Carry Me Harp From Dublin To Tullamore
Written by Luke Brechtelsbauer
Sunday, 30 August 2009 19:06
I arrive from the US in the morning and take a bus across Dublin to drop off the harp case, repack and take light rail to central Dublin. The stop is conveniently named 'grand canal bank'. The first few miles are in the city and quite pleasant. The canal is in working order and has cute locks and bridges. Nobody notices a man with a harp on his back, but then, the harp is not obvious. I pass 4 policemen in dive gear searching the canal bottom in what I hope is a drill and not an actual search for somebody. I stop in the 'burbs to get some groceries. The canal path is being worked on for a few miles, so I walk on the less-used side, often fighting through tall weeds. Then the weeds get worse and the path doesn't exist. I try to climb over a big ditch, but retreat to keep my feet dry, manage to swing around the pointy ends of a fence (very pointy) and walk a while through a grand spanking office park— a product of Ireland's boom (now busted, but plenty of hip offices for rent). A really big shitty sculpture is in the parking lot, or maybe it’s kind of cool. I can't decide. I later realize that next to the parking lot are the historic filter beds where Arthur Guinness filtered the water for his beer. I sneak through lots of bushes and rubbish under the M-50, the big highway. At this point the sketchy part is walking through the industrial wasteland with no plans for accommodation. It isn't a great camping place.
A few miles more and it becomes countryside and there is no more construction. I relax here since I can be a normal hippie camper in the countryside instead of a sketchy industrial squatter. After a few miles I take a break and play the harp on a stone wall outside a ruin of an old lockkeepers house. A meaningful experience— I've played Irish music for 20 years, and made my living doing so, but never played in Ireland. The only Irish to hear my debut are two disinterested men and a horse walking by. I’m not offended. I don't listen to much harp music myself.
I consider camping out next to the ruin, but decide to go a bit farther. Suddenly, the canal is lined with boats, mostly old, mostly beautiful boats, mostly at least mildly abandoned looking. Then there is a gate and through the gate a pub with outdoor tables and at a table four young girls asking me if I’d like to stop for a drink. Having not yet really spoken to anyone in Ireland, and being a man, I decide to stop. They think it is pretty hilarious that:
1. I'm American
2. I speak the way I do
3. I don't know where I'm going to sleep
4. I walked there from Dublin
5. I have a harp on my back
6. I don't have a regular job
7. I sort-of own an abandoned house in New Orleans
They enjoy telling me lies about their names, where they're from and what drugs they use and deal. Then they get worried that I might not have enough to eat and buy me a pint of Guinness and two packs of Pringles.
Then the more mature crowd inside the bar hears there is a harp player and I'm invited to go play 'Carolan's Concerto' for somebody's birthday. So I get more beer and they also make sure I have enough to eat by giving me a ham and cheese on white bread. This sandwich marks a special occasion. Many of the regulars tell me that you can't get food at that pub. Then the drinking and talking and occasional harp playing continue until I’m good and drunk. I assume everybody else is, too. I get the feeling they are very happy to have been visited by a harp player, not the usual reaction in an American bar. One of the regulars says I can stay at his house, so we have a drunken ride in his Jaguar, with some detours to be sure I can find my way back to his house. I also have to promise not to rob him.
In the morning I have a nice shower and he makes a big ol' breakfast. Bacon is thick in Ireland. He also gives me some ham to go with my cheese for my lunch sandwich. Then his friend comes over to tend to the garden and I have to play the harp for him, and once the harp is packed up, the owners of the bar come over with somebody who hasn't heard the harp player, and I have to take it out again. So by noon, I get a sober Jaguar ride back to the pub where I left off.
The second day, I stop at a town strategically placed so I can go to the pub for my afternoon poop. I have a Guinness and nobody says anything about the harp-shaped lump on my back. This pub is quieter and you can watch horse races there. So I go on, and stop at the next village for some food. This afternoon, there is no town with a friendly pub with friendly young girls, so I just keep walking. There is a little pain in my left foot, but nothing to slow me down. Once it is dark, I think I've found a nice grassy place to sneak into and camp, but then I see two men fishing right there and decide to continue. I find a place on an abandoned peat-carrying train's track, near some horses. I get rained on and my imperfect camping equipment allows me, and the harp, to get a little wet.
The third day, my foot hurts for real and I slow down, but not so much that I don't overtake a canal boat and keep pace with another one. Canal boats aren't very fast. I take a break from ham and cheese sandwiches and get a mini-mart deli lasagna. Mine is not a culinary adventure.
Taking occasional breaks, the canal boat passes me a few times. Still limping, I overtake the canal boat a few times.
In the afternoon, the foot is getting worse and I come to a town with multiple pubs. I choose the one that looks the most likely to appreciate harp players. I am barely in the door when a funny group of people invites me to sit with them. There is a man with rock-star shaggy gray hair who mumbles. There is the woman who smiles and laughs a lot and has something funny about her teeth. There is a woman who seems relatively normal. And there is the Englishman, who is often ridiculed by the other three for being English. Anyway, much the same thing happens as two nights before, except they like to sing lots of songs and get weepy between the harp playing and the harp player getting drunk. And we have to go see somebody's grandma, who ends up being only mildly interested in the harp playing, but I act sleepy there on grandma's couch and they decide to take me home and give me a Budweiser (on the can it says 'brewed by Guinness') and a ham and cheese sandwich. Then they say I can sleep there, so I get a nice bed with no rain.
In the morning, I thank the Englishman and walk back to the canal. This is my last day walking, shorter than the previous ones at maybe 10 miles, but the foot is quite painful and so I stop under a bridge. There aren't really any other options, so I keep walking. Then I limp up to another bridge and there is a dock just past it where I set down my stuff to see if there is a bus around somewhere with which to abandon my mission to walk to Tullamore. Tied to the dock is the canal boat, and the instant I have my map out, the inhabitants of the canal boat appear and offer to drive me.
This is a very nice canal boat. The hull is from 1874 or something, and it started its life pulled by a very large horse on the very path I'd been walking. Then it graduated to a one-cylinder diesel 'bolinder' engine— an interesting invention for the mechanically minded. In the last few years the couple had made it into a touring vessel with 3 cabins, toilet, kitchen, engine, roof, windows, and most importantly, two white leather couches. Unfortunately, my interest in boats and locks distracted me from the couches. We went through five or six locks, all looking as they would have a century ago but restored to good working order. The boat was built specifically for these locks, and fit with only a few inches on each side. The trip progressed at slower than walking speed, perhaps even slower than limping speed. But limping around a canal boat is nice.
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