Fáilte Eire!

Glasgow Prestwick AirportI don’t know if that’s grammatically correct, but it’s the limit of my Irish Gaelic for the moment, so deal with it. It’s been a long day (well, more accurately, it was a very short night) and my forthcoming week looks to be as busy and full as any tourist could want it to be.

I was up around 6:20 to grab some breakfast and pack the last remaining part of my luggage – my toothbrush. My folks had very kindly offered to drive me to Glasgow Prestwick Airport for the flight over to Cork, and I wasn’t going to turn that down. Not when the alternative was setting off at 5am to get the train. I bundled myself into the back with the two dogs and finished the Jeremy Clarkson book I was reading so my dad could have it when I left.

Snoozing may have been involved shortly afterwards.

Glasgow Prestwick is a barn. Back in the day it was an awful barn, by all accounts. Get checked in, wait like a cow with no seat, shuffle onto plane, leave. Recently, someone had the idea of spending a few bob on it and giving it a personality. And it’s worked, believe me.

Fact: Prestwick Airport is the only airport in Scotland that has never been closed due to visibility problems.

Fact: It’s the only airport in Scotland with it’s own dedicated train station.

Fact: It’s the only place in the UK that Elvis ever set foot. At least, they thought it was until it turns out he snuck in another visit elsewhere that was discovered recently.

Then there’s the fact that the paintwork’s a glorious purple and the catchphrase “Pure Dead Brilliant” is scrawled everywhere like some Glaswegian numpty’s gone crazy with a tin of Dulux Emulsion. Amusing Scots caricatures adorn the wall above the check-in desks and the large standard symbol for “men’s toilet” is wearing a Tam o’shanter.

Overall, as far as airports went, I liked it. It’s right by the beach, as well, so my folks walked the dogs after they dropped me off.

Failte!The flight itself was fair enough. Crammed in like cattle into the cheap, plastic RyanAir seats we shot into the sky. Where we were buffeted by heavy winds for a good 10-15 minutes. It felt like the rocky parts on a shoddy roller-coaster, and I swear the wings were wobbling so much the plane looked like it was trying to flap its way over the Irish Sea.

I cranked my PSP up to max and dove into my book to take my attention from it. When I could focus on the words as the pages kept zipping past my eyes anyway.

Well, I didn’t die and we landed five minutes early so I shouldn’t complain. Cork Airport is another dinky one, all big glass panels, and I was outside within a couple of minutes. Joleen was there to meet me and she’s not changed a bit in nigh on two years. Still tall, red-headed and most definitely Irish.

We had a quick natter as she drove me to Crosshaven where she lives and her folks run a couple of businesses. Her brother was working at the farmer’s market – basically half a dozen benches with umbrellas over them to give protection from the lovely sunshine – on the square in front of Cronin’s Pub. He was selling cheeses. And they were fantastic. I tried a couple and they were absolutely divine. I’ve spent quite some time in France with its huge history of cheese-making. They have lots of the things. Some of them are great. But the Brits and the Irish still make the best, no argument.

Cronin’s PubI was welcomed into the Cronin’s Pub by Joleen’s dad, Sean. We had a quick chat round the busy lunchtime crowd as waitresses buzzed back and forth. I also had a few minutes to talk to Ilona, one of the Polish staff, who was rather pleased to hear about my trip to Poland. There are some locals who are French, three Kiwis work there, and Joleen’s housemate is Welsh! A very international flavour for a small community.

The main difference between this genuine Irish pub and the fake ones that litter the UK, Oz and umpteen other countries is that it’s clean. The fake ones seem to go with the idea that if you fill the walls with enough crap then let it get battered, faded, dusty, tarnished and so on then all of a sudden you have an Irish pub. Not so. Cronin’s has an amazing collection of tat on the walls, hanging from the ceilings, on shelves and in display cases. Great stuff. And it’s all clean, shiny and sparkly.

Then, of course, there’s the beer. I’ve had precisely half a pint of Murphy’s in the past. I couldn’t finish it – I thought it tasted of bitumen. It’s brewed in Cork so perhaps it doesn’t travel well as the pint I was gifted on my arrival was very nice indeed.

So I sat and I drank and I had the most delicious ham sandwich (everything from the crisp lettuce to the butter they used was amongst the best I’ve ever tasted) before going for a stroll along the coast following the “Scenic Walk” signs to walk off the calories I’d already put on.

