Ireland 1969: The Trip Begins

Stories from my first trip to Ireland: Part 1 of 5 — To use that travel writing cliché – one I use all too often myself – my first trip to Ireland in the summer of 1969 was memorable, though the memories are fuzzy and riddled with gaping holes.

I arrived in Dublin on the ferry from Wales after traveling around Scandinavia and England for about six weeks during my summer break. I was 27 years old, an assistant professor at a distinguished East Coast university, and as much a hippy as one could be and still have a “full time” job (as a university professor, “full time” was a bit of a stretch).

My plan was to hitchhike around Ireland for a couple of weeks, then head to Belfast to catch the overnight ferry to Glasgow. From there I would explore Scotland via raised thumb and a hopeful smile for the rest of my break before heading back to the US in time for the start of the fall semester.

On the ferry I met a woman (her name is lost in one of those gaping holes in my memory) and formed a hitchhiking partnership familiar to the hordes of shaggy hippies and near hippies in Europe that summer. My presence provided her with some protection, and her presence made me look less threatening to drivers in passing cars.

After a few days in Dublin, we decided to hit the road. It was Sunday, probably the worst day for hitchhiking in Ireland since every car was filled to the window cranks with families coming back from church or on a Sunday drive. After an exasperating three hours on the side of a highway on the outskirts of Dublin a beat up old car finally pulled off the road ahead of us.

As we climbed into the car, the two young guys in the front, about 18 or 19 years old, told us in an unmistakably American accent that they could only drive us a few miles since they had to be back in Dublin for dinner that evening with their Irish relatives. John and “Ralph,” (Ralph was also named “John” but to avoid confusion he had adopted a nom de trip) had just graduated from prep school in the States, they explained, and as a reward, their parents were treating them to a trip to Ireland to visit their aunts, uncles and cousins still residing in the old country.

The car was not part of their parents’ plan.  Looking for a bit more adventure than dinner with their relatives, they bought the car to cruise around on their own, and then sell it before heading home at the end of the summer.

We immediately hit if off, so those few miles turned into a couple of hours. We stopped to buy a bottle of wine and snacks and headed to a beach for an impromptu picnic. Soon Ralph pulled out the pot – it was the 60s — and we hid behind the dunes and toked away.

As we packed up the remnants of our picnic, Ralph asked us if he and John could travel with us for a couple of days. I guess that we were more entertaining than their relatives. “Are you kidding,” I thought. They had the car and the pot, so what was I going to say?

Day 1 still had many hours to go.