Ireland 1969: On The Backroads

Stories from my first trip to Ireland: Part 2 of 5 – My memories of the rest of Day 1 are a blur, mostly lost in the clouds of time and controlled substances. I remember laughing a lot with my new friends and some sightseeing and hiking along the southern coast, but the specifics are beyond the vision of my mind’s eye. On the other hand, the memory of our evening misadventure is about as clear as could be 44 years later.

It was dark, the road was narrow, and we were lost. There was nothing along the road – no signs, no lights, no hints of where we might find a place to stay for the night. And we urgently needed a bio break. In the dim beam of the headlights Ralph spied a wide, weedy spot on the side of the road a few feet ahead just big enough for our car. As he pulled over we dropped off the road into a ditch, which was hidden by the tall, thick weeds.

We carefully climbed out to survey our predicament. The wheels on the driver’s side were in the ditch, the other two were still on the road.

Before we had a chance to figure out what to do, a car pulled alongside with a family on their way home from their Sunday excursion. The driver offered to help by dropping his family off at their farm less than a mile away and coming back in his tractor to pull us out.

Before he could return, it looked like half the county had learned of our plight and stopped by to lend a hand. Actually two hands, each. Three strapping Irish lads even bigger than me (and I was pretty strapping myself) climbed into the ditch and lifted the rear end of the car onto the road, then the front.

As the front end plopped back on the road, the first farmer arrived on his tractor. He seemed genuinely disappointed that he was no longer needed, so he invited us home for a spot of tea and some toast before we continued on our way.

It was a simple place, tidy and cozy. Photos of the Pope and JFK hung on the wall. While we sat at their modest table drinking tea and eating toast, the farmer and his wife hovered behind us, the better to keep our teacups and plates filled.

I was a callow youth in those days, focused on little more than my appetites and pleasures, but I still remember how touched I was by their warmth and hospitality. We were scruffy strangers, foreigners, but that made no difference as they scurried around serving us extra helpings of tea and toast and fussing over Judy, my hitchhiking partner (I now remember her name), who was not feeling well.

By then it was too late to find a place to stay for the night. They apologized that they couldn’t offer beds for all four of us, but they did move their oldest daughter to the sofa to make room for Judy and invited John, Ralph and me to bed down for the night in our car parked in their driveway.

A few minutes later I was curled up in the back seat of the car thinking about what an extraordinary day it had been, marked by beautiful scenery and some of the warmest, friendliest people I had ever met.

And it was just my first night on the backroads of Ireland in the momentous summer of 1969.