Crosshaven from the “beach”Crosshaven is a boating town. Or “village” if you believe the signposts. Where you draw the line sizewise between one and the other I don’t know. Anyway. You’d hardly guess this was the case unless… oh, I don’t know… you opened your eyes. Boats are everywhere. Sat in the dock, propped up on sticks in dry dock being worked on, sat on the gravelly beach while the tide’s out, zipping back and forth past the pier.

There are all kinds from small yachts, fishing boats of all sizes, canoes, bigger yachts, dinghies, life raft, and probably forty others that I don’t know the names for. Given the local geography it does make sense. The opposite bank of the river is 50 minutes by road, or a brisk paddle away. You could swim, but it’s not very convenient if you’re lugging two bags of shopping from the supermarket located on this side.

I wandered up the gradual incline to an old fort which is very visibly marked as not accessible. Huge signs are at every entrance point – though it’s not blocked off, so you could choose to ignore them – warning you of danger and so forth. I admire Irish law in providing landowners with a get-out clause from trespassers, too. As long as they say, effectively, “enter here and hurt yourself and we’ve legally pre-absolved ourselves of any blame, ya boo sucks” they’re fine.

In the UK, you can stick these signs up to your heart’s content but you’ve got no legal backup. If some scrote climbs your walls and falls off, or walks in your front gate and treads on a carelessly-left gardening rake then they can sue you. Ridiculous. Unless, of course, you make sure they hurt themselves properly and you bury the corpse where nobody will find it.

I do not advocate the above solution. Well, maybe just a bit.

*ahem*

The Irish TricolourSo on and up I walked until the walk petered out. I found the local Gaelic Football ground which looked like it hadn’t been used for a few weeks. No treadmarks on the grass. Or bloodstains. Gaelic goals are pretty unique as is the sport. They’re a mix of rugby goals (the H shape), but with a lower crossbar and the supports at the back to hang a net on as in a regular football goal. A shame it’s past the end of the season as I’d have loved to have seen a game live.

I walked down a slightly different route back to Joleen’s house where I met Mike. He’ from Wales and has been working in Ireland for some time. We had a chat on the balcony in the sunshine for an hour or so and he pointed out a few things that could be seen nearby, and some more trivia.

Crosshaven is home to the oldest yacht club in the world, the Royal Cork Yacht Club formed in 1720. It was originally located a bit further towards the sea on Haulbowline Island, then moved to Cobh (pron. “Cove”) around 80 years later when the Navy decided they wanted the island. In 1966 it moved to its current location in Crosshaven.

Also, Cobh was the last stop for the Titanic before its final, somewhat fatal, one. Well, it moored up some miles outside of the area as it was too large to fit down the waterways and people were ferried up to it. At the time, the town was still going by the name Queenstown, renamed so in 1849 after Queen Victoria popped by. It reverted back to “Cobh” in 1922. “Queenstown”, after all, isn’t a great name for a town in a republic which has just gained its independence from the crown.

Spike Island, the second of two islands between here and Cobh, is home to a prison which is currently being rebuilt.

With this knowledge in my head and a cup of tea in my belly, I popped upstairs for a snooze. It had been a long day and I still had the evening to come!

Later…

I woke up after about 2 hours when Joleen came home. Some neighbours had invited us for dinner and we made our way over around 8pm. We were warmly welcomed by Dierdre, Hugh and Emmet who never seem to have Joleen visit them with the same person twice – and always foreigners!

We mulled for a while as Hugh fired up the steak and ribs, before settling down to a hearty meal of two delicious perfectly-done steaks and all the trimmings/veg as well as an organic salad provided by Joleen. Beer flowed, conversation was entertaining and the food was fantastic.

Crosshaven by nightWe stretched our legs walking back down to Cronin’s where we drank the night away with a few of Joleen’s friends… which basically means 3/4 of the village. This is very much a place where everyone knows everyone else. Entertainment was provided by Pat, the kind of man that every genuine Irish pub has at least one of.

Even without the aid of several pints of the black stuff, he’s prone to break into song at full tilt with no warning and expect everyone to join in, slapping their thighs and stamping their feet. He didn’t do a bad version of The Leaving of Liverpool either. Around 1am, Joleen headed along the road with a couple of friends with some carry-out, but I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

Home and bed it was. If this is what Ireland’s like, I’m going to have a great week-and-a-bit. I already know some of Joleen’s (and therefore my) plans for the next few days and I’m really looking forward to it.

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