As we rounded the bends, passing crags and bogs, cars began to line the road. It is such a surprise to see the crowds that turn up at mass in rural Ireland. There is a world here which I know nothing about. It was a few minutes before we passed them all, before I had registered that it was indeed 10:30am on a Sunday and there was the church in the middle of nowhere.
Not the middle of nowhere, rather a glorious countryside full of lakes and the finest scenery to be seen in Ireland. And here I was, en route with Patrick in our car, to an island. Yes we were so excited we had did the math for the drive and the wait and the ferry timetable and even though breakfast had lingered on a bit (as it does when you stay with friends) we were in good enough time to stop for a coffee.
We pulled into Recess, a village with a rather large craftshop, a post office, filling station and a pub all in one long row and nothing else. The shop owner told Patrick the filling station would open in 10 minutes and the ferry port was only 10 miles away and my eyes lit up as inside the shop was a rather better than usual selection of fine Irish textiles.
There was table after table of colourful scarves and blankets. This is the sort of store which requires patience. The displays had been done by women for women. I switched in that mode, taught to me by my mother, where one must look and touch everything in the store. From “grampa” to “artsy-fartsy” and “bright young thing” to “present for a new baby” they had the whole collection. And I mean, they were in rainbow order.
I found a present anyway. A short time later and halfway through my decision-making process, Patrick said the store still hadn’t opened and we better go. During my purchase, the lady treats me like a tourist of course, as that’s what she is used to. Will I ever get used to it?
On the road, it was busier than usual. The clock was now ticking down to our boat’s departure. A long line of cars passed before we could pull out onto the road. Mass was over. The only time you’ll see a traffic jam in the country is when mass gets out or when the local hurling is on. As we crawled along, sandwiched in a line of a hundred cars, I wondered why they go to mass there, in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it’s the quickest mass? Maybe all the other priests are gone- or perhaps because it is beautiful.
Unfortunately it turned out the shop owner had been “cute” – it was most definitely not 10 miles to the port. We were in a crunch and every moment counted before we would miss the boat, the festival, the weekend we had planned, all for want of an overdyed scarf.
Thankfully, most of the cars turned off at Bheal an Átha Fada – meaning The Long Approach. Patrick brought his driving skills to the fore, taking the bends at speed. He made good time on the road to Cleggan, and I watched the miles tick down on google maps. Taking the turns out of town, I almost caught my breath. It looked like we might arrive with a minute to spare for the 11:30 boat.
Up ahead was a Peugeot Partner van, bobbing along on the bends at her own sweet pace. The road was so twisty, my heart leapt into my mouth. I could see out to the left in front of her, and I called out Clear! But no, half a minute passes and then through the gap I can see that there are no approaching cars, for now. Clear! We pull out. She speeds up. We pull ahead, but she definitely doesn’t budge from the centre of her lane. With no help from the van, we make it past safely.
Stuffing our gear from the backseat into a bag, Patrick tells me to go ahead first. I blurt out a plan: I’ll grab the instruments from in here; you grab the two bags of camping gear from the trunk.
Within moments we make it to the parking lot at an impossibly good time of 11:26. Thank goodness GPS is never accurate. There are no parking spots. We park anyway, and I’m off like a shot, down the road where I can see other stragglers running along the quay for the ferry, which already looks rather full.
The road does not go straight to the port. It passes a few cottages, where one man calls after me, “You may keep running!” It goes through the town, where there is another, much closer parking lot…
There are curbs to navigate here and I remind myself yet again to actually use my asthma inhaler. On the quay itself, I see the last batch of travellers make it on the boat. Passing me on the home stretch, Patrick has a backpacking backpack and an impressively large bag hanging off each arm. I run on the boat, as the gangplank moves beneath me and the boat moves away from shore.
They don’t run on Irish time after all.