All my life I have wanted to spend a holiday with someone whom I love. I never thought I would fall in love never mind fulfill a dream. With one exception, that being when I visited Ireland with my family, I have always been with the lads on fishing holidays. I admired the beautiful scenery but I could not share my feelings in the same way I hoped to with someone I cared for. It was all good and well fishing everyday but sometimes I yearned to just drive around and experience the beautiful scenery, but |I wanted to be with someone else who would appreciate it as well. Finally it happened. In 1999 I fell in love and in 2000 I spent a wonderful holiday with that person in Ireland.
As we drove down the hill into Westport, the sight of Croagh Patrick emerged as a far more impressive sight than I could ever imagine. Astrid kept saying, “Stop the car and take a photo from here”. Obstinate as ever I kept saying “We have all week to do it”. I was too clever, I had been to Ireland before! I was forgetting about adventure, the very reason I came to Ireland in the first place. I was conceited, verging on the arrogant, trying to be a tour guide instead of enjoying the holiday together with Astrid. It was only when we had to search for the key to our cottage that it dawned on me I was trying to be God almighty.
I felt pretty stupid when the realisation hit me. Here I was in Ireland with my friend from Holland who was saying “Look at dis, look at dat” with eyes wide open, and I was saying ” I know, I know” when I should have been “Yes, isn’t it wonderful”! Mr “Know it all” I was not. We went to the cottage where we were supposed to pick up the key and found nobody at home. I looked in through the tiny window into what looked to be the kitchen. There was a large pot boiling away on the ancient stove. I walked around the outbuildings shouting “Hello” and other intelligent phrases trying to find Peter McGreal, the man with the keys to our cottage. I felt a bit like James Herriot on one of his visits to a bleak Dales farm. “Mr McGreal” I shouted, “Is there anybody here” I enquired at the top of my voice. I went around one corner and found a pile of dead sheep. Well it was a very steep mountain and Ovine casualties are a fact of life, and after all, it was a farmyard. I swiftly about turned and returned to Astrid who was sat disbelieving on a patio wall at our own cottage looking out over Clew Bay.
James Thackeray (1842) said once of Clew Bay, “It was a miracle of beauty”, “From an eminence, I caught sight not only of a fine view, but of the most beautiful view I ever saw in the world, I think. The mountains were tumbled about in a thousand fantastic ways, and swarming with people. Trees, cornfields cottages made the scene indescribably cheerful; noble woods stretched towards the sea, and, abutting on them, between the two highlands lay the smoking town…But the Bay and the Reek, which sweeps down to the sea, and a hundred islands in it, were dressed up in purple and gold and crimson, with the whole cloudy west in a flame. Wonderful, wonderful”.
Well how can you follow that? Astrid still did not believe we were going to be spending a whole week in such beautiful surroundings and neither did I. The farmer, we were told, would be “somewhere around” as his farmland was on the vast mountainside. Ha! You should have seen the size of the mountain. He might have been away for days!
Eventually I found Peter McGreal, who was wearing the traditional Irish footwear of wellies covered in cowshit! He guided us through our holiday cottage. I couldn’t help thinking he should have taken off his wellingtons as he walked from room to room explaining which were the bedrooms, which was the bathroom and which was the kitchen! He was a dear man who no doubt had led a hard life and we took an instant liking to him. We had a little laugh later about our guided tour.
We had an orange plastic tulip (sold only in Holland for the 2000 European Championships) attached to the car aerial which seemed to attract Mr McGreal’s attention. “What make is der car?” he enquired, “A Ford Fiesta”, I replied. “Ah” he said, “A white one”, he observed. He walked slowly around the car twice before again focusing his attention on the tulip, “Oi’ wouldn’t moind dat when ye go” he said after a comprehensive inspection of the little car. He was too nice to refuse. We did indeed give him the orange tulip. So when you see a clapped out white VW Pickup with an orange tulip on the top anywhere on the road between Louisburg and Westport just remember where you first heard about it. After that we were left to our own devices for the whole week.