl, Lorraine and Rachel. They were as warm and wonderful as Phil had described them, moving the kids out of their rooms to put us up. So what did we do to repay them for their hospitality? We took the kids to the local grocery store and it was just as Phil had predicted. Supermarket Sweep Irish Edition! There were two full shopping carts when we were finished. It was so much fun. The kids pulled stuff off the shelves, toilet paper, tea, meat, produce and biscuits, each time asking Phil if it was okay and he’d say, “Sure! Yes!” laughing the whole time. Pauline made us dinner. There, in the center of the table was the biggest platter of potatoes that any of us Yanks had ever seen. In fact, the potatoes WERE the main course!
Later, when we were sitting in the living room, the church bells sounded and the kids got on their knees and prayed the Angelus. (The Angelus is a prayer which so many of us have forgotten or don't know how to pray.) We watched Gaelic Football (which looked more like soccer to us) on the Telly and the two little girls gave us women makeovers, it was too funny. When one of the girls looked over her shoulder and asked, "Isn't she lovely?" As only Phil could, looking at Mary M., he said, "You look like a bag lady."
Somewhere in there Mary M. played “football” with the kids outside in the rain while the rest of us stayed indoors drinking hot toddies -- a drink made of lemon, honey and whiskey. But when Mary M. and the kids finally did come in, she was more than ready to drink the hot toddy that Christopher whipped up for her. Saturday night we went to the pub and Sunday morning, to Church. Phil was in his element. He kept saying we could pass for Irish, even Mexi-Rican, Mary Lou Martinez.
The first week bike riding in Connemara was, of course, all scripted and planned in advance. Nothing about the second week of our trip, however, was scripted or planned which made the days on the road special and memorable. Sharing them with Phil and Tod only made it all the better for us girls.