From Cork to Kinsale with Allison (Whose Birthday It Is Today)

We were headed for Kinsale. We were very close, only 20 or so miles away. We knew our way to Cork, and after that, all we knew was: we needed to head almost directly south. And there would be Kinsale.

In our dreams.

I was Driver at that point, and Allison was Navigator. It was dark. It was about 6:00 pm and I had promised Jimmy at the B&B in Kinsale that we would be there by 7, because he had to leave at 7. Cork, obviously, is a city, and I found that driving in the city wasfar more stressful than a long inter-county roadway, even with all the roundabouts. So we pretty much promptly got lost. We didn’t know where we were, or how to get where we were going, etc. I also had to pee. So I did a blasted RIGHT HAND TURN and we pulled into a gas station.

Allison asked a young guy pumping gas for directions. (One thing: The Irish are incapable of giving bad directions. We got absolutely awesome directions from no matter who we asked … but this particular time was parTICularly good.)

So the young guy started telling Allison where she needed to go to get to Kinsale, and then almost immediately stopped himself. “My mother’s inside – we should wait for her to come out. She’s great at directions.”

Boy, was she ever.

We did not realize just how sterling her directions actually were until we were on the road again, and at every single point when we could have been confused, then there would come the landmark she had told us about beforehand.

“Wait – where are we?”
“Oh … there’s the river and the trees … she told us we’d see that when we came round the bend … this is the right way …”

She drew us an awesome map.

Her son hung around with us, too, validating his mother. “Yeah, that’s right … then you go through the Tunnel … right …” Earlier that week, a couple of Americans driving on the wrong side of the road had crashed into a Minister of Parliament’s car. The Americans were badly hurt. Everyone we spoke to during our trip referenced “the Americans who crashed into the Minister of Parliament”, and the lady at the gas station was the first.

We stood by the gas pumps, as she drew her map, all of us chatting up a storm: and how did we find it driving on the other side of the road, then, and where had we been and what were our plans … We also chatted quite a bit about what she called “the hairy roundabout” which would be coming up ahead of us. She gave us profuse warnings about “the hairy roundabout”, which we needed to go through to get to Kinsale. It was south of Cork, and apparently hundreds and hundreds of cars have crashed there, and she made it sound like hellatious chaos: We had to get ourselves into a certain lane, otherwise we would get stuck in the roundabout forever, etc.

As we stood around the car, and she walked us through the directions, another car drove up. She glanced up and waved. Informed us, “That’s my husband.” Then another car pulled up to one of the other pumps, she waved to the driver of THAT car, and informed us, “If I weren’t married to my husband, I’d be married to him.”

And one by one, all of these various people – her son, her husband, and the guy she’d be married to if she wasn’t married to her husband, joined our little coterie.

Our ring-leader woman would introduce us to every new arrival: “These 2 American girls are trying to get to Kinsale …”

Every new arrival informed us of the “Americans crashing into the Minister of Parliament”. And every new arrival put the fear of God into us about “the hairy roundabout”.

More suggestions came in, adding, clarifying, until we had the most specific set of directions EVER GIVEN for a mere 20 mile drive. She even gave us emotional directions for “the hairy roundabout”:

“Just stay calm … stay calm … get yourselves in the right lane, and stay calm …”

Allison and I drove off waving hail and farewell to all of our new-found friends. At the gas station in Cork.

After making our way successfully through the “hairy roundabout” (and yes, it did require that we stay calm, that shit was SCARY), we started to see signs, finally, for Kinsale. Our destination. We had time constraints: Jimmy needed to go somewhere at 7, and so we needed to reach the B&B before then. I assumed he was meeting friends for pints, or whatever, but this ended up NOT being the case, and in light of what he actually needed to do, I am tremendously glad that we made it there in time.

Allison drove us to Kinsale, after we left our new best friends at the gas station in Cork. The road was a two-way road, and yet … by US standards, the road was only big enough to be a one-way road. Thankfully, everyone still pretty much drives teeny cars over there, an SUV on this road would be an utter disaster. The headlights shrieked up at us through the dark, the road was winding, it was night-time … we were a bit stressed.

But then, at last, Kinsale. I could smell the salt air when I rolled down the window, so I knew we were very close. We still needed to find our way to Jimmy’s B&B, but from our street map of Kinsale the Town, it seemed like a pretty wee place, not too difficult to navigate.

It was now 6:50.

We immediately found ourselves in the middle of town, which … I mean, we had heard about the quaintness and the beauty of Kinsale … but the reports of its beauty were under-played. It is one of the sweetest prettiest places I have ever seen. However, we could not ogle the sights, or the harbor, because we had to find Jimmy. Time was running out.

Randomly, we took a left-hand turn, and as we both glanced to our right, we saw an odd sight. We saw a line of people stretching down the sidewalk. There had to be hundreds of people (not an exaggeration) clustered along the street, all standing in line. But for what?

Allison wondered, “Is that a night-club or something?”

But … it was only 6:51? A line into a nightclub at 6:51? In Kinsale?

We left that mystery behind us, drove around for a bit, on streets that were teeny, lined with shops, sudden curves, sudden hills, all adorable, but confusing, and no street signs.

At last, we asked a couple of people for directions. True to form, they gave us AWESOME directions that led us directly to Jimmy’s door. They knew Jimmy. Of course they did.

