We happened on Doolin by chance--flew into Shannon, rented a car, and headed west. By early afternoon our jet-lagged bodies were aching for a rest. We crested a hill and saw this town spread out below. Here's where we stop, I said. It felt like what I had been searching for my whole life.
Doolin is much busier these days, and has gained an international reputation for its traditional music. Gus O'Connor's Pub packs them in year round, and when Doug and I were there a few summers ago we couldn't even get in the door.
But in that wet early spring of 1990, things were very quiet. Lila and I stayed in Doolin for two nights, and both nights there was just a scattering of people there, eating stew and brown bread and listening to the music. The bartender was a friendly guy, teasing us about our pathetically short stay of only ten days.
That first day, I was about as happy as I'd been. We hiked the hills, trying to find the Cliffs of Moher, and got hopelessly lost. Eventually a green postman's van pulled up and the driver asked if we needed a lift into town. We're trying to find the Cliffs of Moher, I said.
Ah, you're from America, he said. Get in. And as he drove us up the narrow lanes to the cliffs, he told us stories about the people who lived in the area. Doolin Castle, he said, was owned by a rich American, and while people didn't much like that, they were more concerned with the Japanese, who had been approaching local farmers around the cliffs area, asking to buy up their land.
I have been to the cliffs since, and there were bagpipers and a gift shop and lines of people along the pathway, selling arts and crafts. But that overcast day in 1990 there was nothing like that at all--just one modest roadsign that said "Cliffs of Moher," and a small stone cottage where you could get tea. And the cliffs--high and soaring, absolutely vertical, with gulls wheeling near the sea below.
The postman told us which road to take for our hike back to town, and we made it back to Doolin with no trouble and in plenty of time for music.
This was what I had come for--the landscape, the walking, the music, the small town, the cliffs and the gulls, the rain, and the friendly talkative people we met by chance.
As we nursed our beers that evening in Gus O'Connor's pub, I was drowsy with contentment. It was right about then that Lila turned to me and said, "OK, we've done the small town. Now let's go to a big city."
This is the same story I told you yesterday--different location, same theme. It was the constant theme of our trip, the push-pull of expectations. Lila wanted the city; I wanted the village.
Let's go to Waterford and buy crystal, she kept saying. (She was about to be married, and apparently that meant she required fancy glassware.) One afternoon I opened up the Irish Timees to see the headline, "WATERFORD WORKERS ON STRIKE." I convinced her that going to Waterford to buy crystal would be tantamount to crossing a picket line, and she agreed that that was something we could not do.
So instead, she pushed for Dublin. I told her there was no way I could drive from west Clare to Dublin, across the country, and then back again, in the amount of time that we had. And there was no way I could drive our little rental car--which stalled frequently, due to my complete lack of understanding of the mechanics of the manual choke--in the city.
So we got out a map and studied it, and she said, "OK, Killarney. Let's go to Killarney." And I had no good reason to say no.
(to be continued)
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