Getting there

Getting there

Monday, January 24, 2011

Shades of Green: A Tale of Ireland, Boat Rides, and Money

New Year's Day 2011. I'd danced until 2 am the night before, when the band finally threw in the towel and admitted they couldn't go on even if the rest of us could. I'd drunk bucket loads of champagne, more than is wise or healthy. So, did I find myself ensconced in my bed at Ashford Castle waiting for room order breakfast and nursing a thankfully mild but all too present hangover? No, I found myself on a small boat named Isle of Innisfree about to set sail for Inchagoill (a place that deserves it's own future blog entry).

The boat was a small one, holding about 85 passengers. An open deck above, a closed cabin below, and a crisp calm day - what could be better? On the way to Inchagoill we decided to sit on the open deck as it was the perfect opportunity to take some photos of this beautiful part of Ireland. It was cold on the open water, but bearable. After we'd done the trek on Inchagoill we returned to the boat, and my daughter begged me to sit in the enclosed cabin below. One step in and I knew I couldn't stay there. It was crowded,as I imagine the steerage compartments were crowded with immigrants heading to America. It was loud as there was talking and shouting and laughing. Worst of all, alcohol was being served so it smelled of mulled wine - even worse, it smelled of stale liquor and cigarettes. I knew there was no chance my hangover would allow me to stay there for a single moment, so I told my husband and daughter that I would ride above again and they could stay below.

I headed to the open deck, found the seat I had occupied on the way there, and settled in. Soon a woman, probably in her seventies or so, asked if it was alright if she joined me. She was terribly concerned that she was taking the seats of my family, but I explained they were below and that I welcomed her company. She asked where I was from, and I told her Canada. She had recently been to Ottawa, and so we began to talk. She had visited Banff, and Vancouver, and Toronto. She had enjoyed Canada, and I told her that I loved Ireland. Once we established the common ground of pride in our respective countries our chat began to wander to other topics. We spoke of my daughter, and her children and grandchildren (who were also celebrating at the castle, a large group that seemed to adore this matriarch). We spoke of the house they owned close to the castle and tried to spy it through the trees, but were unable to spot it. We spoke of Ireland's financial woes, and I told her of my parents experience of living through the Depression years. We talked of frugality, of life decisions, and of our pasts. At one point her husband appeared and asked if she had her hat, and out of her battered bag she produced an equally battered hat. We spoke of our husbands, and she told me her spouse had been an accountant before he retired. By the end of the boat ride I felt quite cosy despite the rather brisk wind because this lovely lady had warmed me to the core. When the boat docked we said good-bye, but knew we would see each other again at the castle.

We saw each other very soon, as my husband and I stopped into the lounge after the ride to warm up. She was there with her husband, and she asked if I had yet tried an Irish coffee in Ireland. When I said I had not she insisted on buying me one and would accept no denials. So, we shared an Irish coffee and chatted some more. Her husband and mine had met the night before in the wine cellar as they selected wine for our tables for New Year's Eve, so we all settled into a comfortable conversation. We realized when they left that we had not learned their names, so the lounge attendant was kind enough to tell us we had met the Kilroys of Dublin.

We saw each other again and again for the next day or so, this lovely lady and I. Each time she would ask if I was alright, if I was enjoying my time there - as if she was a hostess, a hotel employee, when she was a guest just as I was. She was just so determined that I would enjoy my time at the castle, and I did.

The next day our driver returned to the castle to collect us and take us on to our next adventure. I told him how much we'd loved Ashford - the hotel, the staff, the activities - and that we'd met the nicest people, the Kilroys of Dublin. Our driver looked at me and quietly said "Billionaires". I believe I cleverly replied "What?". "Billionaires", he repeated, "one of the wealthiest families in Ireland. He was the governor of The Bank of Ireland for years". I sat back in shocked silence. Accountant indeed. I'd just met some of Ireland's wealthiest people and they were some of the humblest and kindest people I've ever met - anywhere. I couldn't help but contrast this with my recent experience in London where people "of means" would be quietly sizing up your financial worth and deciding if you were worthy of the investment of their time (being colonial Canadians and not even knowing how to use a butler I suspect we didn't measure up well). I sat quietly for some time because I had just seen true humility and grace and kindness, and it needed to be absorbed for a bit.

So, shades of green. Me, in shades of green on a boat as I nursed a hangover. Ireland, in shades of green during a winter that had seen uncharacteristic snow and cold. Money, in shades of green that matter only if you decide they do and allow them to. I will never forget the lovely Kilroys, nor that boat ride. I will always be grateful for the leftovers of a night of merriment that forced me into the cold, and into the warmth of the kindness of strangers.

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