The B&B was right next to a massive Catholic church, and we parked in the church parking lot. It was 7:01. I could see a man standing in the golden glow of lamplight coming out of the open door of the B&B. “That’s Jimmy!” I cried. There was a wintry breath in the air, the bite of the nearby water. There was a sharp feeling in the atmosphere, different from the wild windy energy of the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough from where we had just come, where I had made out in the middle of the night in the medieval Glendalough graveyard with Peter, the Dublin journalist, for mouth-bruising HOURS, as the wind careened down upon us through the Wicklow Gap, high and shrieking.

The moon over Kinsale was high, and waxing. Soaring above the church.

Allison and I left our bags in the car and ran up the steps of the B&B, apologizing to Jimmy. “We are so sorry – we truly thought we would be here at 7!”

Jimmy, of course, was lovely, kind, understanding. “I know how it is … time when you’re traveling and all that …”

He said to us, “There’s a funeral next door tonight at 7 … A local guy died, so I’m going to go over to go to the funeral, and I’ll be back in about half an hour…”

Good Lord, I felt like an ass. I had assumed he was maybe going out with friends. Instead, he had to go to a funeral. Jesus.

I said, “God, I am so sorry.”

“Oh, no problem, Sheila, no problem … You’re fine parked where you are. Why don’t you bring your bags in now, so that you won’t have to walk through the procession …”

I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but Allison and I went back to our car, shivering in the night-cold, to grab our bags.

And then came the procession.

The “procession” was the huge crowd of people we had seen in the center of town.

We found out later that what happened was: they all gathered at the funeral home, down on Market Street, and then walked, as a group (and we are talking about 300 people) up to the church.

Allison and I didn’t feel right walking through the funeral procession with our bags, so we stood back, in the shadows, and just watched.

It was cold enough to see everyone’s breaths. The hearse had led the way, and then stopped outside the church. The procession, which filled the street in front of the B&B, and then curved away out of sight and down the hill, stood quietly, stamping in the cold, hands in pockets, clouds of frosty breath in the air. There were old people, little children, there were couples holding hands, there were teenagers with their parents. Everyone was there.

The coffin was lifted out of the hearse, and the pall-bearers lifted it up over their heads, so that it appeared to float through the air, and then they walked it up the long ramp into the lit-up brick church.

The procession didn’t move. Neither did we.

We had come across a private moment. The private moment of this small community. The inner life of the small town revealed to us, outsiders. A rarity indeed. We didn’t want to intrude, or break it up, or ignore it. We just watched.

When the gleaming coffin had floated its way into the church, the procession started to move. And that’s when we really saw how many people there were. The line just kept coming from around the corner, as everyone walked up the steps and into the church for the funeral. More people just kept coming, silently, respectfully, maybe you would hear the chatter of a child here and there, but for the most part … silence.

Obviously a well-loved man. Jimmy told me all about him later. He was only 62, he was a musician, and played with a number of local bands. He hadn’t even been sick, but apparently he fell down over the summer, and X-rays revealed that he was riddled with cancer. Nothing to be done at that point, really … and he died in November. Sad.

Allison and I kept coming back to that procession, over the rest of our journey. “Member the funeral in Kinsale?” We felt that we had witnessed something very special, very private. I felt honored to be there, but also a little bit like … it wasn’t something for us to witness. All we could do was stand back, and not intrude.

It was a town mourning its dead, with throngs and throngs and throngs of quiet chilly people coming up the hill, around the corner, up the hill, around the corner, up the hill, into the church … in an endless flood.

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2 Responses to From Cork to Kinsale with Allison (Whose Birthday It Is Today)

  1. PaulH says:

    Kinsale is a lovely town – truly beautiful. My maternal grandfather was from around those parts, and County Cork is one of my favourite places in the world. Did you get further west – to Cape Clear, or Bantry Bay?

    I love the image of all those people giving highly specific directions to two American girls – such an Irish scene.

    One day, I was having lunch in O’Donovan’s Hotel in Clonakilty, sitting by a window. Just outside a large lorry carrying scaffolding poles had become stuck trying some manoeuvre in the narrow street. The driver got out to see what his options were. A couple of  people walking by stopped to give him advice on what he should do. More people stopped, more advice. Eventually, all the drivers, who were now stuck as well because they couldn’t get past the lorry, got out of their cars and added their opinions to the debate. A near-by pub emptied as the occupants came out, glasses in hand, to offer their view on how to unstick a lorry from a narrow street. By this time there was a group of about 25 people all giving differing advice. This group then split into smaller groups as each debated the various merits of the various plans. At no time did anyone show any impatience. The poor lorry driver was trying hard to take on board all points of view. After about quarter of an hour, during which the entire town had ground to a halt because the traffic wasn’t flowing, the matter was ultimately sorted out when the car drivers organised a mass reverse, allowing the lorry to back into a side street. Wonderful lunchtime entertainment.

  2. sheila says:

    Paul – Oh my God that lorry story. Hilarious!

    You get so used to impatient nasty people in this world and it’s so relaxing to go to a place where that really isn’t a factor in the culture – at all.

    On this particular trip with Allison – after Kinsale (and we parked ourselves there for about 3 days – we just couldn’t leave!) we drove on to the Cliffs of Moher and then up through the Burren to Galway.

    When my family was there when we were kids, we did that whole Western coast – Dingle and all that – one of the most beautiful places on earth!!

    I’ve always wanted to go back to Kinsale. It was lovely being there off-season too. We were there right around this time of the year, so it was really only locals in town. And us.

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