Sea To Ocean

Dundalk Bay beckons

We spent a lot on roads in this country. Probably more, with hindsight, than we really ought to have. So I can’t help feeling ungrateful when I don’t use them. Motorways – highways, autobahns, what you will – are convenient, sure. You can cruise along at 120k (75mph), faster than on ordinary roads. You can steer like you’re on rails. You can sleep.

No wait, not sleep. That’s the one you’re not supposed to do. But honestly, if they wanted you to drift off at the wheel this is exactly how they’d design roads. They’re so safe they’re dangerous.

I spent last night at a friend’s near Dundalk, close to the M1 that runs DublinBelfast. The M4 and M6 take you from Dublin to Galway, so I could have gone home entirely by motorway. The route makes a perfect right angle, but nevertheless it’s what the satnav recommends.

Edward J. Valentine's intriguing pub in Longford Town

I took the hypotenuse, the direct route across country via N-roads (national routes). At least, it would be direct if it didn’t wind like a bastard. These roads live from bend to bend, forcing you not only to concentrate on steering, but to change your speed and even gear constantly. Though it must be said that these have also been the object of serious investment in recent years, with accurate lines and chevron markers on every bend. Driving them is hard, but not particularly dangerous.

This is the only way to see the country – insofar as there is anything to see in the midlands. Not counting a (very necessary) break then, it took me four hours to get from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic coast. I could’ve done it in an hour less by motorway, but dammit, it would’ve felt longer.

Here’s some more pictures from the trip:

The most Zen front garden in all Ireland
Breakfast or something
Stuff on my friend's table - I just liked the colour combination

Ireland’s Olympus

Pretty pretty petrol pump

Wow. I’m not sure what kind of weekend you had here, but I don’t know when I’ve been hotter. No actually I do. It was at the Hoover Dam. I’ve just been in the warmest place I’ve ever known, with the sole exception of the Nevada-Arizona border. Seriously, I’ve been to colder parts of Africa.

Yet this was Carlingford, County Louth. I can’t quite explain how but I ended up at a festival of Celtic culture there, helping to keep a three-year-old from wandering about. When you consider that we were watching Highland Games, with such events as hammer throwing, caber tossing and hurling weights backwards over your shoulders, you can appreciate how important it is to keep your three-year-olds from wandering about. The sports might be odd but the athletes were spectacular; some of them were so broad they’d be taller lying on their sides. And of course, all in skirts. Yet it was one of the smaller – I believe his name was Ray O’Dwyer from Tipperary – who threw a hammer one hundred feet that day, a new Irish record. Though when I say smaller, you have to remember that’s relative. He would be about four times the size of me.

Huge dudes in frocks

Apart from the Highland Games there was some Scottish dancing and a local pipe band. If it wasn’t for a bit of Breton dance it would’ve been a Gaels-only affair. Alongside all the culture there were – thank God – some of the usual funfair kid-distractors, including a “Safari Train” decorated with some really quite astonishing caricatures.

Fun for all the family, if your family is racist

When it finally cooled we went to PJ’s, a lovely old pub that has survived being extended without completely losing its character, and applied after-sun cream in lavish quantities. Later we went to a concert of Breton music in a converted church, most of which I spent outside attempting to talk the aforementioned small child out of screaming. So if you were passing through Carlingford and happened to see a man holding a struggling, yelling child in a graveyard, there was no need to be worried. He shut up eventually.

Noon the following day I was sitting out drinking beer, not so much burning in the sun now as catching light, when one of those things happened – I met an old friend I’d lost touch with six or seven years before. We went for dinner to celebrate in Magee’s Bistro, which was really good and not expensive. I had the frogs’ legs because I’d never tried them before, and my love of nature compels me to taste it all. Frogs legs, it turns out, have a flavour just like snake.

Oh all right, between very tender chicken and good squid. Nice, but I don’t think I’ll eat them again. There was something too sad about the way they came in little pairs.

My friend's front wall

Turned out my friend owned a cottage not far from the village, so we stayed the night there. What I didn’t realise until the morning is that it was right on the sea. I mean, like other houses are on the street. When I awoke it was high tide – and the sea was up to her front wall.

Her garden shed

Which was low and white, like a wall in Greece. And the sun was like Greece. And the sea. When my other friends – and the small child – arrived the tide was out again, and we walked across Dundalk bay chasing crabs and picking mussels. I’m cooking those mussels for dinner now. Sometimes the world is perfect.