Euro Championships invariably throws my mind down the years, to a holiday I spent with my Danish in-laws in Mayo. Back before the Celtic Tiger and two house mortgage repayments on a piece of plastic. Back when it could cost a small fortune, to get to Ireland. So not having a good time, was never a viable option.
“For God’s sake children, we have the Gulf-stream running right by our back door and Dublin is awash with palm trees. Ireland is a fabulous place to go for a holiday.” We were told.
John Wayne had gone to Mayo in, “The Quiet Man.” One of his immortal lines from that movie, was, “Gimme a pint of the black stuff.” But a Hollywood remake would have him going back to his childhood burned out Ballymun drug-pushers flat and saying, “Gimme a line of the white stuff.”
I never mentioned this to Heidi. It was because of the palm trees that I finally sold my Danish Mother-in-Law, on a holiday to Ireland. When Heidi went anywhere, it was invariably to the sun. All Scandinavians are sun worshippers. It’s their secret religion. They may pretend to go to a Christian Church, but their true God is, “The Sun King.”
Anyway, to make a long story even longer, this was decision time for Heidi. To flout tradition and go against her instincts, her religion. To go to, “Tir Na Nog.” A place of eternal magic, mystery and constant heavy rain. And remember don’t cross the border. The Brits may shoot you.
She decided to go and check out those palm trees. So we were off. To Ireland. To Majestic Mayo. To Ballycastle in the sun.
We were staying in custom made cottages. The weather was rough. In July. We are talking black skies, nothing but black skies overhead. The turf fire was a life saver. Without a radio or television the open fire became the focal point of the holiday.
Singing Christmas carols, to cheer up our gallant band, did not endear me to the sun worshippers. It rained and howled constantly. The wind whistled through the cottage. Heidi’s mood darkened. I’m sure Shackleton could have rescued the moment. With some witty story of survival, among the ice drifts and Polar bears. I regaled her with legends about, “Belmullet Peninsula,” where it was said dinosaurs still roamed. How an intrepid Irish monk called Columbanus had first discovered America. How it had been scientifically proven, that the Irish monks not only saved European civilisation, but had also taught the Vikings how to sail.
Heidi was not interested in old Celtic legends. She was not interested in pubs or pub life. A nice place to have a cup of black tea. How anyone could spend hours, in those dark dens of iniquity, defied all her sense of logic.
Heidi was a foursquare Jane, type of person. Up at 6am – sharp; every morning to do her housework, lunch at 12 noon – sharp, dinner at 6pm- sharp. She also had no detectable sense of humour. She did have, to give her credit, one joke. Which had the punch line ending, something in the order of, “You drive me Cheese.” So Heidi was made to order, for the slip sliding, lifestyle, which is holidaying in Ireland. If she could make it here, she could make it anywhere.
This was to be put to the test extreme, during the Ballycastle Fair that was starting that very weekend. It was also World Cup time, yet again. Northern Ireland where playing Spain in a crunch game, while the mother-in-law had bought fish for a very special dinner. The girls were sent home to cook the fish with promises, sworn in blood, that we would be home for dinner at 6pm – sharp.
Samuel Goldwyn once said that a verbal contract is not worth the paper of pub piss it’s written on. This is a golden truth. Our blood sworn, verbal, piss soaked promises disappeared under the attack of Gerry Armstrong in the front-line of Northern Ireland and Arthur Guinness in the back bar of Polkies.
If pulling pints of Guinness is a form of poetry. Then drinking them must be art in motion. This I explained to my father-in-law, in great detail, as we watched the exhilarating match and disregarded the clock. 5pm – sharp followed quickly by, 6pm – sharp followed even more quickly by…7pm – sharp…and so on.
There was a lot of what I would call angry young mountain men, in the town that night. So the bold Danish father-in-law was pushed up to order our pints. This went down very well with the natives. Northern Ireland, or Ireland for those of us from across the Irish Sea, had won the game. A highly unusual situation back then, and the need for a great celebration was called for. So we set about enjoying all the bars we could find in Ballycastle.
It was hitting 2am – sharp, when I dragged Peter away from his new found pals. I reminded him we still had to go home and face the fisher-women.
“Do ya think, there was any chance, there would be any fish left?”
“No,” I said, “Will you forget about the feckin fish.”
We bought a couple of bottles of Snowballs and some peanuts. This I explained was the peace offering. A cunning ploy I had learned from the wisest man I’ve ever known, my Dad. It works every time. Our story was the usual. Caught up in the magic of the moment. Could not, on no account, break the spell. Could not, insult the natives. Peter had made new friends for life, etc. etc. Having brainwashed ourselves, we were ready to meet, “The Daughters of Neptune.”
We poured into the cottage. The two fisher-women were sitting in silence poking the dying embers of the turf fire. I delivered our peace offering without breaking anything or falling into the fire. I retold our story. Including all the, in depth heroic graphic details, of a truly wondrous and soul bonding night. We were given the hard, cold shoulder and sent hungry to bed.
Next morning, myself and the father-in-law where suffering, as I explained to him, from what is commonly known, as the bad pint syndrome. Or, “The Banger,” to give it its scientific name. It’s an imperfect world and among all those creamy works we consumed last night was hidden, “The Banger.” The only known antidote, was of course, to go back down to the scene of the crime and consume more creamy works of art and just hope for the best. I couldn’t very well suggest this to the mother-in-law. Not after I saw her theatrically throw our uneaten fish in the rubbish bin. Our Titanic Irish holiday of a lifetime, was fast approaching that submerged iceberg of discontentment. I decided there and then to save the day and introduce Heidi, to one of the wonders of an Irish summer. A glass of cider.
Cider has a much ill deserved reputation as the preferred drink of the travelling people of Ireland. Those carefree children of the road. Whose only visible means of support, seems to be grubby women and even grubbier kids. Tormenting tourists with their immortal phrase, “Spare a few ould Cop-purrrs, for the Baaaa-bee.” They speak what sounds like a mix of Chinese and Esperanto, but isn’t. These are the people who have made Cider infamous. Just what she needed, a cool summer drink on a cool summer’s day.
I had slipped out and stocked up on a few bottles of the beverage that keeps on giving. The mother-in-law began drinking. “Mmm,” she said, “Apple-juice.” “Yes, Apple-juice, of a sort.” It of course, completely slipped my mind, to tell her that Cider, had a kick off it, like a “Knacker’s Armpit.” She had downed a few glasses and I watched horrified the total disintegration of my beloved mother-in-law. Next morning the father-in-law informed us, she had spent most of the night running around on all fours, trying to eat the wallpaper off the walls.
She got out of bed around 12 am. Not so sharp. From that day on, she slept later, relaxed, became more, dare I say it, human. She learned the tricks of being on holiday in Ireland, like keeping your coat on when you visit people in Dublin, either to stay warm or ready to head for the pub. She was even amused by pub grub, which was not, I explained worms on toast, but plates of steaming stew, usually placed on a bar table the size of a postage stamp. She was a changed woman. She even reluctantly, admitted to me, many year’s after, that she had enjoyed every minute of her time in Ireland.
I’ve often wondered what changed her on that magical trip. Was it Majestic Mayo, Ballycastle in the sun, Dublin’s Fair City, or could it have been that “Whiff of a Knacker’s Armpit.”
Photo “More Mayo” courtesy of Ian Haskins via Flickr