Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Dublin To Tralee Train

(Alice’s oldest daughter married a fellow from Keady, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, U.K. We visited his family for a couple of days, then continued our trip, this time in the Republic of Ireland.)

We pedaled in a southeasterly direction from Keady into the Republic of Ireland. After a couple of hours we arrived at a train station, and bought tickets to Dublin. Unfortunately, we arrived in Dublin the afternoon of September 13, 1998, as the town was full of madmen and madwomen celebrating or mourning (in Ireland it's hard to tell the difference) the result of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship contested earlier that very day in Dublin. Screaming, yelling, possibly even inebriated supporters drove in celebratory fashion through Dublin streets broad and narrow, probably searching for the hotel room they had booked and a pretty fish monger to share it. We hadn’t reserved a room, and quickly decided that Dublin was much too exciting for us on our bicycles, so we pedaled on to another train station and boarded the train to Tralee.

Soon we were on our way, listening to the sounds of revelry fading away behind, while being charmed by an off-duty conductor singing “No Matter What,” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Whistle Down The Wind.” We had heard “No Matter What” being played all over England and Ireland that summer – it was a monster hit for a group called Boyzone that I had never heard of before, or for that matter, since. And the conductor had a beautiful voice.

It reminded me of a scene from one of my personal top five best movies of all time, “The Quiet Man.” John Wayne as Sean “Trooper” Thornton, running away from his violent boxing past in America and towards his romantic memories of life as a young boy in Ireland, joins some locals in the village pub. Soon, as he did in many of his movies, the director John Ford had the men gathered at the bar break into song, “The Wild Colonial Boy.”

There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name
He was born and raised in Ireland in a place called Castlemaine
He was his father's only son, his mother's pride and joy
And dearly did his parents love the wild colonial boy

(For the lyrics of "Wild Colonial Boy." When the page opens, click on "Melody" at the upper left for the tune.)

So as we rolled along into the darkening evening, the off-duty conductor sang:

No matter what they tell us
No matter what they do
No matter what they teach us
What we believe is true

And I will keep you safe and strong
And sheltered from the storm
No matter where it's barren
A dream is being born

No matter who they follow
No matter where they lead
No matter how they judge us
I'll be everyone you need

No matter if the sun don't shine
Or if the skies are blue
No matter what the end is
My life began with you

(Go here for the lyrics of "No Matter What")

However, we weren’t allowed to relax and enjoy the singing very long before we heard an announcement that a train on the tracks ahead of us had mechanical problems that would delay our arrival at Tralee approximately three hours, which would put it after midnight. Alice and I became concerned about arriving so late without reservations at a hotel or bed & breakfast. We decided that while the train was waiting at the station in Limerick for the track to clear, I would telephone ahead and get us a room.

As soon as we stopped, I got off the train and started the long walk back on the platform towards the station building. It was a relatively long walk since we were in the third car from the front of the train; we wanted to stay close to our bicycles and bags in their special car second from the front. Just as I got to the station and the bank of telephones, I heard another announcement; the train ahead of us was fixed, was on its way, the track was clear, and we would be leaving immediately. Rather than rushing back up the platform to our car, I decided to get back on the train and walk back through the cars to Alice. I hadn’t passed through many cars before the train lurched into motion, and I congratulated myself on being on the train and not left on the platform. I was still congratulating myself, even as I slowly worked my way through the crush of bodies in the bar car, when the train came to a shuddering stop. Something in me somehow knew that I was connected to the sudden stop. I pressed on with renewed energy and foreboding, and in a few minutes came to the car where I had left Alice.

As I came through the door into the car, a woman looked at me and announced, “Your wife stopped the bloody train, you know.” At the same time, I saw Alice, and as soon as she saw me her grief-stricken look changed to a smile. She and others soon filled me in on what happened after the announcement that the train would be departing immediately. Alice had become very concerned that I would be left at the station, and that we wouldn’t be able to contact each other for eight hours or more until the morning train picked me up and carried me to her waiting in Tralee. When the realization hit her that we might become separated and out of contact, Alice did what she always does in such circumstances – she screamed. Truthfully, I have never known anyone who has a faster linkage between perception of danger and letting loose a scream than Alice. Nor have I known anyone with a louder scream.

The singing off-duty conductor took action immediately, and pulled the emergency stop cord. He then opened the train car door and was peering outside back towards the platform when I returned. I thought my fellow passengers would be quite annoyed, but soon found the Irish are the nicest, friendliest people, at least if you’re a Yank, you would ever want to meet. Two of the passengers loaned us their cell phones. We thanked them profusely, and called several numbers, but couldn’t find a vacancy.

We decided to just take our chances when we got to Tralee. When we arrived, we got our bikes and packs, and had just started to leave the station and head towards downtown Tralee, when a woman in an automobile called to us and asked if we had a room. As luck would have it, she owned a bed & breakfast that she only operated during the busy tourist season. She had just closed for the year, but offered to put us up if we needed a place. We happily took her up on her generous offer, and followed her car as she led us to her home.

During our month in Ireland, we always found someone eager to help us on our journey. We had a wonderful time in Tralee at Margaret’s Bed & Breakfast, and it put us in a great frame of mind to start off around “The Ring Of Kerry.”

And another Irish legend was born. They probably still tell tales of the lovely Yank "colleen" whose scream stopped the Dublin to Tralee train!

I can hear them now.

"You know, a scream like that, she could teach the banshee to scream, she could."

"That's right. They say to this very day, when the train is pulling out of Limerick, you can still hear her scream echoing in the hills."

"Aye, I've heard that said too, but then again others say it's just the sound of the amorous Limerick alley cats."

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